C.P.E. Bach’s D Major Symphony, Wq. 183/1: A Wildly Adventurous Romp

Daring and wildly adventurous…These are words which could describe Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Wq. 183/1 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788).

C.P.E Bach, the second surviving son of J.S. Bach, wrote this music (scored for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, and continuo) around 1775. It’s a thrilling Sturm und Drang rollercoaster which seems to have influenced similar symphonies by Haydn and Mozart. Perhaps the “craziness” of this music even set the stage for Beethoven. Sturm und Drang (translating literally as “storm and drive”), was an artistic movement which swept through music and literature from the 1760s through the 1780s, throwing off the shackles of Enlightenment rationalism and liberating primal Powers to run wild. Last month, we listened to another example of this style, Haydn’s Symphony No. 39

In C.P.E. Bach’s work, we experience the symphony in its early stages of development—something akin to a delighted toddler taking his first steps. Its uninterrupted “fast-slow-fast” structure, compressed into little more than ten minutes, recalls the symphony’s origins in the Baroque period.  Yet there is something new and bold in the air.

The first movement (Allegro di molto) opens with a single, defiant “D,” which repeats in quickening, syncopated stabs. Immediately, we’re confronted with instability. Where is the downbeat? What is the “home” key? A few moments later, when the full orchestra kicks into gear, a jarring harmonic progression takes us even further afield. These sounds give us a brief foreshadowing of the most shocking and tension-filled moments of the first movement of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, completed some thirty years later. Amazingly, D major is not fully established as the “home” key until the recapitulation.

As the first movement progresses, notice the way this jagged opening motive returns with incredible persistence. Here it is in the oboe at 1:09, before emerging again in the strings a few seconds later at 1:24. It’s waiting for us as we round the corner into the development section, where it unleashes its most wild and unpredictable fun.

The first movement transitions into a brief but stately Largo second movement. The larger-than-life Presto which concludes the Symphony is filled with surprise twists and turns and boisterous humor. One of the most striking recurring moments is when the violins seem to get “stuck” in a swirl of arpeggios. Also, notice the operatic line in the low strings. C.P.E Bach unleashes a thrilling drama in which the instrumental voices frequently fail to remain well behaved.

Here is Gustav Leonhardt’s recording with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment:

Recordings

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

3 thoughts on “C.P.E. Bach’s D Major Symphony, Wq. 183/1: A Wildly Adventurous Romp”

  1. I ❤️ this symphony and C.P.E. Bach! Great article about a composer who definitely deserves a great deal more attention. Cheers

  2. I’ve enjoyed your tour of the Sturm und Drang undercurrent in the later half of the 18th century. I’m hoping for more. It fits into my notion of pre-Romance in literature and it helps flesh out my picture of this moment in history.

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