Music and Melancholy: Recital

In this short recital, I play the two works by Emanuel Bach that I discussed in episode 14 of the podcast Voorbij de oren: the fantasia Bachs Empfindungen and the rondo Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere.

This music was originally intended for the clavichord – “this solitary, melancholy and inexpressibly sweet instrument”, according to the musician-poet C.F.D. Schubart, a younger contemporary; an instrument ideally suited to expressing all nuances of feeling. The Abschied (Farewell to, or rather, Parting from my clavichord) is a kind of intimate communication with one specific instrument that was particularly dear to the composer’s heart.

I have added two works from the harpsichord repertoire.

Louis Couperin’s Pavane is the only pavane by this composer. It is in the same key as Emanuel Bach’s fantasia, F-sharp minor, and is one of the finest examples of the pavane as a vehicle of melancholy in its ‘sweet’ variety, a kind of sadness accompanied by well-being. With a higher sugar content, we find this sentiment in the much later nostalgic pavanes by Fauré and Ravel.

J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 6, in E minor, the same key as Emanuel Bach’s Abschied, has at its heart a sarabande that in its poignant melancholic beauty is comparable to Couperin’s pavane.

Melancholy seems to me to be the predominant mood in this partita, of which I omit the more lightweight movements, Air and Gavotte, because they are less suitable for the piano. The Courante and Gigue, with their syncopations and leaps, can be described as bizarre – but this very eccentricity can also be a manifestation of the melancholic temperament.

Not on Spotify.

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 0:36 Spoken introduction (in Dutch)
  • 02:21 Louis Couperin, Pavane (Pavanne) in F-sharp Minor (ca. 1655)
  • 06:10 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Fantasia (Freie Fantasie) in F-sharp Minor, ‘C.P.E. Bachs Empfindungen’ Wq 67 (1787)
  • 17:50 Johann Sebastian Bach, Partita Nr. 6 in E minor BWV 830 (1731). Toccata, 24:36 Allemande, 27:53 Corrente, 30:31 Sarabande, 34:40 Gigue
  • 37:59 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere, in einem Rondo Wq 66 (1781)