For whom did Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach write his solo sonata? The addressee of the sonata is frequently thought to be the King Friedrich II of Prussia. Yet Bach would not have made music that was exclusively intended for the king available for all. And the Sonata for flute solo was published twice in the 1760s. The riddle is not to be solved. Today the three-movement work is one of the solo pieces that all flautists have to have played once – it is truly regal music. The flautist Karl Kaiser has contributed informed comments on performance practice.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–88) wrote his Sonata in A minor for flute solo Wq 132 in Berlin in 1747 (cf. Verzeichniß des musikalischen Nachlasses des verstorbenen Capellmeisters Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Hamburg, 1790, p. 51); the composer had been employed in a permanent position as chamber harpsichordist of King Friedrich II in Berlin since 1741. Bach seems to have devoted a great deal of time to his master’s instrument around 1747, for a number of his works for flute in various chamber scorings originated during this period. The solo Sonata in A minor, however, is the sole flute work that was printed and published during the composer’s lifetime; no autograph has survived. The Berlin publisher Georg Ludwig Winter released the first edition in the periodical Musikalisches Mancherley in 1762/63. Winter also published a single edition of the work in 1763 (for the sources see the Comments at the end of the present edition).
Due to the lack of source information, it is impossible to determine for whom the Sonata Wq 132 was intended, though the question has often been asked. Friedrich II would seem a likely candidate. It should be noted, however, that the solo was printed during the king’s lifetime, and works for the Prussian king were not allowed to be published and thereby made accessible to the public. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that the publication was made without the king’s awareness, seeing that the work was published much later, nearly 20 years after it was written.
In 1783 Bach became acquainted with the blind flute virtuoso Friedrich Ludwig Dülon (1769–1826), who presumably played the solo piece to the composer, along with other things. Dülon described the episode in his autobiography and concluded his report with a cryptic quote by Bach, which one might interpret as a reference to the amateur flautist Friedrich II: “I played to Father Bach a solo of his invention, and after I had finished it, he said: ‘How strange it is: he for whom I wrote it could not play it; he for whom I didn’t, can’” (Dülons des blinden Flötenspielers Leben und Meynungen von ihm selbst bearbeitet, ed. by Christoph Martin Wieland, Zurich, 1807/08, vol. I, p. 152).
There are only few solo works for flute without figured bass accompaniment in the 18th century; no clear compositional models can be recognised in Bach’s Sonata. His father’s solo Partita BWV 1013 (ca. 1720, printed by G. Henle Publishers as HN 457) is in the same key, but the stylistic differences can hardly be missed. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his four-movement solo work (Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Bourée Angloise) in the form of a suite, which was clearly indebted to the style of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. With its three movements Poco Adagio, Allegro and Allegro, his son’s Sonata unequivocally belongs to the “empfindsam” style of the mid-18th century.
We would like to express our warm thanks to the libraries mentioned in the Comments for allowing us to consult the source material. Further thanks go out to Karl Kaiser, who supplied valuable information on performance practice for this edition.
Landsberg am Lech, autumn 2013 - Marion Beyer