CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH was the second surviving son of the five children of Johann Sebastian Bach and his first wife Maria Barbara. The name Philipp was given to him in honour of his godfather, the composer Georg Philipp Telemann, a close friend of J. S. Bach. To distinguish him from his brother Johann Christian, the “London Bach”, who at this time was music master to the Queen of Great Britain, C. P. E. Bach was known as the “Berlin Bach” during his residence in that city, and later as the “Hamburg Bach” when he succeeded Telemann as Kapellmeister there. His work, reflecting the transition between Baroque and Classicism, was highly respected; he was also an influential pedagogue, writing the ever influential “Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments” (“Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen”) which would be studied by Clementi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven among others. His keyboard music was particularly influential on his contemporaries, with more than 200 sonatas and concertos, and he himself ranked among the most celebrated keyboard players.
Like his other three brothers who became composers, Carl Philipp Emanuel received his musical training from his father; pursued advanced studies in jurisprudence at the University of Leipzig and at Frankfurt-on-the-Oder. In 1738, at the age of 24, he obtained his degree but never practiced law, instead turning his attention immediately to music. He obtained an appointment at Berlin in the service of Crown Prince Frederich of Prussia, the future Frederich the Great, where he remained for 30 years as a court composer. There he composed the Magnificat, ten symphonies, a number of concertos for harpsichord, flute, oboe and cello with orchestra, vocal works and many piano opuses. At this time Berlin was a cultural centre with a rich artistic life and Bach’s interest in all the arts introduced him to the intellectual circles of poets, dramatists and philosophers such as Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Moses Mendelssohn and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
In 1768, after protracted negotiations, Bach was permitted to relinquish his position in order to succeed his godfather Telemann as director of music (Kapellmeister) at Hamburg, where he remained for the rest of his life. During these last years he wrote mainly church music – more than 20 Passions, some cantatas, litanies, motets, and other liturgical pieces, which were a great success. Particular acclaim went to the oratorio Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) which lead to three 1788 performances in Vienna sponsored by the Baron Gottfried van Swieten and conducted by Mozart.