Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Sonata in g-minor for viola da gamba or viola and harpsichord, Wq88, Helm 510, Edition G├╝ntersberg G080, ed. by Michael O'Loghlin

Composed in Berlin in 1759, the Sonata in g-minor is the last of the three sonatas for viol by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. While the first two works were scored for viol and basso continuo this sonata has an obbligato harpsichord part. At a first glance one might think that the piece is modelled on J.S. Bach's last sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba: the texture of two melody parts and bass, the formal outline in three movements fast - slow - fast (and not the customary design of sonatas in Berlin at that time of slow-fast - fast) and also the key of g-minor all resemble father Bach's sonata. Yet the musical language of the two works could not be more different. Instead of ornate, contrapuntal lines, CPE Bach's composition is written in an entirely galant style.

The first movement opens with a simple melody in the viol accompanied by walking bass-quavers and this opening statement is then repeated by the right hand of the harpsichord. It is this constant dialogue of musical ideas between the two top lines, which characterises this movement, and only towards the end the bass part leaves its purely supporting role for three bars to participate in the melodic exchange. The middle movement presents CPE Bach at his best: the viol introduces the highly chromatic melody full of suspensions and musical sobs. This movement embodies all the qualities contemporary theorists would call for in their concept of 'poetic music': just as there is no word without meaning in poetry, there are no superfluous notes in this movement and every single note is emotionally highly charged. The sonata closes with an energetic Allegro assai full of joyous runs and arpeggios.

Composed for Ludwig Christian Hesse, one of the last great viola da gamba-virtuosos at the Berlin court, this sonata is not exactly easy in its technical requirements. In particular, frequent forays into the sphere beyond the frets up to d or e-flat might need some practice, but the musical rewards are surely worth the effort. As the viol part generally lies fairly high on the instrument, the line can be played on a viola without any problems, and indeed, the two non-autograph sources specify either the viola or the violin as melody-instrument.

This new edition comes with a very clean reproduction of the autograph, which unfortunately had to be slightly reduced in size to match the format of the publication. The lay-out and type-set are very clear and easy to read with no awkward page-turns. Personally, I completely agree with the edititorial decisions made in this publication, which have led to some slight differences compared to the older edition by Schott (Schott edition 5953, Mainz 1969). Though, I am not entirely convinced by the style of the basso-continuo realisation, it certainly gives the less experienced a good starting point to work with. The very positive impression of this edition is completed by the informative introductory notes, which clearly lay out the historical context of the sonata as well as the editorial policy of this publication.

Victor Toepelmann
THE VIOL No 3, Summer 2006, Newsletter of the Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain