Sonata in A Major, H. 186, Wq. 55/4, Poco adagio (second movement)
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Track 27-28
The vague nostalgia of the fortepiano reminds me of a sad upright abandoned in a hallway of a once European-style home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. No longer space for a family of optimistic emigrants, the house has been rented out to a small cluster of mid-American entrepreneurs. The piano, waiting for repair, suffers the indignity of wearing a sign that reads, "Do not play." Days pass and the repair man, un-beckoned, stays corn fields away.
Without ever tasting the sweetness of Ohio's corn, C.P.E. Bach unknowingly described this image so well because of a talent he inspired and shared with his contemporaries. That is a talent for the slow movement. Never since Gregorian chant blessed the page have performers been so able to see what music sounds like. And since these classical
slow movements we have expanded our harmony, instrumentation, and even tuning beyond the vocabulary of our notation. Thus, the effectiveness of our notation has declined. And since then a composer's voice is often unheard due to the loudness of style. Not that this makes music better or worse. Each epoch contains different achievements and failures.
What I like about this adagio is the elasticity of the phrases. From the beginning it is clear that the tune may erratically shift register, rhythm, dynamic, or duration. Yet it never takes us totally by surprise. It pulls at the listener's heart.