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Celebrating Patriotism: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Compositions for the Militia in Hamburg

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2007


When Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach became cantor in Hamburg in 1768, he was faced with a long musical tradition shaped by his ancestor Georg Philipp Telemann. Part of this tradition was the provision of compositions for the annual meeting of the captains of the militia, for whom Telemann had composed several oratorios and serenades. Even though Bach composed only two such Bürgerkapitänsmusiken, they are instructive pieces, showing the relationship between music, culture and politics in late eighteenth-century Hamburg, which at the time was a centre of political discourse. Questions of democracy, the relationship between government and the individual, and the possibilities of ‘patriotic education’ were discussed earlier in Hamburg than in other regions of Germany. It is especially the question of patriotism and of patriotic behaviour that informs Bach’s Bürgerkapitänsmusiken. An analysis both of the librettos (written by Christian Wilhelm Alers) and of Bach’s music shows how the ideas of enlightened patriotic discourse lurk behind these compositions and how they aim to depict an ideal political community.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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