Skip to main content

Art collection of C.P.E. Bach reconstructed by professor of music Annette Richards

Long believed to be lost, the renowned portrait collection of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, second son of Johann Sebastian Bach and during his lifetime one of the most renowned European musicians, has been restored through the efforts of Cornell professor of music Annette Richards.

Richards discovered a trove of unidentified works from the collection in the holdings of the State Library in Berlin while doing archival research in Germany, supported by a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship. Her exhaustive reconstruction of the majority of C.P.E. Bach's original collection, and its drawings, pastels and engraved prints have been brought together for the first time since the late 18th century in an exhibit at the Bach Museum in Leipzig, Germany, on display until Dec. 1.

The collection was the first of its kind in Germany and included almost 400 portraits. In the exhibit catalog, Richards describes Bach's idiosyncratic collection as "an assembly of friends, a pantheon of musical geniuses, and a collection of great cultural figures from the past." It includes images of C.P.E. Bach's family and contemporary composers and singers, as well as scientists, philosophers, theorists, poets, historical musicians and mythological figures.

C.P.E. Bach enthusiastically showed off his collection to visitors, inspiring what Richards calls "a collecting craze" among his legion of contemporary admirers. Because Bach and his imitators annotated their collections, they made a significant contribution to the discipline of music history, which was then just beginning to develop. Richards suggests that the collection reveals C.P.E. Bach as one of the first great music historians.

"The view the collection offers of C.P.E. Bach's knowledge of both contemporary and historical music, and of the long cultural legacy that culminates with him, is unparalleled," Richards writes in the exhibit catalog.

The holdings also allow a view into the world of J.S. Bach, says Richards. Many of the portraits are of figures from his cultural milieu, perhaps because J.S. Bach bequeathed his own artwork to his son, or because C.P.E. Bach decided to collect portraits of people whom he had encountered or heard about growing up.

Richards used the detailed list C.P.E. Bach left behind when he died in 1788 in her archival research. The list is 37 pages long and includes a description of each work, including the medium, size, frame and who sat for each portrait. The exhibition was produced in conjunction with the publication of Richards' complete reconstruction, "Bach's Portrait Collection," which will appear this fall in "C.P.E. Bach: The Complete Works," a series produced by the Packard Humanities Institute. Richards is currently completing an accompanying book about the Bach collection, portraiture and the 18th-century invention of music history.

Media Contact

Syl Kacapyr