Rondo in E minor, Wq 66
"Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere"
Carl Philip Emanuel Bach wrote this piece (English: "Farewell to My Silbermann Clavichord in a Rondo") in late 1781, as a farewell to his beloved Silbermann Clavichord, that he gave or sold to baron Grothuss. Much to the surprise of the young nobleman, who came to Germany only to get a glimpse of the by then famous instrument of the great master, at the end, he not only heard Emanuel play on it, but got the chance to take it with him. Certainly, Bach was looking for a safe place this instrument could live on for some generations, and the connections he had with that family, must have made him decide suddenly, to choose for the short pain, and let his instrument go.
Yet Bach was to survive young nobleman by two years, and what happened with the famous instrument, is a bit of a mystery it seems. Today, nobody really can tell if that Silbermann instrument -it would be the only surviving instrument that really can be attributed to the great builder- still exists or not. Chances are likely however, that this clavichord, on which Bach played for about 35 years, silently waited in a corner of some castle, cellar or attic for being destroyed by bombs or a dramatic fire. But let us hope this clavichord rises one day as a Phoenix, high above the earth, with rays of divine sunshine behind, playing with magic power all sounds that have been produced since its birth in 1746, filling the world with the joy that a good clavichord can offer and raising the standards and expectations of clavichords today!
But more important than this little fantasy, it is striking that the description of 1774 we have from a certain Mr. Reichhardt, is emphasising a certain aspect of the Bach instrument that today is often, I wouldn't say criticized, but generally not seen as essential to a clavichord, namely, the power that Emanuel's instrument had: "(On his) very beautiful Silbermann clavichord (Clavier in German...!), which could take fortissimos that would destroy another instrument, and pianissimos which, on any other, would never sound." *
This criteria, the power of a clavichord, is one of the main aspects for this author, to separate a "good" clavichord from other instruments, which apparently were -not surprising- outnumbering the ones like this. We read this in sources from Adlung (1722) to G.Türk (1789).
I do stress this here, since it is my believe that making an excellent clavichord is one of the most demanding tasks a builder can undertake, and that, as it was in the 18th c., is not to be found in all instruments, as it is today. Our beloved instrument has still a long journey of reconnaissance ahead. Let's strive together for the best, and dreaming of the powerful yet sweet sounds of the Silbermann clavichord. And dream well!
*Annette Richards: "The free fantasia and the musical picturesque", chapter on 'Solitude and the clavichord cult':
Bonus: my view on the use of "Bebung" on clavichord
The 'Bebung' or 'Vibrato' (if I translate correct) is one of the most legendary elements that many associate with the clavichord. The ultimate goal probably to come as close to the human voice with keyboard instruments.
People have wondered often why I seem not to use it that often.
But is that actually so? Curious to hear my personal approach to this wonderful feature? Just start the video to start and you'll find out!