Emily I. Dolan
Harvard University

Technological History and Dissonance in C. P. E. Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano

C. P. E. Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano, Wq. 47 (H479), his last concerto, was composed for the celebrated Berlin salonnière and keyboardist Sara Levy (1761-1854). Levy, who studied with W. F. Bach and whose salon was described as “a veritable cult of Sebastian and Philipp Emanuel Bach,” played an important role in nurturing contemporary musical taste and reanimating the musical past. As Peter Wollney has argued, the recovery of her expansive library—dispersed after her death—points to her distinctly “unfashionable” tastes: her library looked to the past and shunned more popular, contemporary works. The potential strangeness of the concerto to listeners today—the pairing of an instrument with its seeming technological successor—reflects not only the complex issue of keyboard specificity in the late 18th century, but also changing notions of musical and technical obsolescence. Bach’s concerto in Levy’s hands speaks to the history of historicity itself.


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Emily I. Dolan is the Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of Music at Harvard University. Previously, she was an associate professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught since 2006. Dolan works on the music of the late 18th and 19th centuries. She focuses on issues of orchestration, timbre, aesthetics, and instrumentality, exploring in the intersections between music, science, and technology. Her first book, The Orchestral Revolution: Haydn and the Technologies of Timbre, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. Currently, Dolan is working on a collaborative project on timbre with Alexander Rehding for Oxford Handbooks Online and on her second book, which explores the concept of instrumentality (Instruments and Order).