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Composing Character in Musical
Portraits: Carl Philipp Emanuel
Bach and L’Aly Rupalich
Joshua S. Walden
doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdp004
91:379 –411
Advance Access publication May 20, 2009.
# The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions,
please e-mail: [email protected]
Downloaded from mq.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 17, 2011
In 1784, the artist Andreas Stöttröp sketched a portrait depicting
himself in the company of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Pastor
Christoph Christian Sturm (Figure 1).1 Stöttröp portrayed himself seated
at the left side of the image, in front of a table strewn with drawing
tools. Pastor Sturm, a mutual friend of Stöttröp and Bach and the
author of several short religious texts that Bach had set to music, sits
across from Stöttröp with his hand raised as though he is engaged in
animated conversation. Bach stands in the center of the sketch with an
arm rested on the back of a chair and appears confident and somewhat
mischievous, with raised eyebrows and a half smile.2 Directly behind
him, images on the wall depict mythological figures making music: in a
square frame by his head, a figure in flowing garments plays the lyre, and
in the round frame above that, another plays the trumpet. Stöttröp’s
portrait demonstrates not only that he valued a beneficial alliance
between art, music, and philosophy in his works, but also that he considered the portrayal of character, social station, and profession as
important as the representation of physical likeness.
Bach, who notably had his own collection of over three-hundred
painted portraits of “Composers, Musicians, Musical Writers, Lyric
Poets, and some Sublime Connoisseurs of Music,” shared these values:
he believed that music could produce portraits analogous to painting,
and that such works should represent the subject’s character, rather
than physical likeness.3 Between 1754 and 1757, Bach composed
twenty-eight character pieces for solo keyboard, many of which were
musical portraits of his Berlin acquaintances.4 New audiences encountering these compositions after the composer’s death continued to interpret them as portraits, despite being unfamiliar with the sitters. In order
to understand how these pieces functioned as portraits, it is necessary to
consider how music could be understood to represent a person’s
380 The Musical Quarterly
Andreas Stöttröp, C. P. E. Bach with Pastor Sturm and A. Stöttröp (1784),
pen-and-ink-wash sketch. Hamburger Kunsthalle. Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/
Art Resource, NY. Reprinted by permission.
character. In this article, I discuss the relationship of musical portraiture
to eighteenth-century theories regarding the correlations between music
and painting, and the nature of portraiture in the visual arts. I analyze
Bach’s musical portrait L’Aly Rupalich, originally titled La Bach (Wq.
117/27, H. 95) and thought to depict Bach or a member of his family, as
a work in which Bach shows his subject engaged in the practice of
composition.5
The inspiration for Bach’s character pieces and musical portraits
was provided by works in the genre of the pièce de caractère by his
French predecessor François Couperin.6 Bach admired Couperin’s works
for their utility in the pedagogy of keyboard performance: in his Versuch
über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen, published shortly before his first
musical portraits in 1753, Bach writes that French keyboard pieces, such
as those of Couperin that inspired his own set of twenty-four, “have
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Figure 1.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
381
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always been good schooling.”7 In the style of Couperin’s character
pieces, Bach’s works in the genre are either given titles referring to
human characteristics or named after people. David Fuller locates the
inspiration for Couperin’s development of the pièce de caractère in
France, during the brief 1650s fad for short literary portraits, prose
documents of around 1,000 words written by and about members of
high society.8 During this decade, Couperin’s uncle Louis composed
short keyboard works, which, in a manner prefiguring the pièces de
caractère that his nephew would eventually write, served aristocratic
audiences, incorporated playfulness and “preciosity,” and emphasized
sophistication and delicacy.9
For Bach, the impetus for writing in the genre two decades after
Couperin’s death was most likely the Francophilia of the royal court of
his employer, the Prussian King Friedrich II. Friedrich’s rococo palace in
Potsdam, built approximately one decade before Bach wrote his character pieces, was given the French moniker “Sanssouci” (“carefree”).
Surrounded by French gardens, the palace contained the king’s extensive collection of paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau and other French
artists. Friedrich wrote predominantly in French, invited French cultural
figures to visit the court, and expected artists, authors, and musicians
under his patronage to be familiar with French culture. This craze for
things French was also reflected in the music at Sanssouci. Friedrich
Wilhelm Marpurg describes the prominence of French performance
techniques in Prussia as follows: “Very many of our most famous players
admit that they have taken from the French the preciseness of their
performance.”10 Referring to the musicians of Friedrich II’s court,
namely Kapellmeister Carl Heinrich Graun and court composer Franz
Benda, Marpurg remarks elsewhere that “Quantz, Benda and Graun play
very much in the French style.”11 Indeed, Johann Joachim Quantz
studied flute during his youth with the Frenchman Pierre-Gabriel
Buffardin; and, perhaps in part as a result of this partnership, Quantz
later became an advocate of French styles of instrumental performance.
In his Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, Quantz
describes the German mode of composition as a “mixed style,” because
it combines techniques from French and Italian musical traditions.12
The French and Italians, he states, “have earned considerable esteem
through their improvement of musical style.”13 French culture also
inspired composers of German opera; in the period 1750– 56, Graun, for
example, composed as many as nine Italian tragic operas whose texts
were adapted from libretti by French authors including Quinault,
Racine, and Voltaire.14
382 The Musical Quarterly
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The precedence of the French genre inspired Bach to include in
his character pieces gestural and structural elements in the style of
Couperin’s music. In mm. 1– 8 of his portrait L’Herrmann (Wq. 117/23,
H. 92), for instance, Bach employs turns, trills, grace notes, and mordents that resemble the heavy ornaments of Couperin’s compositions
(Ex. 1). He also frequently composes dotted rhythms, which invoke the
French overture styles of both Couperin and Jean-Baptiste Lully. Other
musical portraits incorporate broken arpeggios reminiscent of the French
style brisé, the keyboard imitation of rolled chords on strummed instruments so prevalent in Couperin’s piano works. For example, Bach
includes broken chords in mm. 14–16 of La Buchholtz (Wq. 117/24,
H. 93), and throughout the entirety of La Borchward (Wq. 117/17,
H. 79).
Bach’s musical portraits represent his colleagues and acquaintances
from Friedrich’s court and Berlin’s cultural and professional elite. The
works were originally performed for the friends and families of their
subjects, in intimate and semi-private venues. As Ingeborg Allihn has
demonstrated, small musical gatherings such as these were the precursors
to salon concerts that soon became popular in Berlin, and they thus
heralded the start of an important movement in the social history of
Berlin’s musical life.15 Many of Bach’s character pieces were disseminated and popularized in the serials Musikalisches Allerley and
Musikalisches Mancherley; these compendia of short compositions,
targeted predominantly at middle-class amateur musicians of the
domestic sphere, also contained works by composers such as Johann
Joachim Quantz, Johann Friedrich Agricola, and their Berlin
contemporaries.
Only fourteen of the people named in Bach’s musical portraits
have been identified.16 Berg explains that a handful of these subjects
were participants in a so-called cult of friendship that flourished in
mid-eighteenth-century Berlin; the group centered around the poet
Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, whose work lamented loneliness and
celebrated companionship as an ideal.17 After Gleim left Berlin in 1747,
his circle formed the Berliner Montags-Klub, an institution that met
every Thursday for meals and camaraderie.18 Although not a member of
the club, Bach was familiar with many of its participants. He composed
musical portraits of Gleim and many Montags-Klub members, including
Berlin court officials Ernst Samuel Jakob Borchward and Johann
Wilhelm Bergius, the club’s founder.19 Bach maintained an important
role in Berlin’s active cultural life in the 1750s, and so his association
with Gleim and the members of the Montags-Klub was both social and
creative. Bach composed a setting of Gleim’s poem Der Wirt und die
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
383
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Gäste in 1766 (Wq. 201, H. 699) and frequently set poetry by other
members of the club. The Montags-Klub took part in the flourishing
literary genre of pastoral Anacreontic poetry, which Gleim helped to
initiate during this period. In 1753, Gleim granted the lawyer Christian
Gottfried Krause and the poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler permission to
publish an anthology of Anacreontic lieder, pastoral odes set to music
by Bach and composers such as Quantz and Agricola.20 In Berlin’s
productive cultural environment of the 1750s—distinguished by its
emphasis on collaboration, friendship, and the high value placed on the
arts—Bach’s musical portraits were intended to be amusing and respectful representations of his acquaintances.
Even for those acquaintances, however, Bach’s musical portraits
were only identifiable as portraits because they were accompanied by
titles that conveyed their genre. In 1807, Heinrich Christoph Koch
defined the character piece as “one whose character is expressly illustrated by means of the heading.”21 As Karol Berger explains in A Theory
of Art, “Mimetic music considers language, whether explicitly present or
implied, to be the essential component of music.”22 Far from an expendable element in the score, the title is essential to the work’s performance
and reception, and to the mimetic function of the musical portrait.
When a person’s name is prefixed to a musical portrait, the performer
and listener imagine the character of the music as belonging to a specific
human subject. The title of the piece, which mediates between the
music and the listener, inspires an imaginative mode of reception: it
serves as a lens through which to perceive notes and structures as representations of human characteristics.23
Following Couperin’s example, Bach named each portrait with the
French article la to imply the word “pièce,” followed by a human characteristic or a sitter’s name: for example, La Capricieuse and La Gleim
imply La pièce Capricieuse and La pièce Gleim.24 The convention of using
the article la has sometimes led to understandable confusion. Carl
Hermann Bitter, for instance, assumes in his 1868 biography of Bach
that the gendered article indicates that the sitters were “young ladies.”25
As a result, his speculative interpretations of a number of these works
are founded on error: for instance, he asserts that L’Herrmann
“represents a woman of gentle, sensitive character with a wistful elegance, not without passionate impulse.”26 However, L’Herrmann actually
depicts Friedrich Gottfried Herrmann, a Berlin clerk and privy counsellor.27 Bitter’s mistake reminds us that a musical portrait cannot, of
course, project a distinct likeness. By mistaking the identity of the sitter,
Bitter interprets the portrait as a vivid representation of a very different
sort of person than Bach intended to depict.
384 The Musical Quarterly
The capacity of the title to influence interpretation is, of course,
not unique to music; it is a critical feature of portraiture in the visual
arts as well. The title identifies the sitter as a particular person (rather
than a mythical or imagined character) and provides hints regarding his
or her social station. Throughout the history of the genre, painted portraiture has relied on more than mere physical likeness. Art historian
Richard Brilliant lists the portrait’s essential components as “a recognized or recognizable appearance; a given name that refers to no one
else; a social, interactive function that can be defined; in context, a pertinent characterization; and a consciousness of the distinction between
one’s own person and another’s, and of the possible relationship
between them.”28 Thus, portraiture requires a number of signs that indicate the sitter’s identity, including linguistic markers such as the sitter’s
name, and more abstract symbols of his or her character and social
station. Musical structures and performance cannot convey physical likeness, but they can be interpreted to represent these other crucial
elements of portraiture.
The function of the title is often similar to that of expressive
markings, and Bach frequently includes both in his portraits; for
example, he labels La Stahl (Wq. 117/25, H. 94) with the marking
grave. Titles and expressive markings perform a number of distinct and
separate roles: for instance, titles can function as salient indications of
genre, while expressive markings rarely carry out this task. But they can
act together in vital ways as prescriptive instructions that dictate modes
of interpretation to listeners or performers, and also as programmatic
indicators of the character represented by the music. Using terms that
can be applied to titles just as they are to expressive markings, Leo
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Example 1. C. P. E. Bach, L’Herrmann, mm. 1– 8.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
385
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Treitler writes that annotations such as grave are “an alternative medium
of signification, working together with notation in the awesome task of
representing music—another way of thinking about the ‘language of
music.’”29
In the eighteenth century, language in music was understood to
give the listener a tool for interpreting meaning in instrumental
works. Language could also rein in the performer’s propensity for the
flamboyant use of ornamentation. In the first part of his Versuch, Bach
advocates the use of words to explain a work’s meaning to a performer,
and thus exert control over his performance: “Composers . . . act wisely
who in notating their works include terms, in addition to tempo indications, which help clarify the meaning of a piece.”30 Marpurg writes in
a 1754 essay in Historisch-Kritische Beyträge that the purpose of a title is
to be “sufficient to guide the hand of the player.”31 Marpurg, who composed his own character pieces, including the 1741 work Les Dryades,
remarks that the genre particularly precludes undesirable, extravagant
performance techniques because of the role played by the title.32 He
also sees the title as a guide to improving the listener’s experience:
“Why not give the listener the opportunity to think of something on
hearing [music], rather than of nothing? . . . If instrumental music that
represents nothing, that means nothing, is in fact lacking in soul, why
are people reluctant to prefix a character to that music which is
intended to represent and mean something?”33 In another essay,
Marpurg argues that instead of writing traditional Italian tempo indications including “allegro” and “adagio” in the scores of keyboard works,
it is better to employ descriptive characteristic words such as “calm,”
“fiery,” “wild,” and “dancing.” According to Marpurg, these words help
listeners to interpret the works as representations of Empfindungen, the
emotions and affects popularly considered during this period to be an
important subject of instrumental music.34
Portrait painters shared with composers of musical portraits the
aim of representing human emotions and passions. During the late
eighteenth century, it was believed that a successful visual portrait
should depict not only exterior likeness, but inner character, which was
thought to arise from the combination of passions in the mind or heart.
The importance to portraiture of the visual representation of the soul
can be traced back as far as Socrates. In a passage from The Memorabilia,
Xenophon—notably portrayed Bach’s musical portrait La Xenophon
(Wq. 117/29/i, H. 123)—recounts Socrates’s lesson to a sculptor: “Must
not the threatening look in the eyes of fighters be accurately represented, and the triumphant expression on the face of conquerors be
imitated? . . . It follows, then, that the sculptor must represent in his
386 The Musical Quarterly
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figures the activities of the soul.”35 Centuries later, Charles le Brun,
who held the title of Premier Peintre du Roi at the court of Louis XIV,
was particularly influential regarding the depiction of character. Le Brun
considered human passions to be the components of the soul that
combine to create character. The 1698 treatise based on his lectures,
Méthode pour apprendre à dessiner les passions proposée dans une conference
sur l’expression générale et particulière, provided instructions for artists
on how to represent all of the human passions, such as desire, hope,
fear, jealousy, and rage. Translated widely by the 1750s, le Brun’s
treatise had appeared twice in German, first in 1704 and then again in
1721.36
The English translation of le Brun’s treatise, which appeared in
print in London in 1701, relates his description of the importance of
depicting inner character as follows: “Expression, in my Opinion, is a
Lively and Natural Resemblance of the Things which we have to
Represent; . . . without it no Picture can be perfect; it is that which
describes the true Characters of Things.”37 Expression, according to le
Brun, makes visible the combination of passions in a person’s soul.
Adopting a scientific basis for his hypothesis, he explains that these passions, emanating from a gland in the center of the brain, cause motions
in the face, particularly in the eyebrows; these motions in turn produce
an expression, which conveys character. In a further lecture on physiognomy, le Brun elaborates on this process: “The Affections of the Soul,
do follow the Temparament (sic) of the Body, and . . . the external
Characters, are certain Signs of the Affections of the Soul; so that by
the Form of every Creature may be known its Humours and Temper.”38
Also printed in most editions of le Brun’s treatise is a series of sketched
templates designed to instruct the reader on how to depict the passions
in line drawings of the face.39
Eighteenth-century portraitists shared a similar conception of character and the passions. In his 1753 treatise Analysis of Beauty, William
Hogarth, acknowledging his debt to le Brun’s treatise, explains, “It is by
the natural and unaffected movements of the muscles, caused by the
passions of the mind, that every man’s character would in some measure
be written in his face.”40 By drawing mere curved lines on an image of a
face, asserts Hogarth, the artist can signify any combination of passions,
and thus any human character. Many eighteenth-century artists and
critics in Britain and Europe professed to prefer characteristic portraiture,
a subgenre of portraiture aimed at representing its subjects as figures
embodying a unique character combined of human passions.41 Crucial
to the high esteem with which characteristic portraiture was regarded
was the notion that the viewer engaged in an intellectual endeavor as
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
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he inferred the sitter’s character from the combination of signifiers in
the portrait. The eighteenth-century writer William Combe remarked
that, in characteristic portraits, “this Addition of Character . . . calls forth
new sentiments to the Picture; for by seeing Persons represented with an
appearance suited to them, or in employments natural to their situation,
our ideas are multiplied, and branch forth into a pleasing variety.”42 A
successful characteristic portrait does more than merely portray a likeness: it incites the viewer to engage intellectually with the artwork, to
muse over the nature of character.
Instrumental music became a plausible medium for characteristic
portraiture because, in eighteenth-century Germany, it was commonly
considered that music, of all the arts, could best depict the abstract
elements of the sitter’s persona—the passions and affects—that constitute his character. Bach and Couperin employed musical gestures to
evoke a variety of human passions. In a work possessing a characteristic
name, the musical signs are read as mimetic of generic human characteristics; and by providing the name of a particular sitter, the composer
ascribes the combination of passions—and the resultant sense of overall
character—to that person.
The method of depicting character in music was related to the
Affektenlehre, the theory of the affections, which appeared with ubiquitous frequency during this period in German treatises on music.
Theorists of the affections argued that musical figures should invoke
emotional responses in the listener. Marpurg and Quantz wrote in detail
on the subject, often associating the various affects that a work of music
represents with its unified character. Krause, who developed his aesthetic theory of music largely under the influence of his Montags-Klub
acquaintances, wrote in his Von der musikalischen Poesie that music
should clearly convey emotion (Empfindung) and the “character of the
affects.”43 Similarly, according to Paul F. Marks, “C. P. E. Bach’s
interpretation of the baroque unity of character lies mainly in his thesis
of ‘vieler Affekten, kurtz hintereinander’” (many affections, one directly
after the other).44
In his Essay on the Origin of Languages, written between 1754 and
1761, Jean-Jacques Rousseau states that the purpose of melody is the imitation of the passions of the soul. Discerning human character from
music’s sound structure required a similar sort of intellectual endeavor as
inferring it from visual character portraits: according to Rousseau,
the passions signified by a melody resonate in the soul of the comprehending listener. Rousseau writes, “The passions [that representations] express
are what stir ours; the objects they represent are what affect us. . . . Music
is no more the art of combining sounds to please the ear than painting is
388 The Musical Quarterly
The essential element servicing music is passionate emotions. Thus it is
properly concerned with the depiction of character, at least in so far as
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the art of combining colors to please the eye.”45 For Rousseau, it was not
sufficient for art to entertain the spectator with the superficial pleasures of
sound or color; successful art must move the soul.46
In his 1780 essay Über die musikalische Malerei, aesthetician Johann
Jakob Engel offers an argument evocative of Rousseau’s Essay and other
texts from the 1750s, emphasizing music’s representational capacity and
its ability to cause the soul of the spectator to resonate in empathy with
the passions it evokes. Engel likens the composer to a Tonkünstler, a tone
artist, who paints Empfindungen with musical notes.47 The composer represents sensibility by manipulating such elements as key, rhythm, melody,
and harmony to cause vibrations in the nervous system of the listener,
whose feelings the composer may imagine being played upon, as an instrument. These vibrations trigger what he calls “passionate imaginings,” and
the same sensibilities the composer wishes to represent in his subject are
conjured in the soul of the listener. In Engel’s terms, a listener imagines
the subject of a character piece or musical portrait by listening empathetically and recognizing the passions it represents, in the manner of Combe’s
spectator who actively interprets the characteristic portrait.
Many writers in the second half of the eighteenth century borrowed terms from painting to describe the processes of interpretation.
Annette Richards has demonstrated that Charles Avison and Johann
Nikolaus Forkel initiated the use of terms such as “chiaroscuro” to refer
to the juxtaposition of consonance and dissonance, and “color” to
connote dynamic contrast.48 A number of writers employ the metaphors
of light and shadow to describe musical contrasts: Joseph Riepel, for
instance, uses the terms in his Anfangsgründe zur musicalischen Setzkunst
to describe dynamic and melodic contrasts.49 Koch, in his 1802 Lexikon,
describes the appreciation of music in the chamber style by analogy to
genres of painting: composers of chamber music “imitated the painter
who shades more finely and colors in greater detail a painting intended
to be viewed from close by [rather] than, for example, a ceiling painting
which is far from the eye and in which not only are these nuances lost,
but the effect of the whole is weaker.”50 Koch’s analogy recalls the
similar ideals regarding the interpretation of painted portraiture and
musical portraits during the eighteenth century.
In the article “Mahlerey” from the third volume of his 1771– 74
Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste, Johann Georg Sulzer applies the
analogy between the reception of music and painting specifically to Bach
and the genre of the character piece:
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
389
this can be depicted by notes and rhythms. . . . Couperin, as well as a few
other French composers, have depicted quite specific characteristics of
individual men. And after him, C. P. E. Bach has published some short
keyboard pieces that express quite strikingly the various characteristics of
his friends and acquaintances. This entails more than painting inanimate
elements of nature in music, impressing the ear with the sounds found in
nature itself such as thunder or storms. It entails painting those emotions
that stir our soul through specific sentiments, such as the tenderness of a
quiet pastoral scene. This is only possible when music is accompanied by
poetry, by which the painting whose effect is sensed by the ear also presents itself to our imagination.51
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Bach conveys character in his musical portraits, according to Sulzer, by
painting human emotions with musical brushstrokes. To Sulzer, instrumental music is well suited to convey a sense of character: as music
speaks to the emotions, the listener is moved to imagine the person
described by its combination of pitches and rhythms. But as Sulzer intimates in general terms, the musical portrait requires the addition of
language—in the case of Bach’s musical portraits, not poetry but a
title—before it will provoke the listener’s imagination to picture a
human subject.
To represent Empfindung, Bach often employs the compositional
empfindsamer Stil, or the “sensibility style,” of which he was an originator
and advocate. Although many of Bach’s character pieces and musical
portraits are vigorous, dance like, and structurally simple, in several
others the empfindsamer Stil is the topos, or musical stylistic signifier,
that Bach calls upon to represent human character and sensibility. The
empfindsamer Stil incorporates fragmentary gestures and an introverted
atmosphere to depict characteristic affects and incite emotional
responses in the listener. The style was associated with the
mid-eighteenth-century literary movement of Empfindsamkeit, represented by such authors as Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Matthias
Claudius, and Friedrich Gottfried Klopstock, who drew influence from
British literature in the sensibility style by Laurence Sterne, Samuel
Richardson, and others. Sterne’s novels were particularly admired in
Germany; his Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France
and Italy were translated into German by Johann Joachim Christoph
Bode during the 1760s.52 In her book Sensibility, Janet Todd demonstrates that authors and critics in Germany were more focused on reader
response than in those, as authors such as Lessing sought to develop a
literary style that would “refin[e] the capacities of the audience to
feel.”53 In music, proponents of the empfindsamer Stil were similarly
390 The Musical Quarterly
Example 2. C. P. E. Bach, La Stahl, mm. 1–11.
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concerned with the listener’s response. In fact, the style can be invoked
to describe modes of both composition and listening: the music is
characterized by extraordinarily emotive compositional gestures and also
by the listener’s willingness to yield to the feelings evoked in performance.54 Bach wrote that for the expression in a work of music to move
the audience, the performer himself must respond empathetically,
feeling the emotions of the music: “A musician cannot move others
unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the affects that
he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humor
will stimulate a like humor in the listener.”55
Bach employs this topos to particularly expressive effect in his
D-minor portrait La Stahl (Ex. 2). Georg Ernst Stahl was a doctor whose
family was intimately associated with Bach’s own; his father, who went
by the same name, was a famous Prussian court physician and essayist
who wrote on the subject of temperament. This portrait, is structured as
a sarabande in a grounded, earnest 3/2 time signature, giving the music
an upstanding, stentorian tone. The frequency of the long rests and the
relative melodic simplicity suggest a vocal, declamatory quality, in the
manner of a recitative. The first three and a half measures begin in a
nearly homophonic texture; from the end of m. 4 to m. 7, Bach juxtaposes this with forward-moving lines of dotted-eighth-sixteenth gestures
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that are archaic and serious in their reference to the French overture
style, and cut against the previous stasis. The final phrase of the piece’s
opening (from m. 8 until the repeat sign in m. 11) comprises a simple
and sweetly singing melody over a pedal bass, which concludes with an
ornamented closing gesture. The variety of musical styles and frequent
dynamic contrasts that constitute Bach’s use of the empfindsamer Stil in
this piece allow the composer to depict his friend’s respectable social
standing and temperament. Within the first eleven measures, Bach uses
chorale and French overture gestures in the minor key to convey Stahl’s
strong religious and moral character, while also adopting the singing
style to evoke Stahl’s gentle, sensitive nature.
An analysis of Bach’s portrait L’Aly Rupalich demonstrates how a
title can inspire the listener’s (in this case my own) interpretation of a
work of music (Ex. 3). Two of the extant manuscript copies of this portrait show evidence of an original title, La Bach, scratched out and
replaced with L’Aly Rupalich. Scholars have attributed one revision to a
copyist, the other to Bach himself.56 This alteration is commonly taken
to indicate that the composer preferred to call his original subject jokingly by a pseudonym. I interpret L’Aly Rupalich to be a self-portrait or a
portrait of a composer in Bach’s family, containing musical gestures that
both recall and humorously break fundamental rules of eighteenthcentury composition. Couperin had set a precedent for musical selfportraiture with La Couperin, which was published in his 1730 Quâtrième
livre de pièces de clavecin. Davitt Moroney has described La Couperin as
representing its composer as “a naturally quiet and modest man who
nevertheless possessed a startlingly clear sense of his own worth.”57 In
contrast with L’Aly Rupalich, Couperin’s self-portrait is in a somber E
minor, marked D’une vivacité moderée, with multiple simultaneous voices
and numerous performance embellishments typical of his style.
L’Aly Rupalich depicts its subject as actively engaged in the
practice of composing. This representation of composition is particularly
rich because it integrates several of the varied components of the profession, including performance, improvisation, and pedagogy. These
components were not simply alternate aspects of Bach’s career; they
were inseparable from the task of composition, which for Bach involved
performing and improvising ideas at the piano or on manuscript paper,
and was informed by his work as a teacher. The depiction of musical
composition in this portrait of the composer is analogous to a common
theme in visual portraiture, in which painters show themselves and
other artists in the act of painting. Examples include the image of the
artist in the triple portrait by Stöttröp, and the 1761 self-portrait by
Anna Dorothea Therbusch, an acquaintance of Gleim and other
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Example 3. C. P. E. Bach, L’Aly Rupalich.
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Continued.
Example 3.
393
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
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Example 3. Continued.
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Continued.
Example 3.
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Composing Character in Musical Portraits
396 The Musical Quarterly
Figure 2. Anna Dorothea Therbusch-Lisiewska, Self-Portrait (1761), oil on canvas.
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Reprinted by permission.
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members of the Montags-Klub, in which the artist poses with a palette
and paintbrushes (Figure 2).58 If Bach’s composition is not a selfportrait, it might instead depict his younger brother Johann Christian,
who, after the death of their father Johann Sebastian, came to live and
study composition and keyboard performance with Bach in Berlin, from
1750 to 1755. Bach completed L’Aly Rupalich the year his brother left
and he incorporates gestures that allude to keyboard and composition
pedagogy; thus the piece might refer to their relationship.
L’Aly Rupalich is witty and cunning in its expressive and gestural
shifts and juxtapositions. Bach chose to write his composition in C
major, the key that Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart describes in his
1775 Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst as “completely pure. Its character is: innocence, naı̈veté, child-babblings.”59 From this innocent key
signature, a blank palette with no sharps or flats, Bach’s music modulates
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
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frequently and suddenly, moves to surprising keys, and incorporates frequent dissonance. He constantly juxtaposes keys and dynamics, submitting his melodies to a jumble of perfunctory musical twists and turns, to
convey the sitter’s mischievous complexity. The result is a portrait rife
with wry, humorous gestures that involve obvious compositional rule
breaking to suggest that the sitter is represented in the act of composition. In a chapter on improvisation in his Versuch, Bach argues that
performers surprise their listeners by building up and then foiling expectation: “It is one of the beauties of improvisation to feign modulation to
a new key through a formal cadence and then move off in another direction.”60 He calls this technique “rational deception,” and associates it
with the genre of the fantasia in particular. In L’Aly Rupalich, the composer repeatedly invokes this technique, thwarting his listener’s expectations to humorous effect.
L’Aly Rupalich is structured in a variant of rondo form. The refrain
operates as an icon or idée fixe that signifies the sitter’s character, and,
when put through key changes and metric variations, represents the
mutability of the sitter’s affects. Bach adopts a jaunty syncopation in his
refrain, avoiding the downbeats in mm. 3, 9, 14, and 16. He also
includes a number of self-conscious compositional “problems” that
convey the sitter’s brazen comfort breaking the rules. For example, in
the second and third measures of the refrain (mm. 2 –3), Bach choreographs surprising voice-leading maneuvers: the B-natural that the listener expects to resolve down to an A or B-flat instead leaps up a sixth
to a G, as the D below it leaps up to the B-flat, so that it sounds as
though an outer voice has resolved in an inner voice. In addition, Bach
creates playfully off-kilter, weak phrase endings, concluding mm. 15 and
17 with the fifth-scale degree in the soprano, on the last eighth note of
the bar. As the work’s perfunctory ideas unfold, the rational deceptions
and seams between its disparate sections evoke the experimentation and
improvisation of the enterprise of composing music.
The surprising C-minor reiteration of the refrain in m. 146, at the
first pianissimo dynamic of the piece, also evokes improvisatory musical
decision making. While it is common among Bach’s compositions for a
work’s major theme to recur later in the minor—as in the Fantasia in F
major (Wq. 59/5, H. 279), in which the jaunty theme that opens the
piece is suddenly made foreboding and sinister in the minor mode—the
abruptness of the change in L’Aly Rupalich is surprising and unusual. In
Bach’s portrait, this sudden modal alteration is followed just as rapidly
by the subito fortissimo return to C major in m. 152, on a striking register
change in the right hand. The lack of common preparation for these
changes between major and minor emphasizes the tongue-in-cheek
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nature of the piece, mocking a composer who might decide to try his
refrain in the minor and, unsatisfied, change his mind. It also represents
a subject who cycles through a breadth of emotional states with a jaded,
cynical flippancy.
During most of L’Aly Rupalich, the left hand plays a constant bass
line of broken octaves; traditionally called a “murky bass,” this style
pattern originated in the 1720s and was popular—and much derided in
music treatises—throughout the eighteenth century. Leonard Ratner
associates the murky bass with rustic, “flat-footed” contredances.61 The
origins of this technique are not certain, although Marpurg, in his
Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst, writes that the murky was developed
by the Potsdam composer Seedo in 1720–21 to accompany a set of
humorous song texts.62 It developed into a small genre of its own as
composers wrote and published sets of works with the title “Murky”
intended for amateur practice. It also appeared in galant genres such as
songs, minuets, and sonatinas. Theorists such as Jacob Adlung and
Georg Andreas Sorge derided church musicians for playing music with
the murky bass, which they considered too frivolous for the venue.63
Sorge advised in his Vorgemach der musicalischen Composition that organists should avoid playing such works, particularly during church services, because although the technique is “composed very justifiably for
the purpose of entertainment,” it causes “vexation, and the desecration
of organs dedicated to the worship service itself.”64 Sorge recommends
that performers and composers look to organ works by both J. S. and
C. P. E. Bach as models of how to balance bass and middle voices.
Indeed, the murky bass is rare in Bach’s oeuvre, occurring only intermittently in light-hearted, dance like passages in such works as the third
movement, Presto, of Symphony No. 4 in G Major (Wq. 183/4,
H. 666). Among Bach’s other portraits, only La Böhmer employs a
murky bass, though in that case the murky alternates with other bass
gestures.65 Bach himself writes disparagingly of the murky: “Pupils are
racked with vapid Murkys . . . in which the left hand, its role reduced to
a mere thumping, is rendered useless for its true employment.”66
In L’Aly Rupalich, the murky puts harmony through the works by
acting stubbornly as a pedal on non-chord tones, creating dissonances
with the right hand. This bass is satirically absurd in its incessant
motion and inscrutable disruption of the harmony. The continuity of
the gesture makes Bach’s rare deviations from the murky bass even more
ironic. For example, in the cadence on G in mm. 95 –97, the chords are
held out under fermatas; the F-sharp creates a jarring dissonance with
the F-natural in the soprano; dynamics drop from fortissimo to piano; the
tempo marking becomes a solemn adagio; and the half notes in the bass
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
399
contrast dramatically with the murky bass that has continued almost
uninterrupted up to this moment. Elsewhere, the murky bass seems to
undercut lyrical phrases in the right hand; as it continues stiffly in the
left hand, the right hand plays in a variety of styles, in a manner that
resembles a compositional technique that Bach claims in his Versuch to
deplore:
By incorporating in this work the same musical idiom that he criticizes
in his Versuch, Bach seems to mock his own standards of composition
and pedagogy. Notably, the murky also appears in a composition that
originates in Bach’s family circle and was written for pedagogical purposes, the 1725 “Musette” from Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach
(BWV Anhang 126). Here, the murky bass is part of a pastoral style; its
repetition and stubborn harmonies are employed to invoke the sounds of
the musette, a traditional instrument resembling the bagpipe, after
which the work is named. As it does in L’Aly Rupalich, the murky bass
in the “Musette” sets a marching tempo in 2/4 time, and produces clashing, syncopated dissonances with chromatic passing and neighboring
tones in the right hand.
In its percussiveness, simple marching gait, and frequent modulation, the murky bass in L’Aly Rupalich is not pastoral in nature, but
marks an instance of the “Turkish” topos, a comic, masquerading style
that German composers derived by loosely imitating the military music
of the Turkish Janissary bands.68 The “Turkish” topos constituted a set
of compositional figures and techniques that signified this Eastern
“other” in Western terms. It was entertaining for Western listeners
because it was exotic, raucous, and evocative of titillating, highly fictionalized common conceptions of foreign customs. Contemporary portraitists often depicted sitters in Turkish-style garb; in William Hogarth’s
1745 Self-Portrait with Pug, for instance, the artist sports a turban and
draped shirt (Figure 3).69 Turbans and “Turkish” fabrics in portraiture
contributed an atmosphere of joyous masquerade, and implied the
sitter’s pioneering, fashionable nature.
The title of L’Aly Rupalich seems to be an instance of “Turkish”
exoticism: “Aly” invokes the homophonic Islamic name “Ali,” and the
guttural “ch” at the end of “Rupalich” could be a linguistic mimicry of
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Teachers try to make amends for a stiff left hand by teaching their
students to favor the right and garnish adagio or expressive passages with
a wealth of pretty little trills to the revulsion of good taste. These are
often interchanged with senile, pedantic embellishments and fumbling,
inept runs of which the fingers seem to grow choleric.67
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Figure 3.
William Hogarth, The Painter and His Pug (1745), oil on canvas. Tate
Gallery, London/Art Resource, NY. Reprinted by permission.
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the Turkish language. Bach was likely to have been familiar with the
name Ali from the popular story “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from
The 1001 Nights. This text was first translated into French by Antoine
Galland in 1704, and in 1711 it was published in German by August
Bohse. As Ruth Tatlow demonstrates, J. S. Bach’s maternal relatives, as
well as the librettist of most of his Weimar cantatas, had close connections with Bohse, and thus J. S. Bach was surely acquainted with the
author at one time.70 Even without firsthand knowledge of the tale of
Ali Baba, C. P. E. Bach might well have fallen under its influence,
because, as ethnographers Yuriko Yamanaka and Tetsuo Nishio explain,
the dissemination of The 1001 Nights in Europe “was an epochal event
which triggered off the European fascination for orientalia, and consequently the phenomenon of . . . ‘Orientalism.’”71
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A number of gestures in L’Aly Rupalich conjure the “Turkish”
topos. The 2/4 time signature and strong emphasis of downbeats were
common elements of the topos, and were employed to evoke the military
marches and heavy kettledrum beats of the Janissary bands. Composers
also frequently adopted sudden dynamic alterations between the
extremes of piano and forte, such as those occurring between mm. 14
and 18, to suggest an exotic atmosphere. Similarly, in imitation of
Turkish musical modes, composers often created jarring moments of
unprepared alterations between the diatonic modes, as Bach does when
he brings in the refrain in C minor without preparation in m. 146, and
then returns abruptly to C major in m. 152. And finally, the broad leaps
in the right hand in mm. 168– 83 recall gestures common to exoticist
musical turquerie.
L’Aly Rupalich offers an incisive parody of composition. One way in
which the music appears to thematize composition is through rudimentary references to the learned style. In alluding in isolated passages to
composers’ early lessons in the rules of counterpoint and harmony, Bach
uses this style as a signifier of the fundamentals of composition.72 Bach
composes in this style periodically in L’Aly Rupalich; in mm. 27–28 and
31– 34, for example, he creates a contrapuntal texture with suspensions
for the right hand. Additionally, passages of sequence, such as those
occurring in mm. 67 –70 and 80– 84, while not precisely in the learned
style, are similarly simple gestures recalling basic composition pedagogy.
In mm. 80– 83, the music begins to move in sequence around the circle
of fifths, as Bach suddenly follows traditional rules of harmonic motion
in the midst of a piece that often defies the listener’s expectations in
this regard. Throughout his career, Bach generally eschewed the learned
style, favoring accompanied melody and ornamentation to counterpoint’s
rigid polyphonic structures.73 But here he appears to provide commentary on the learned style: the pedantic, archaic nature of the style in
L’Aly Rupalich clashes starkly with the murky bass, whose patterns flippantly debase it.
Bach also takes a playful approach to the voice-leading technique
in L’Aly Rupalich. In particular, he intentionally avoids well-established
rules in favor of strange sonic effects, which may express a risk-taking
character. As Berg notes in her analysis, the B-flat from the third
measure recurs with thematic regularity at interspersed moments
throughout the piece.74 It reappears in m. 68, as the flat second scale
degree in the midst of a passage in which the music has modulated to
the tonic’s relative key of A minor (starting in m. 59), established by
seven measures of pedal tones on the dominant E and frequent soundings of the leading tone G-sharp. The B-flat here is the root of a striking
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first-inversion Neapolitan sixth chord built with D in the bass. This
clashes dissonantly with B-naturals at the end of m. 69 in the right
hand, and again in m. 70 in the bass. The B-flat returns again in
m. 123, as an appoggiatura that the ear expects to resolve down to
A. As an example of Bach’s rational deception, however, the harmony
fails to resolve until as late as m. 129, while the bass line rises by halfsteps. This is part of a surprising interruption in the harmonic motion:
although it appears that m. 118 should cadence to F, the harmony is
interrupted in m. 119 by a fortissimo A-dominant-seventh chord. The
disruption is prolonged for a full ten measures, until the music at last
arrives at F major in m. 129. Furthermore, parallel fifths are arguably
audible in the recurring motive that is heard in m. 19, and again in mm.
67–68, which begin with open fifths in the right hand. I interpret this
deception in Bach’s portrait as another indication that the piece represents its subject as a composer with an unpredictable nature, a propensity to take risks, and sufficient knowledge of the rules of composition to
take them for granted and to willfully defy them.
The premature ending of L’Aly Rupalich is also deceptive: in the
middle of yet another C-major reiteration of the refrain, the piece concludes abruptly, as though the hands are torn from the keyboard midphrase, on a chord marked pianissimo, with a weak fifth-scale degree in
the soprano on the final eighth note of the bar. Other eighteenthcentury artists similarly crafted witty, unexpected endings in their works.
Haydn, for instance, created an unconventional conclusion in the last
movement of his String Quartet, op. 33, no. 2, in E-flat major, nicknamed “The Joke.” Sterne also often confounds the reader’s expectations of form in his novels; Sentimental Journey ends in mid-sentence,
in a manner that resembles the final bars of L’Aly Rupalich. These artists
create the impression that their works could have continued indefinitely,
and that they chose arbitrary points at which to conclude them. Thus
the double bars in L’Aly Rupalich serve as a frame around the perpetual
motion of the portrait within, like the frame of a painting, traditionally
interpreted as a windowpane offering a glimpse of an alternate reality
that extends beyond its confines.75 The unexpected final double bar
seems to indicate that the music depicts a reality that continues metaphorically beyond the framing; this suggests that the subject’s character
is unceasingly vivacious, and thus must be interrupted by the double-bar
frame.
Bach’s biographer Bitter appears to have had in mind the compositional gestures I have interpreted as deliberately ironic when he
describes the character represented in L’Aly Rupalich as “a restless,
outgoing nature full of changing passions and affections . . . and without
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
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inwardness or profundity, hardly capable of grief, which, when it
appears, disappears again quickly.”76 Had Bitter known that the original
name for L’Aly Rupalich was La Bach, it is doubtful that he would have
interpreted the playfulness of the portrait in the same negative light.
Bitter’s assessment thus provides a compelling case study in the function
of titles in the reception of musical portraiture: the same music one
finds “without inwardness or profundity” in a portrait of a character with
so ludicrous a name as Aly Rupalich is heard as clever and selfconsciously satirical when the subtitle La Bach is attached to it.
A decade after his musical portraits were first published, Bach was
dismissive of the suggestion that he return to the genre. In a 1768 conversation with the writer Matthias Claudius, he explained that one can
achieve a more descriptive musical portrait by employing a text.77 But in
fact, in 1787, the year before his death, Bach again wrote onto a manuscript copy of one of his works an enigmatic subtitle that appears to be
self-referential. Over the autograph of the Fantasy in F-sharp Minor
arranged for violin and keyboard (sonata catalogued as Wq. 67, H. 300;
duo arrangement as Wq. 80, H. 536), he wrote, “C. P. E. Bachs
Empfindungen.” As in the case of the title La Bach and L’Aly Rupalich, it
seems unlikely that scholars shall ever finally ascertain what Bach meant
by these words. Nevertheless, many have interpreted the Fantasy as a
representation of its composer’s interior sensibility.78 The piece
resembles a musical portrait because the subject of musical portraiture is
the character of the person named in the title, and character was considered the summation of that person’s varied feelings and passions. The
title “C. P. E. Bachs Empfindungen” also recalls Bach’s words, “A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved,” quoted above from
his Versuch.79 By indicating that the music represents Bach’s feelings,
the words call upon spectators to listen in empathy with the passions
evoked, and with Bach, much as one was expected to engage with a
musical portrait. This late work is considerably more contemplative than
L’Aly Rupalich, with its moody key, varied texture, and expansive form;
in the style of his other fantasias, the work generally lacks bar-lines, and
contains frequent tempo and dynamic fluctuations. When L’Aly
Rupalich and the Fantasia in F-sharp Minor are construed as selfportraiture, the latter appears to depict a man whose sensibility has
changed considerably since L’Aly Rupalich; the Empfindungen represented
in the Fantasia indicate the altered state of Bach’s character. Whereas
L’Aly Rupalich perhaps represents Bach as witty, risk-taking, and provocative in the middle of his life, “C.P.E. Bachs Empfindungen” portrays a
more solemn composer in his final years.
404 The Musical Quarterly
Notes
Joshua S. Walden is a junior research fellow at Merton College, University of Oxford.
He earned his PhD in historical musicology at Columbia University and his AB in
music at the University of California at Berkeley, and has held a Junior Research
Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. His articles and reviews appear in the Journal of
Musicological Research, Genre in Eighteenth-Century Music, and the Journal of Jewish
Identities, and are forthcoming in the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, the Proceedings
of the 10th International Conference on Musical Signification, and Current Musicology.
He has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, the University of California at
Davis, and Oxford, and has performed as a violinist in Weill Auditorium, Steinway
Hall, and other venues in New York, Oxford, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
1. E. Eugene Helm, “The Editorial Transmission of C. P. E. Bach’s Music,” Early
Music 17, no. 1 (1989): 32. The date of the image is misprinted in Helm’s article: the
sketch was finished in 1784, not 1874. For a discussion of the collaboration between
Sturm and Bach, see Ulrich Leisinger, “C. P. E. Bach and C. C. Sturm: Sacred Song,
Public Church Service, and Private Devotion,” in C. P. E. Bach Studies, ed. Annette
Richards (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 116–48.
2. The analysis of facial expression in portraiture is always a subjective process, and
readers might find that their interpretations of sitters’ expressions differ from those
I provide in analyses of this and other portraits discussed in this article. The inability to
determine a definitive understanding of facial expression is one attribute that makes
portraiture in all media so rich and provocative a genre. As E. H. Gombrich writes,
“Expression is hard to analyze and harder to describe unequivocally. It is a curious fact,
moreover, that our immediate reaction results in firm convictions, but convictions
which are rarely shared by all—witness the pages of interpretation that have been
devoted to Mona Lisa’s smile.” E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the
Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1969), 334.
3. This description of the contents of Bach’s portrait collection is quoted in Annette
Richards, “An Enduring Monument: C. P. E. Bach and the Musical Sublime,” in
C. P. E. Bach Studies, 171. Capitalizations appear in the original. Richards associates
his portraiture collection with the artistic movement of the sublime: “The collection
was a vivid testament to the posthumous reputation afforded to the great artists of the
sublime—a daily reminder of the pantheon into which Bach would certainly have
expected to be admitted after his death” (172).
4. For information on the manuscript sources and publication history of these pieces,
see Peter Wollny, ed., Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Miscellaneous Keyboard Works II (Los
Altos: The Packard Humanities Institute, 2005), xiv–xvii. A number of genre designations appear in primary and secondary texts describing these works. They are simply
labeled with the French heading “petites pièces” in the two major catalogues of Bach’s
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I am grateful to Elaine Sisman, Christopher Gibbs, Irene Zedlacher, Richard Brilliant,
and the anonymous readers at Musical Quarterly for their assistance. I delivered material
from an early version of this paper at the 2006 meeting of the Society for
Eighteenth-Century Music, and appreciate the comments and suggestions I received
from the conference organizers and attendees. I am indebted to Susanna Berger and my
family for their patience and invaluable advice.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
405
oeuvre to appear during the eighteenth century, the 1772 Autographischer Catalogus von
den Clavier-sonaten des C. Ph. E. Bach biz zum Jahre 1772 komponirt, and the 1790
Verzeichniß des musikalische Nachlasses des verstorbenen Capellmeisters Carl Philipp Emanuel
Bach. Wollny, Miscellaneous Keyboard Works, xiv. Bach refers in his 1773 Autobiography
to a number of “charackterisirter und anderer kleinen Stücke” among his works. Carl
Philipp Emanuel Bach, Autobiography, ed. William S. Newman (Hilversum,
Netherlands: Frits Knuf, 1967), 207. Writers and theorists have also used the German
genre designation “Charakterstück,” the French “pièce de caractère” and “pièce caractéristique,” and the English “character piece.” For the sake of clarity in this article, I
shall call the genre of works named either for human characteristics or actual people
“character pieces,” and employ the more specific genre designation “musical portrait” to
define only the subset named for people.
6. Darrell M. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces and His Friendship Circle,” in
C. P. E. Bach Studies, ed. Stephen Clark (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 6. Berg
notes that Bach would likely have become familiar with Couperin’s works as a child;
Couperin’s music has been found in the collections of members of the circle around
Johann Sebastian Bach.
7. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments,
ed. and trans. William J. Mitchell (New York: W. W. Norton, 1949), 31. Friedrich
Wilhelm Marpurg, in his journal Historisch-Kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik,
and Johann Joachim Quantz, in Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen,
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5. Composers from at least the time of François Couperin to the present have composed pieces called musical portraits, but musicology has largely overlooked the question of how the medium of music can be perceived to represent an individual. An
eclectic but by no means complete list of musical portraits includes the following: those
by Couperin and C. P. E. Bach discussed in this article; individual movements in
Schumann’s Carnaval (“Chiarina” and “Chopin”) and Kinderszenen (“Paganini”); individual movements of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata (“Louisa May Alcott”); Ernest
Bloch’s Schelomo (a portrait of the Jewish King Solomon); Edward Elgar’s Enigma
Variations; Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Five Tudor Portraits; Benjamin Britten’s Two
Portraits and his self-portrait for viola and ensemble entitled E. B. B.; portraits for
piano solo by Virgil Thompson that depict his acquaintances (for example Seventeen
Portraits, composed 1982–84); György Ligeti’s piano work Self-Portrait with Reich and
Riley (and Chopin is also there); Philip Glass’s A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close; and so
forth. Other passages of music without descriptive titles have been identified by their
composers as employing elements of portraiture. Mozart, for example, famously wrote
that he composed the slow movement of his Piano Sonata in C Major, K.309, to “make
it fit closely the character of Mlle Rosa [Cannabich],” and that a listener who knew
Cannabich once reported, “She is exactly like the Andante” (letter from Mozart to his
father, 6–7 December 1777). Emily Anderson, ed. and trans., The Letters of Mozart and
His Family, vol. 2 (London: Macmillan, 1938), 602. Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann
that he was painting a “gentle portrait” of her in the Adagio of his Piano Concerto in
D Minor, op. 15 (letter dated 30 December 1856). Styra Avins, ed. and trans., Johannes
Brahms: Life and Letters, co-trans. Josef Eisinger (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1992), 150. For a list and discussion of many lesser-known musical portraits from the
nineteenth century, as well as a useful exploration of the genre, see Jacob de Ruiter,
Der Charakterbegriff in der Musik: Studien zur Deutschen Ästhetik der Instrumentalmusik
1740–1850 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1989).
406 The Musical Quarterly
also suggest that French character pieces are useful in training beginners. Marpurg
writes, “It would be particularly useful if small keyboard works written for beginners on
this instrument (and who in our days does not learn to play keyboard?) were characteristic.” (“Besonders aber würde es sehr grossen Nuzen haben, wenn die kleinen
Clavierstücke, die für die Anfänger auf diesem Instrument gesezt werden, [und wer lernt
in unsern Tagen nicht das Clavierspielen?] characterisiret würden.”) Friedrich Wilhelm
Marpurg, Historisch-Kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, III. Band (Hildesheim
and New York: Georg Olms, 1970), 533. According to Quantz, this repertoire is particularly appropriate for novices, because “pieces in the French style are for the most
part pièces caratérisées, and are composed with appoggiaturas and shakes in such a
fashion that almost nothing may be added to what the composer has already written.”
Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, trans. Edward R. Reilly (New York: Faber
and Faber, 1985), 113.
9. Fuller, “Of Portraits, ‘Sapho,’ and Couperin,” 161.
10. In Historisch-Kritische Beyträge. Quoted in Michael Collins, “Reconsideration of
French Over-Dotting,” Music & Letters 50, no. 1 (1969): 119.
11. In Die Kritische Musicus an der Spree, from 1749. Quoted in Collins, “French
Over-Dotting,” 119.
12. Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 341.
13. Quantz, On Playing the Flute, 320.
14. The lutenist Johann Friedrich Daube as well was no doubt influenced by the taste
for French culture in Berlin when he published Six sonates pour le Luth dans le
goût-moderne in 1746. Susan P. Snook-Luther, The Musical Dilettante: A Treatise on
Composition by J. F. Daube (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press,
1992), 1– 2. For details on the influence of French tradition on Bach’s character pieces,
see also Arnfried Edler, “Das Charakterstück Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs und die
Französische Tradition,” in Aufklärungen: Studien zur deutsch-französischen
Musikgeschichte im 18. Jahrhundert, ed. Wolfgang Birtel and Christoph-Hellmut Mahling
(Heidelberg: Carl Winter-Universitätsverlag, 1986), 222.
15. Ingeborg Allihn, “‘ . . . und wiederhohlt imer daß Stük La Gleim . . . ’: Überlegungen
zur Klang-Rede in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs Pièces caractéristiques,” in Musik als
Klangrede: Festschrift zur 70. Geburtstag von Günter Fleischhauer (Cologne: Böhlau,
2001), 18.
16. See Wollny, Miscellaneous Keyboard Works, xvii, Table 1, for a chart of these
identifications.
17. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 26 –27.
18. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 28 –29.
19. Wollny, Miscellaneous Keyboard Works, xvii.
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8. David Fuller, “Of Portraits, ‘Sapho,’ and Couperin: Titles and Characters in French
Instrumental Music of the High Baroque,” Music and Letters 78, no. 2 (1997): 155–56.
The production of these literary portraits came to be instrumental to the configuration
of salon society during the short period of their intense popularity.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
407
20. Darrell M. Berg, “C. Ph. E. Bach und die ‘empfindsame Weise’,” in Carl Philipp
Emanuel Bach und die europäische Musikkultur des mittleren 18. Jahrhunderts, ed. Hans
Joachim Marx (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), 96.
21. From his Kurzgefaßtes Handwörterbuch der Musik, quoted in Wollny, Miscellaneous
Keyboard Works, xv.
22. Karol Berger, A Theory of Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 139.
23. As sociologist Antoine Hennion has explained, musical mediations “are the art
that they reveal, and cannot be distinguished from the appreciation they generate.”
Antoine Hennion, “Music and Mediation: Toward a New Sociology of Music,” in The
Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and
Richard Middleton (New York: Routledge, 2003), 84.
25. Quoted in Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 5.
26. Quoted in Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 5.
27. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 31. Bitter is certainly not alone in publishing analyses of Bach’s works that misidentify the gender of the characters. As
recently as 1938, Heinrich Miesner, setting out to identify Bach’s subjects, believes the
portraits to represent women. According to Miesner, La Gleim depicts the poet’s relative Sophie Dorothea Gleim, nicknamed Gleminde; upon comparing the work and a
contemporary portrait of her, Miesner concludes that her likeness is truly matched by
the character represented in Bach’s work. Heinrich Miesner, “Porträts aus dem Kreise
Philipp Emanuel und Wilhem Friedemann Bachs,” in Musik und Bild: Festschrift Max
Sieffert zum siebzigsten Geburtstag (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1938), 106.
28. Richard Brilliant, Portraiture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993),
9. For exposition and citations on the relation between portraiture and the depiction of
character, see also Wilhelm Waetzoldt, Die Kunst des Porträts (Leipzig: Ferdinand Hirt
& Sohn, 1980).
29. Leo Treitler, “Beethoven’s ‘Expressive’ Markings,” in Beethoven Forum 7, ed. Mark
Evans Bond, Lewis Lockwood, Christopher A. Reynolds, and Elaine R. Sisman
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 111.
30. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 153–54.
31. Quoted in Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 3.
32. Davitt Moroney has noted that this work likely pays homage to Couperin’s Les
Sylvains. Davitt Moroney, Les idées heureuses: Hommage á François Couperin [CD liner
notes], (Arles: Harmonia Mundi), 7.
33. Quoted in Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 3.
34. Marpurg, Historisch-Kritische Beyträge, III. Band, 535–36.
35. Quoted in Jennifer Montagu, The Expression of the Passions: The Origin and
Influence of Charles Le Brun’s Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 1.
36. Montagu, Expression of the Passions, 183. Le Brun’s influence can be seen across
Europe, and his ideas situated in a long line of philosophers and theorists of art,
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24. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 6.
408 The Musical Quarterly
including Aristotle, Cicero, della Porta, and Descartes, who addressed the passions in
relation to the science of physiognomy, which focuses on the representation of passions
and character in the face. Charles le Brun, A Method to Learn to Design the Passions,
introduction by Alan T. McKenzie (Los Angeles: The Augustan Reprint Society,
University of California, Los Angeles, 1980), vi –vii.
37. Charles le Brun, The Conference of Monsieur Le Brun, cheif (sic) painter of the
French King, . . . upon Expression, General and Particular, trans. J. Smith (London: Printed
for John Smith, Edward Cooper, and David Mortimer, 1701), 1–2. Capitalizations
appear in the original document.
38. Le Brun, Conference, 39–40.
40. William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty. Written With a View of Fixing the
Fluctuating Ideas of Taste (London: J. Reeves, 1753), 126.
41. Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of the best-known proponents of characteristic portraiture in Europe. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, The Georgians: Eighteenth-Century
Portraiture and Society (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1990), 29.
42. Quoted in Shawe-Taylor, The Georgians, 29. Capitalizations appear in the original
document.
43. He precedes the fourth part of his text with the following shorthand summary:
“Character der Affecten, welche in der Musik leicht und deutlich auszudrücken sind.”
Christian Gottfried Krause, Von der musikalischen Poesie, ed. Johann Friedrich Voss
(Berlin, 1753, repr. Leipzig: Zentralantiquariat der Deutschen Demokratischen
Republik, 1973), 69.
44. Paul F. Marks, “The Rhetorical Element in Musical ‘Sturm und Drang’: Christian
Gottfried Krause’s ‘Von der Musikalischen Poesie,’” International Review of the Aesthetics
and Sociology of Music 2, no. 1 (1971): 55.
45. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages, trans. J. H. Moran
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 53–55.
46. At the end of the eighteenth century, many musicians and theorists still held this
view. Aesthetician Christian Gottfried Körner, for instance, espoused the position in
his 1795 essay Über Charakterdarstellung in der Musik that human character is a constant
attribute that contains the changing mixture of affects a person embodies. Körner’s
essay is concerned with the argument, borrowed from Immanuel Kant, that instrumental music, to be beautiful, must exhibit both variety and unity. He proposes that instrumental music embody a variety of human affects, combining them under an
overarching representation of a unified character. The translation of Körner’s essay
appears in Robert Riggs, “‘On the Representation of Character in Music’: Christian
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39. Many French writers at the time shared le Brun’s theories about the representation
of a sitter’s character and the expressive lines of the face. The amateur artist and theorist Roger de Piles, for instance, writing at the turn of the eighteenth century, instructs
painters of portraits that “There is not a single person in the world who has not a
peculiar character, both in body and face,” and thus a successful portrait, even if it
offers a flawed representation of likeness, is that which “strike[s] us . . . at first sight, with
the sitter’s character.” This assertion appears in the first English translation, printed in
1743. Roger de Piles, The Principles of Painting, Under the Heads of Anatomy Attitude
Accent (London: J. Osborn, 1743), 159 and 161.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
409
Gottfried Körner’s Aesthetics of Instrumental Music,” Musical Quarterly 81, no. 4
(1997): 599 –631.
47. Johann Jakob Engel, “Über die musikalische Malerei,” in Carl Philipp Emanuel
Bach: Beiträge zu Leben und Werk,” ed. Heinrich Poos (Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne, 1993),
270 –71. Quantz employs a similar analogy when he recommends that his composition
students “proceed as in painting” as they undertake new compositional projects.
Annette Richards, The Free Fantasia and the Musical Picturesque (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2001), 91.
49. This metaphor appears in the second volume of his work. Elaine Sisman also
refers to this in her article “Small and Expanded Forms: Koch’s Model and Haydn’s
Music,” Musical Quarterly 68, no. 4 (1982): 452n21. Mozart used these terms when he
wrote home in a letter to his father on 8 November 1777, “I cannot arrange parts of
speech with such art as to produce effects of light and shade, for I am no painter. . . .
But I can do so by means of sounds, for I am a musician.” Anderson, Letters of Mozart
and His Family, 532.
50. Quoted in Ruth Halle Rowen, “Some Eighteenth-Century Classifications of
Musical Style,” Musical Quarterly 33, no. 1 (1947): 91.
51. Johann Georg Sulzer, “General Theory of the Fine Arts,” in Aesthetics and the Art
of Musical Composition in the German Enlightenment: Selected Writings of Johann Georg
Sulzer and Heinrich Christoph Koch, trans. Nancy Kovaleff Baker, ed. Nancy Kovaleff
Baker and Thomas Christensen (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 89 –90.
52. Although Bode translated these texts, it was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing who, in a
letter to Bode, suggested the word Empfindung as a German analogue to “sentiment.”
Richard Kramer, “Diderot’s Paradoxe and C. P. E. Bach’s Empfindungen,” in C. P. E.
Bach Studies, 13. Due to the international nature of the style, according to Janet Todd,
by mid-century “the cult of sensibility . . . made Goethe’s Werther a household name in
literate England, and Clarissa and Yorick familiar presences in Germany and France.”
Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London and New York: Methuen, 1986), 131.
53. Todd, Sensibility, 30.
54. Berg, “C. Ph. E. Bach und die ‘empfindsame Weise,’ ” 94.
55. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, 152.
56. Wollny, Miscellaneous Keyboard Works, 194. See also Rachel Wade, “Newly Found
Works of Bach,” Early Music 16, no. 4 (1988): 527.
57. Moroney, Idées Heureuses, 6.
58. For discussion of painters’ self-portraiture, see Brilliant, Portraiture, 164. Anna
Dorothea Therbusch’s association with members of the Montags-Klub is described in
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48. Richards, The Free Fantasia, 89–91. Krause’s treatise also contains frequent metaphorical references to musical painting. Krause, Von der musikalischen Poesie. See, for
instance, his discussion on page 75. In his 1773 treatise Der Musikalische Dilettant, Johann
Friedrich Daube expands this metaphor, describing melody in comparison with a number
of visual and performance arts: “Beautiful symmetry is found today in painting, sculpture,
dancing, poetry, literature, etc., in which it always brings forth beauty and edification. It
is this which we recognize in music, too.” Snook-Luther, Musical Dilettante, 98.
410 The Musical Quarterly
Katharina Küster, et al., Der Freie Blick: Anna Dorothea Therbusch und Ludovike
Simanowiz—Zwei Porträtmalerinnen des 18. Jahrhunderts (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2003), 31.
59. Quoted in Marks, “The Rhetorical Element in Musical ‘Sturm und Drang,’ ” 52.
60. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, 434.
61. Leonard G. Ratner, Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style (New York:
Schirmer Books, 1980), 135.
62. The “Anecdote vom Ursprung der Murky” appears in Marpurg’s thirty-fourth letter,
dated 9 February 1760. Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst
(Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms, 1974), 286.
64. Georg Andreas Sorge, Vorgemach der musicalischen Composition, trans. Allyn Dixon
Reilly, in Reilly, “Georg Andreas Sorge’s ‘Vorgemach der musicalischen Composition: A
Translation and Commentary” (PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1980), 646.
65. In a number of later manuscripts written by copyists, La Böhmer is given the
generic title Murky. For a discussion of these manuscript copies in the context of the
history of the Murky and etymology of the term, see Friedhelm Brusniak, “Ein Murky
von Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach?,” in Studien zur Instrumentalmusik: Lothar HoffmannErbrecht zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Anke Bingmann, Klaus Hortschansky, and Winfried
Kirsch (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1988), 167– 89.
66. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, 31.
67. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, 35.
68. For descriptions of the role of the “Turkish” topos in music of the eighteenth
century, see Matthew Head, Orientalism, Masquerade and Mozart’s Turkish Music
(London: Royal Musical Association, 2000); and Eric Rice, “Representations of
Janissary Music (Mehter) as Musical Exoticism in Western Compositions, 1670–1824,”
Journal of Musicological Research 19 (1999): 41– 88.
69. Owen Jander points out that in Leopold Radoux’s 1773 portrait of Ludwig van
Beethoven’s grandfather, the subject wears what was at the time called an “at-home
cap,” an octagonal velvet hat inspired by the Turkish turban. According to Jander, this
portrait was extraordinarily influential to what he views as Beethoven’s autobiographical
compositional style. Owen Jander, “The Radoux Portrait of Beethoven’s Grandfather:
Its Symbolic Message,” Imago Musicae: International Yearbook for Music Iconography 6,
no. 89 (1989): 91.
70. Ruth Tatlow, Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet (Cambridge and
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 121–23.
71. Yuriko Yamanaka and Tetsuo Nishio, The Arabian Nights and Orientalism:
Perspectives from East and West (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006), xv.
72. Painters of portraits of musicians also developed a number of techniques to allude
to the themes of composition and training. Owen Jander has written that in creating
portraits of composers, many eighteenth-century painters sought not only to portray the
persona and temperament of their subjects, but also to characterize the nature of the
act of composing more generally. In portraits of Christoph Willibald Gluck (1775) and
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63. See Jacob Adlung, Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Beverly Hills, CA:
Ernest E. Gottlieb; and Kassel and Basel: Bärenreiter, 1953), 753.
Composing Character in Musical Portraits
411
73. Ernest Eugene Helm, Music at the Court of Frederick the Great (Norman:
University of Oaklahoma Press, 1960), 176.
74. Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 11.
75. Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 239. Rudolf Arnheim explains that, in
the aesthetics of painting, it has often been considered that “the edges of the picture
designated the end of the composition, but not the end of the represented space. The
frame was thought of as a window, through which the observer peeped into an outer
world, confined by the opening of the peephole but unbounded in itself.”
76. Quoted in Berg, “C. P. E. Bach’s Character Pieces,” 25.
77. The text of the interview is as follows: Bach: “Die Stücke hab’ ich gelegentlich
gemacht und vergessen.” Claudius: “Es ist doch gleichwohl ein neuer Weg.” Bach:
“Aber nur ein kleiner, man kann’s näher haben, wenn man Worte dazu nimmt.” Edler,
“Das Charakterstück,” 219.
78. See for instance Kramer, “Diderot’s Paradoxe and C. P. E. Bach’s Empfindungen.”
In the new edition of Bach’s collected works, Peter Wollny writes, “The original title
‘C. P. E. Bach’s Empfindungen’ in the autograph of the version for keyboard and violin
(Wq 80) reveals autobiographical traits, and lends it the character of a musical
bequest.” Peter Wollny, ed., Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works,
Miscellaneous Keyboard Works I (Los Altos: The Packard Humanities Institute, 2006),
xviii.
79. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, 152.
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Giovanni Paisiello (1791), the composers sit at clavichords, even though they rarely
composed for the instrument: “The clavichord turned into an iconographical metaphor
representing not just a keyboard musician’s basic technique—but, by extension, fundamental musicianship.” Jander, “The Clavichord as Metaphor in Late EighteenthCentury Portraiture,” in De Clavicordio III: Proceedings of the International Clavichord
Symposium (Magnano, Italy: Musica Antica a Magnano, 1997), 144. Because the clavichord was widely considered a crucial tool in musical education, it was included to
point self-consciously to the theme of musicianship itself. Bach wrote in his Versuch
and elsewhere that he favored the clavichord as the most useful keyboard instrument
for training and practice. For a history of Bach’s relationship with the instrument, see
David Schulenberg, “When Did the Clavichord Become C. P. E. Bach’s Favourite
Instrument? An Inquiry into Expression, Style and Medium in Eighteenth-Century
Keyboard Music,” in De Clavicordio IV: Proceedings of the International Clavichord
Symposium, ed. Bernard Brauchli, Susan Brauchli, and Alberto Galazzo (Magnano,
Italy: Musica Antica a Magnano, 1999), 37– 54. Although the clavichord is the most
typical signifier of the fundamental elements of musical practice to appear in portraiture
in the eighteenth century, musicians who made their careers performing on other
instruments might be depicted in portraits with these. Quantz, for instance, was
depicted in seven portraits, and often with a flute in his hand or beside him. For a
history and analysis of these portraits, see Charles Walthall, “Portraits of Johann
Joachim Quantz,” Early Music 14, no. 4 (1986): 501–18.