Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Heilig (W.217) is closely akin to his keyboard writing in that the presence of many different, not necessarily closely related, musical ideas drives the piece more than a specific form. Seemingly random choices of key, texture, voicing, and text placement all have a purpose: to make the listener feel something, not just hear it.
The choral sections illustrate the quick tonal shifts and changing of harmonic rhythm that are a large part of C.P.E. Bach’s Empfindsamer Stil, which is customarily thought of in terms of his keyboard writing. Heilig is a part of that tradition which would later become the Sturm und Drang of Haydn and the inspiration for the Romantic generation. This according to “Elements of Empfindsamkeit in the Heilig Wq. 217 (H.778) of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach” by Brian E. Burns (Choral journal XLVI/9 [March 2006] pp. 10–23).
Today is C.P.E. Bach’s 300th birthday! Above, a pastel portrait of the composer from 1773 drawn by his godson Johann Philipp Bach (click to enlarge); below, a performance of Heilig by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the RIAS Kammerchor.