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Jiří Antonín Benda 
Harpsichord Concertos

 

F10133   [8595017413322]   released 9/2005

“But surely you know that of all Lutheran composers Benda is my favourite,” W.A.Mozart wrote to his father from Mannheim…
Educated by the intellectual Lutheran milieu and profoundly affected first by the French Enlightenment and then, in particular, by the artistic rebellion of the “Sturm und Drang,” Benda was a typical child of his times. His musical language crystallized into its supreme form in the 1770s, a time when he also wrote the majority of his most important works including the harpsichord concertos.

play album J.A.Benda:Koncerty pro cembalo - Václav Luks 69:49 149Kč
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1. Koncert g moll - Allegro 6:47 15Kč
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2. Koncert g moll - Andante 6:39 15Kč
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3. Koncert g moll - Presto 5:42 15Kč
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4. Koncert h moll - Allegro 6:27 15Kč
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5. Koncert h moll - Arioso 7:32 15Kč
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6. Koncert h moll - Allegro 5:01 15Kč
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7. Koncert f moll - Allegro 6:22 15Kč
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8. Koncert f moll - Larghetto 8:25 15Kč
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9. Koncert f moll - Allegro di molto 4:15 15Kč
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10. Koncert G dur - Allegro moderato 5:49 15Kč
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11. Koncert G dur - Andante 4:42 15Kč
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12. Koncert G dur - Allegro scherzando 2:04 15Kč
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Václav Luks - harpsichord

Collegium 1704
Lenka Koubková - violin
Jan Hádek - violin
Michal Kuchařík - viola
Libor Mašek - violoncello






The “Sturm und Drang” Revolt in Literature
“The old steward hastened to the house immediately upon hearing the news: he embraced his dying friend amid a flood of tears. His eldest boys soon followed him on foot. In speechless sorrow they threw themselves on their knees by the bedside, and kissed his hands and face. The eldest, who was his favourite, hung over him till he expired; and even then he was removed by force. At twelve o'clock Werther breathed his last. The presence of the steward, and the precautions he had adopted, prevented a disturbance; and that night, at the hour of eleven, he caused the body to be interred in the place which Werther had selected for himself. The steward and his sons followed the corpse to the grave. Albert was unable to accompany them. Charlotte’s life was despaired of. The body was carried by labourers. No priest attended.”
(Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, translated from the German by R.D. Boylan)

With these words ends the novel Die Leiden des jungem Werthers (1774). The work, which became the manifesto of a group of literati, who later called themselves the “Sturm und Drang” movment met with an unusual reception among the generation of young people who began to know their world as reflected by the fate of the young hero. Unrequited love, the search for the essence of humanity – of human genius in the form of an independent character of Promethean strength, who knows how to listen to the voice of his soul and is not afraid to buck the social conventions of his or her time and to look for inspiration in Nature and the ordinary man – those were the topics that became more than merely topics of discussion at intellectual soirées. “He had drunk only one glass of the wine. Emilia Galotti lay open upon his bureau.” Thus Goethe describes the place in which Werther is dying, unaware that fiction will soon be superseded by reality and that the book, open on the table of young suicides, will be his own Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther became an icon, a symbol of a generation, so worthy of imitation that the wave of suicides by young people forced Goethe to include a warning in the conclusion of the second, revised edition (1787): “Be a man and do not follow me!” Goethe himself later admitted that the incredible success of Werther was a consequence of the extraordinary concord between this work and the zeitgeist in which it was made. Young people were dressing in the “Werther-Mode,” wrote each other emotional letters, and sought inspiration in Nature. The generation of writers between twenty and thirty years of age shocked the public with a frontal assault on the mores and taste of German society during the reign of the absolutist Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg. A decade-long search for political, moral, and aesthetic liberty began. Avant-garde artists met at literary soirées, where they read aloud from their new works, demolished old literary theories, and searched for new models. Shakespeare took the place of the Classics as a model in the dramatic arts. The subjective was placed above the objective, sensibility above sense. The Kantian picture of the world was subjected to merciless criticism. Herder’s Journal einer Reise, published in 1769, and Goethe’s meeting with Herder in Strasbourg in 1770 are generally considered the beginning of this short period in the history of literature. Herder’s claim that the voice of the heart was decisive in a rational decision is an expression of protest against the cool rationality of the Enlightenment and against the superficial elegance of the Rococo style. Emotion triumphs over reason. In 1786 Goethe left for Italy and that same year the storm of the “Sturm und Drang” past on the eve of the French Revolution and in Germany the doors thus opened to Weimar Neo-Classicism.

Music and the “Sturm und Drang”
Understandably, other kinds of artists were also affected by this stormy period, including composers, who found inspiration in the artistic principles of the “Sturm und Drang” generation of writers. It is even fair to say that the musical language of the composers working in Protestant Germany, like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (two sons of Johann Sebastian Bach) and the Brothers Graun from Berlin, as well as Franz (František) Benda from Bohemia, to a certain extent anticipated the signs of the “Sturm und Drang” in literature. Music is the art that most directly and most spontaneously reflects the zeitgeist without the need to formulate the means through which it speaks or to designate models that merit emulation. The music of composers a generation older than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, like the sensitive surface of a film negative, thus bear the marks of the development of Protestant German society in the last two thirds of the eighteenth century. The rejection of the Aristotelian unities of place, time, and action as the basic requirements of a dramatic work appears in music in the relaxation of form, with sudden changes of Affekt and key, and the search for new means of expression. In the treatises of Johann Joachim Quantz (Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, Berlin, 1752) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, Berlin, 1753) whole chapters are dedicated to the performance and to the importance of the personal experience of the interpreter. In Versuch III/§13, Bach wrote, for example: “The musician cannot move anyone else if he himself is not moved. He must empathize with all the Affekte that he wants to evoke among the listeners and pass his experience on to them.” In accord with the harmonic structure of music, sophisticatedly graduated dynamics are the most important means of expressing the whole range of Affekte, which alternate often in very short passages. The aim is not to dazzle with virtuosity or to astound with the monumentality of form and sound quality, but to establish the most intense contact with the listener and to speak to his or her emotions. According to Bach, “All difficulties in the passages can be mastered by practice and are not in fact as difficult as the good performance of a simple melody.” (Versuch III/§9). The inspiration of Nature, a predilection for minor keys and free forms, dialogue, and melancholy, those are the themes typical of the musical language of composers who in their art anticipated the “Sturm und Drang” period. In the Middle Ages, melancholy was sometimes considered one of the seven deadly sins and beginning in the sixteenth century it was considered being tempted by the Devil and “an illness of Lutherans.” Perhaps thanks to this historical tradition melancholy became one of the fundamental Affekte conveyed by artists working in Lutheran Germany in the reign of Frederick II, King of Prussia.

Georg Benda
Georg (Jiri Antonín) Benda had an opportunity to become intimately familiar with the milieu of the Prussian court. The Benda family had met with a fate similar to that of thousands of other Protestants who in great numbers fled the Lands of the Bohemian Crown in the period after the decisive Battle of the White Mountain (1620). The departure of this generation of Bendas in 1742, was, however, not a dramatic one, nor was their destination unknown or uncertain. Franz (Frantisek) Benda, the brother of Georg, was by that time a respected violinist and composer employed at the court of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, and managed to arrange an invitation for his whole family to emigrate to the enlightened, religiously tolerant milieu of the Prussian court. The capital of Prussia was in those days not yet a long-standing, first-rate centre of the arts and learning. In Dresden Italian opera flourished, in Vienna several generations of renowned composers had vied for the favour of the Imperial court, and even provincial Prague could boast premi?res of Vivaldi’s operas and other Grand Opera productions (for example, the coronation opera Costanza e Fortezza by Johann Joseph Fux, in 1723), while Berlin was just beginning to find its own image. The attempt by Frederick the Great to emancipate the Residential City of Berlin in stiff competition with other European metropolises was as understandable as the reluctance of renowned figures to move from sunny Italy to some place in the north, to a cultural desert (which is how the Italians perceived the “rest of Europe” north of the Alps). Frederick, moreover, was not affiliated with any confession; Roman Catholicism was as alien to him as Lutheranism. He lived absorbed with the ideas of the Enlightenment and unlimited faith in the power of Nature. In his last will and testament he surrenders his soul to the hands of Nature, which had breathed life into it and he surrenders his body to the elements that had made it and he expresses the wish to be buried at Schloss Sanssouci in the same grave with his greyhounds. One would search in vain for the word “God” in Frederick’s last will. For these reasons too, Italian art, which was built on Roman Catholic foundations, could hardly find a place at Frederick’s court. The educated, musically gifted Frederick the Great (who played the flute and composed) recognized the talent of the young Franz Benda and his royal decision to invite the whole Benda family to Berlin was surely not only the magnanimous gesture of an enlightened ruler, but also, indeed much more, part of the “talent hunt” whose sole aim was to increase the fame and glory of the Prussian metropolis. The Benda family settled in Potsdam near Berlin and the doors to the world of music opened wide to Georg. In 1750 he entered the services of the Friedrich III, the Duke of Gotha-Sax, and in 1765 Friedrich III sent Benda on a six-month journey to study in Italy, where he became acquainted with the modern opera of Gluck, Paisiello, Piccinni, and Traetta, visited the most important centres of music, including Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Rome, and made the personal acquaintance of Johann Adolf Hasse, the greatest star in the operatic firmament of the time. Benda’s works from the Fifties and Sixties (chiefly sinfonie) clearly reveal the inspiration of Italian models, and often bring to mind the Neapolitan opera style far removed from German Lutheran melancholy. Benda, however, was not destined to become a composer of opera, for opera was not performed at the court in Gotha. After being appointed Kapelldirector in 1770 he therefore tried all the harder to find new forms of stage performance with the innovative combination of music and the spoken word. His melodramas (including Ariadne auf Naxos, Medea, and Pygmalion) met with extraordinary success and spread quickly throughout Europe. The young Mozart expressed admiration for the idea of joining the spoken word and music and it was mainly Ariadne auf Naxos that he meticulously studied. “But surely you know that of all Lutheran composers Benda is my favourite,” he wrote to his father from Mannheim, and seriously considered composing a melodrama of his own. Another dramatic musical genre for which Benda became famous was the singspiel. The attempt to link music with contemporary belles-lettres or drama (sometimes classic works of world literature in German translation) led to his compositions such as Der Jahrmarkt, Walder (after Jean François Marmontel’s Sylvain), Der Holzhauer, and Romeo und Julie (after William Shakespeare). From the late 1770s onwards, Benda experienced the successes of his compositions for the stage and witnessed their triumphs in Vienna (Pygmalion, 1789,) and Paris (Ariadne, 1791). He spent the last years of his life in seclusion (his last work, the cantata Bendas Klagen, was written in 1792) and he died in Köstritz, Saxony, on 6 November 1795.
In the past, Benda’s musical language often used to be characterized as “pre-Classical,” “pre-Mozartian,” or even “Rococo.” All these assessments, tending to be based on the general enthusiasm of Socialist scholarship of the past decades for the theory of evolution, utterly fail to spot the true face of Benda’s work, just like the stubborn attempts of the pseudo-musicology of Zdeněk Nejedlý’s (1878–1962) to find traces of folk music in every bit of syncopation. Educated by the intellectual Lutheran milieu and profoundly affected first by the French Enlightenment and then, in particular, by the artistic rebellion of the “Sturm und Drang,” Benda was a typical child of his times. His musical language crystallized into its supreme form in the 1770s, a time when the language of Viennese Classical music had already long been defined and one could hardly talk about Benda’s music as the pre-Classical stage or the link between Baroque and Classical music. In the 1770s Georg Benda also wrote the majority of his most important works and, very likely, the seven harpsichord concertos that are deposited in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. The Sächsische Landesbibliothek also has the sheet music and individual parts of these concertos. Each simply contains the strings (1x Violino I, 1x Violino II, 1x Viola, 1x Violoncello) and harpsichord part. It is fair to assume that the harpsichord was accompanied only by a string quartet and not an orchestra. It is therefore a certain form of piano or harpsichord quintet rather than piano concerto like those of Mozart. The voices of the strings form an equal dialogue with the harpsichord and are not limited to the function of mere accompaniment. This idea of musical dialogue was one of the basic aesthetic criteria of music in the “Sturm und Drang” period.

Václav Luks

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