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Jan Dismas Zelenka: Psalmi Vespertini I 
Ensemble Inégal, Adam Viktora

Zelenka _ Missa Paschalis     

DNI161   [8595056601612]   digipack   english    

Lenka Cafourková – soprano, David Erler – alto
Tobias Hunger – tenor, Lisandro Abadie – bass
Ensemble Inégal, Prague Baroque Soloists – directed by Adam Viktora

play all J.D.Zelenka: Psalmi Vespertini I - Ensemble Inégal 79:56
Dixit Dominus 2:02
Virgam virtutis tuae 6:12
Judicabit 1:01
De torrente 2:40
Sicut erat in proncipio 2:01
Confitebor tibi Domine 2:14
Magna opera Domini 4:54
Fidelia omnia 0:44
Redemptionem misit 4:27
Sanctum et terribile 0:48
Intellectus bonus 0:41
Gloria Patri 0:38
Er in saecula saeculorum 1:39
Beatus vir 5:18
Peccator videbit 1:45
Gloria Patri 1:00
Amen 1:32
Laudate pueri Dominum 6:50
In exitu Israel 7:02
Gloria Patri 0:56
Amen 2:13
Magnificat anima mea Dominum 3:52
Suspecit Israel 3:13
Amen 2:17
De profundis 5:21
Si iniquitatis 2:27
Sustinuit 3:47
Et ipse rediment 0:25
Gloria Patri 1:37

Dixit Dominus ZWV 66 13:56
Confitebor tibi Domine ZWV 72 * 16:04
Beatus vir ZWV 75 9:36
Laudate pueri Dominum ZWV 82 6:50
In exitu Israel ZWV 83 10:11
Magnificat ZWV 108 9:23
De Profundis ZWV 97 13:36

The World Premiere of The Complete Recording of Zelenka´s Psalmi Vespertini I.
* World Premiere recording Conducting of choral parts: Hasan El Dunia  

Ensemble Inégal

violin Peter Zajíèek - concert master
Magdalena Malá, Veronika Manová, Petra Šèevková, Petr Zemanec
Simona Tydlitátová, Elen Machová, Simona Hurníková, Martina Štillerová, Jan Hádek

František Kuncl, Lýdie Cillerová, Ivo Anýž

Libor Mašek, Hana Fleková

double bass
Ondøej Štajnochr, Ondøej Balcar

Markus Müller, Inge Marg

Kryštof Lada

Jan Èižmár, Jan Krejèa (18, 21)


With these six Vespers psalms and a  Magnificat setting, the Bohemian-born, Dresden-based court musician Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) initiated a  remarkable project. Beginning late in 1725 and ending towards the end of 1728, he composed three cycles of 33 compositions for Vespers. Each cycle begins with a setting of the psalm Dixit Dominus and then develops to serve one or more Vespers sequences. Thus, the psalm texts set by Zelenka for this entire project could be used for almost every Vespers service of the liturgical year (Psalms for Saturday Vespers before the four Sundays of Advent, Saturday Vespers before Septuagesima, and Vespers of Wednesday of Holy Week were not set by Zelenka).

In 1726, Zelenka began to enter these psalm settings into his Inventarium rerum Musicarum Ecclesiae servientium – the personal inventory of sacred music that he began to keep on 17 January of that year. The 33 Vespers works were listed as a distinct collection under the heading of psalms for the whole year (Psalmi Vespertini |totius anni. | Joannis Dismae Zelenka. | qui habentur in libris). Surprisingly, these entries did not begin with the earliest settings of 1725, but with the cycle Zelenka began to compose in 1726. The original, earliest cycle of 1725 heard in this recording then was listed as the second cycle.

Thus, Zelenka’s 33 works for Vespers services were conceived in three cycles and composed over a period of three years for Dresden's Catholic Royal Chapel dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The unavoidable assumption is that this was a  well-considered and deliberate plan. Interestingly, the beginning of these Vespers psalm compositions almost coincides with Zelenka’s return from a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Sorrows at Graupen (Krupka) in Northern Bohemia (near Teplice) on 12 September 1725. The pilgrimage, which was supported by the Dresden Court, began in Graupen with an open-air procession to the Marian shrine on 11 September during which Zelenka’s Litanies of the Blessed Virgin (Litaniae de Beatissima Virgine, ZWV 150) were sung by eleven young musicians (the Kapellknaben) from Dresden’s Royal Chapel served by Jesuits from the Province of Bohemia. A report of the event states that the singers were arranged into four groups to sing Zelenka’s four-part a cappella litany during the procession.

The usual cycle of five psalms for Vespers of a Confessor (Vesperae de Confessore) comprises the psalms Dixit Dominus (ps. 109); Confitebor tibi Domine (ps. 110); Beatus vir (ps. 111); Laudate pueri (ps. 112); Laudate Dominum (ps. 116), and the canticle Magnificat. According to the dates Zelenka wrote into the scores, at least five of these seven large-scale works were composed in a span of less than three months during the final quarter of 1725. These compositions for Vespers were listed into the Inventarium in this order:

Dixit Dominus: ZWV 66; undated (c1725);

Confitebor tibi Domine: ZWV 72; dated ‘li 25 Settembre 1725’;

Beatus vir: ZWV 75; dated ‘li 10 Ottob 1725’;

Laudate pueri: ZWV 82; dated ‘7 d’Novemb.’ (c1725: ‘Novemb.’ seems to have been changed from ‘Ottobre’);

In exitu Israel: ZWV 83; dated ‘li 25 D O’[ttobre?] [c1725]. (This psalm replaced Laudate Dominum from the Vesperae de Confessore for Sunday Vespers of Advent until Ascension, and Vespers II of important feasts of the Proper of the Time: the Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost);

Magnificat: ZWV 108; dated ‘26. Nove ... 1725.’

To this cycle Zelenka added his revised version of a De profundis setting (ZWV 50) originally composed in 1724 for the exequies he had requested to be held in Dresden after learning of the death of his father. On 3 March 1724 the journal kept by the Dresden Jesuits, the Diarium Missionis, reported that at 10 o’clock a Requiem Mass was held for a parent of Zelenka and that Zelenka himself had composed and performed the music with the royal musicians. The psalm De profundis is also required for Vespers of the Christmas Octave (December 25 – January 1) when it replaces Laudate pueri. In the revised version of c1725, Zelenka omitted the three trombones used in the original composition. The doxology for funeral exequies (‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis’) was replaced with the lesser doxology used for Vespers: ‘Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.’ Consequently, this De profundis setting has a dual purpose: it could be used either for Requiem Vespers, or for Vespers II for Christmas and the octave.

With the settings of this, the first-composed cycle, Zelenka could contribute works to many Vespers services. It is unlikely, however, that the large-scale settings of 1725 (with a total performance time of well in excess of one hour) would be performed together as a unit in Dresden’s court chapel. Just as arias composed by a variety of composers were often combined to form a pasticcio opera, so it was usual for psalms settings by different composers to be mixed and matched for a Vespers service.

Following this project of 1725–1728, Zelenka composed an additional eight Vespers psalms. They were listed in the Inventarium separately under the title ‘ Psalmi varii J. D. Z. Separatim Scripti.’ Thus, it does seem that from 1725 Zelenka came to have a major responsibility for the musical Vespers services held in Dresden’s Court Chapel. This would explain his acquisition of more than 80 psalm compositions, mainly by Italian and Bohemian composers. These were entered into his inventory under the title ‘Psalmi Varioru[m] Authorum.’

The burst of compositions in the final quarter of 1725 leads to this question: Was Zelenka working towards one or more special events? It is known from the Diarium Missionis that on 9 December 1725 (that is, within the octave of the highly-venerated St Francis Xavier, a saint reported to be the ‘Holy Patron’ of Saxon Electoral Princess Maria Josepha) Zelenka was responsible for the music of the Mass heard in the morning and for Vespers later in the day. Then, on New Year’s Day 1726, feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord (titular feast-day of the Society of Jesus, and a Gala day at the Dresden Court) Zelenka again was responsible for the music for the Mass and for Vespers. By the beginning of 1726 his aspirations and ambitions seem to have reached a high level. Is it a coincidence that on 17 January Zelenka began to keep an Inventarium into which he listed not only his own compositions, but also the works from his growing collection of sacred music? After all, at that time a  pre-requisite for the position of Kapellmeister was a personal music library to be used in the service of a patron.


The large-scale psalm and Magnificat settings from this, the first-composed cycle, demonstrate that by mid- to late 1725 Zelenka had absorbed those compositional devices used to express the meaning of the texts. Traditions extending back to Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1610 had become so well established in Vespers compositions of Catholic composers that congregations throughout Europe would recognize which Latin texts were being sung, guided by musical devices which illuminated the meanings.

Several sequences exist for Vespers services, the most common of which are the already-mentioned Vesperae de Confessore (psalms 109, Dixit Dominus; 110, Confitebor tibi Domine; 111, Beatus vir; 112, Laudate pueri; 116, Laudate Dominum, and the canticle Magnificat) and Vesperae BVM (psalms 109 Dixit Dominus; 116, Laudate pueri; 121, Laetatus sum; 126, Nisi Dominus; 147, Lauda Jerusalem and the canticle Magnificat). To these basic sequences adjustments are made for particular feasts of the church year and the sanctorale when a less familiar psalm replaces a psalm of the usual sequence. For example, De profundis replaces Laudate pueri in a Vesperae de Confessore for the Christmas octave, as already noted.

Well-established structural plans for psalm settings helped composers to organize the varying lengths of psalm texts to be set, and to bring cohesion to their compositions, which often involved very long texts. Zelenka’s psalm compositions of 1725 demonstrate that he had absorbed the many, if not all, conventions that had been developed by composers who preceded him. Devices of unification in both large- and small-scale settings included the use of recapitulation, refrains, ostinato patterns (which are used mainly in shorter settings), ritornelli, and cantus firmus (a unifying device heard, for example, in the later In exitu Israel setting of c1728, ZWV 84). No matter how large or small a setting might be, Zelenka employed one or more of these techniques in order to achieve musical unity. The most important of these was the creation of a great musical arch, a structure known as ‘Frame form’ whereby the opening music returns at the doxology text ‘Sicut erat in principio’ (as it was in the beginning). Italian composers of the seventeenth century often used this musical pun so that at the words ‘Sicut erat in principio’ the music at the opening of the psalm re-appeared. This particular repetition might return either as a complete movement (as heard here in Dixit Dominus, ZWV 66), or as brief reference to the opening material (as in Laudate pueri, ZWV 82). A recurring motive, a refrain or a motto (which sometimes gives a psalm setting the structure of a rondo) also was also used by Zelenka either for an entire composition, or for one movement only. A refrain sung by the chorus is heard in the second movement of Dixit Dominus on the words ‘dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum’ (rule thou in the midst of thy enemies), in Beatus vir to the text ‘Beatus vir qui timet Dominum’ (Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord), and also in the Laudate pueri setting of 1725, where the solo bass vocalist constantly sings a refrain to the text ‘Laudate pueri, laudate Dominum, laudate nomen Domini’ (Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord) while all verses are sung by the chorus as responses. The solo bass joins the choir when the doxology is reached. This relatively short and wonderfully constructed setting opens with a six-bar solo unison ritornello which not only provides the refrain sung by the solo bass throughout the work, but it becomes the connecting passages played by the basso continuo. A more expansive use of a unifying ritornello is heard in the second movement of the 1725 Confitebor tibi Domine, an extended setting for solo tenor and bass in which Zelenka demonstrates tight economy in the use of the thematic material enunciated in the opening ritornello of 18 bars.

Particular verses from certain psalms drew almost identical schemes of musical action from composers of this era, including Zelenka. Known as Szenen, these enclosed dramatic episodes are found at specific points in certain psalm settings. They are musical-dramatic plans built up with a sequence of subsections in which a number of diverse elements are heard in close proximity. In Zelenka’s psalm settings these include great pauses and silences, tempo alterations, changes of metre, use of the stile concitato, short fugal expositions, and conglomerations of fantastic harmonic progressions. Devices such as these are used to depict the high drama of the text at particular points which occur at verses 5, 6, and 7 of Dixit Dominus (in ZWV 66 a Szene is heard at the setting of verse 7, ‘Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: conquassabit capita in terra multorum’; He shall judge among nations; he shall fill ruins: he shall crush the heads in the land of many). Szenen are also used for settings of verse 9 of Confitebor tibi Domine, ‘Sanctum et terribile nomen ejus: initium sapientiae timor Domini’ (Holy and terrible is his name: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), and also in verse 10 of Beatus vir, ‘Peccator videbit, et irascetur, dentibus suis fremet et tabescet: desiderium peccatorum peribit’ (The wicked shall see, and shall be angry: he shall gnash with his teeth, and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish). In each case the text is concerned with Divine power, judgment with retribution, and fear of the Almighty. References to Gregorian chant are heard in the first and final movements of the 1725 Dixit Dominus and the opening of the Magnificat setting, while Zelenka’s very great contrapuntal abilities are evident in the splendid final fugues of the 1725 settings of Confitebor tibi Domine, Beatus vir, In exitu Israel, and the Magnificat.

These major Vespers works of 1725 would have been performed in Dresden’s Catholic court chapel by musicians of the prestigious music ensemble of the court: the Hofkapelle. In 1724 a group of Italian solo singers was employed for Dresden, and these settings of 1725 feature important vocal solos for each male singer of this group. The men of the ensemble were the male soprano Andrea Ruota, male alto Nicolo Pozzi, tenor Matteo Luchini, and bass Cosimo Ermini. It is almost certain that these were the soloists Zelenka had in mind when composing these works (although it is tempting to consider that the beautiful Laudate pueri setting for solo bass and chorus of sopranos I, II and alto who represent the ‘pueri’, or young people, might have been intended for the choristers and young musicians of Dresden’s Catholic court church: the Kapellknaben ensemble). Moreover, in addition to these newly-engaged singers, the Elector of Saxony Friedrich August I (King of Poland August II) maintained a vocal chorus at the Dresden court, a group about which little is known. Concertmaster Jean-Baptiste Volumier led the many notable instrumentalists of the Dresden Hofkapelle at that time, including the violone player Zelenka. The usual orchestra required for the psalms of this first cycle comprises violins I and II, viola, oboes I and II, and a basso continuo group comprising organ, violone (and/or contra bass), and one or two bassoons. At a later time Zelenka added 2 trumpets and timpani to the Magnificat setting, making the work suitable for a Vespers for a high feast.

To almost every one of his compositions Zelenka added a dedication at the conclusion of the score. These comprise a series of letters, the most common being ‘A M D G V M OO SS H AA P I R’. This formula honours God (A  M D G– ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’), the Virgin Mary (V  M– ‘Virgini Mariae’), all saints (OO SS H– ‘Omnibus Sanctis honor’), and Zelenka’s patron/s, the royal and electoral prince (AA P I R– ‘Augustissimo Principi in reverentia’). With one exception, this dedication is seen on the scores of the 1725 psalm settings, the exception being Dixit Dominus, where ‘Laus Deo V M OO SS Semper’ (Laus Deo, Virgini Mariae, Omnibus Sanctis) appears, a hint that this psalm was not composed to a commission from patrons of the Dresden Court.

Unfortunately, when these settings were entered into the music catalogue of Dresden’s Court chapel as ‘33. Psalmi. insieme’ in 1765, only 23 of the original 33 settings were preserved. Although each score once was accompanied by sets of parts, today these are mainly missing from the Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Dresden, the home to so much of Zelenka’s musical legacy.

Finally, while it has become usual to categorize Zelenka’s greatest compositions as coming from either the early 1720s (the Sonatas, Lamentations, and Responsories for Holy Week) or the final incomplete cycle of six Masses, a re-evaluation of Zelenka’s Vespers settings from the second half of the 1720s leads to the conclusion that this was not simply an era in which he was producing everyday functional music on a grand scale. On the contrary, this was an epoch of exceptional artistic value in the output of Jan Dismas Zelenka.

Janice Stockigt
The University of Melbourne

© Studio Svengali, May 2024
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