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

Zelenka _ Missa Paschalis     

DNI164   [8595056601643]   digipack     

Lenka Cafourková, Gabriela Eibenová – soprano;
Pascal Bertin – alto; Virgil Hartinger – tenor; 
Marián Krejèík – bass

Ensemble Inégal, Prague Baroque Soloists
directed by Adam Viktora

play all J.D.Zelenka: Psalmi Vespertini III - Ensemble Inégal 56
Da pacem Domine 3:55
Quia non est alius 1:52
Confitebor tibi Domine 4:13
Redemptionen misit 1:47
Amen 0:59
In exitu Israel 0:53
Simulacra gentium 3:14
Gloria Patri 0:20
Sicut erat 0:54
In convertendo 3:37
Gloria Patri 1:08
Amen 0:58
Laudate Dominum 1:49
Amen 1:25
Beati omnes 4:30
Confitebor tibi Domine 2:02
Confiteantur tibi Domine 2:35
Gloria Patri 0:26
Sicut erat 6:41
Memento Domine David 2:57
Ecce audivimus 2:21
Si custodierint 3:11
Gloria Patri 0:37
Sicut erat 2:07
Domine probasti me 5:09
Gloria Patri 1:22
Sicut erat 6:56

Da pacem Domine ZWV 167

Psalmi Vespertini III:
Confitebor tibi Domine ZWV 70
In exitu Israel ZWV 84
In convertendo ZWV 91
Laudate Dominum ZWV 87
Beati omnes ZWV 94
Confitebor Angelorum ZWV 100
Memento Domine David ZWV 98
Domine probasti me ZWV 101


Between mid 1725 and late 1728 the Bohemian-born, Dresden-based court musician Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) composed three cycles of thirty-three psalms and Magnificat compositions for Vespers. Each cycle begins with a setting of the psalm Dixit Dominus and it then develops to serve one or more sequences of psalms to serve 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 the Inventarium rerum Musicarum Ecclesiae servientium, his personal inventory of sacred music that began to be kept on 17 January of that year. His entries demonstrate that the thirty-three Vespers works were conceived in three cycles. These works were composed over a period of three years for the Catholic court church of Dresden, a royal chapel dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The unavoidable assumption is that this was a well-considered, 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 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 Catholic court church, a royal chapel served by Jesuits from the Province of Bohemia.

Following this project of 1725–1728, Zelenka composed an additional eight additional Vespers psalms. These were listed in the Inventarium separately under the title “Psalmi varii. | J. D. Z. Separatim | Scripti.” Thus, it does seem that from mid-1725 Zelenka became partly responsible for the musical Vespers services held in Dresden’s Catholic court church, which explains his acquisition over the following years of more than eighty psalm compositions, mainly by Italian and Bohemian composers which also were entered into his inventory under the title “Psalmi Varioru[m] Authorum.”

Zelenka listed his collection of thirty-three psalm settings into his Inventarium under the heading of psalms for the whole year: “Psalmi Vespertini |totius anni. | Joannes Disma: Zelenka. | quae habentur in libros.” Surprisingly, the listings did not begin with the earliest settings of 1725 (recorded as Jan Dismas Zelenka: Psalmi Vespertini I. Ensemble Inégal, Prague Baroque Soloists cond. Adam Viktora, Nibiru, 2015), but with settings of the second Vespers cycle that Zelenka began to compose in 1726 (recorded as Jan Dismas Zelenka: Psalmi Vespertini II by the same artists, 2016). With this current cycle the “Psalmi Vespertini” ended. However, another group of eight Vespers psalms titled “Psalmi varii. J:D:Z: Separatim Scripti” followed. Zelenka composed these works between 1728 and about 1730 (or later) and they will be featured in a recording planned by Ensemble Inégale for 2018.


This, final cycle of Zelenka’s “Psalmi Vespertini totius anni …”, originally comprised fifteen settings. It began with the five psalms (Dixit Dominus; Laudate pueri; Laetatus sum; Nisi Dominus; Lauda Jerusalem) and a Magnificat setting for a Marian Vespers. Today these six works are missing, as also is a setting of Beatus vir. The inclusion in this cycle of psalm 110, Confitebor tibi Domine, the missing Beatus vir, and the brief Laudate Dominum setting would have allowed the now-missing Marian Vespers to be adapted to a Vespers de Confessore (Dixit Dominus; Confitebor tibi Domine; Beatus vir; Laudate pueri; Laudate Dominum; Magnificat), thereby making this a very useful set of compositions indeed. Already in circa 1784 when the collection of sacred music held in Dresden’s Hofkirche was catalogued, the scores of each of those now-missing works were noted as missing. Thus, this third and final part of Zelenka’s “Psalmi Vespertini totius anni …” suffered great losses which reduced this section of the cycle to one Confitebor tibi Domine, one Laudate Dominum, and a cluster of psalms required as the final psalm for special occasions—works heard infrequently during the liturgical year. Most of the settings of Cycle 3 have “ordinary” instrumentation of violins I and II, viola, oboes I and II and basso continuo to accompany SATB soloists and chorus. Interesting and unusual compositions exist among these remaining works, several of which are of short duration. Features of the scores, although undated, demonstrate that each work was written during 1728. According to the list of Catholics of the Dresden court who were eligible to be buried in the court’s Catholic cemetery, in that year ten young musicians known as Kapellknaben, the Musici, or Juvenes served the church. Zelenka’s writing for soprano and alto soloists and chorus suggests that the works of this cycle could have been performed by these young musicians with assistance either from members of the Hofkapelle or musicians of the Italianischen Comoedianten.

With one exception Zelenka wrote the same dedication formula at the conclusion of each psalm: “A M D G B V M OO SS H AA P I R”, a formula honouring 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 reverential”). The exception is the setting of Memento Domine David (ZWV 98), whose final section of the formula “A M D G B V M OO SS H AA PP I R” hints that both the electoral prince and the princess, Maria Josepha, were involved in commissioning this work.


The first surviving work setting of Zelenka’s Cycle 3 is a beautiful setting in two movements of Confitebor tibi Domine. Both the psalm and the Lesser Doxology, the text which closes each psalm (“Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen”: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and always. Amen) are set in one large through composed movement of five principal sections. The opening section has a recurring ritornello of three main motifs composed in four real parts that re-appear in a variety of keys, thereby acting as a unifying element of great strength. A Szene (a dramatic musical segment built up with a sequence of subsections in which a number of diverse elements are heard in close proximity) is used for the setting of verse 9. In the second movement the word “Amen” is set as a four-part fugue above an ostinato bass, a feature that distinguishes this fugue from all other fugal endings of Zelenka’s psalm settings. In the opening ritornello and its repetitions Zelenka appears to have been attempting to incorporate chiaroscuro effects through the use of contrasting dynamics and orchestration techniques in which the orchestral tutti (strings plus oboes and full continuo section) and solo (strings without oboes and a reduced number of continuo players) distinctions are made in close proximity. Repetitions of single words of the first verse (“Confitebor tibi, tibi, tibi Domine: in toto, toto corde meo”) provide a high degree of eloquence thereby heightening the expressive character of this setting.

Zelenka’s composition in four short movements of psalm 113, In exitu Israel, with its immense text of 27 verses plus doxology, is achieved in a mere 110 bars. Cohesion is reached in the first movement through the resourceful means of having the sopranos singing a cantus firmus on the transposed tonus peregrinus which gives unity to the choral altos, tenors, and basses who sing verses 1 to 11 set in a “telescoped” manner (meaning that one or more verses are distributed throughout the vocal parts all to be sung at the same time) over a “walking bass”. The remaining text is set in the next movement of 84 bars for SATB soloists and SATB chorus accompanied by violins I and II, oboes I and II, and basso continuo. After a brief setting of the opening doxology text “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto”, which Zelenka symbolically by setting the text as a vocal trio in triple metre honoring the Holy Trinity, the entire opening movement is recapitulated, decorated, and altered to accommodate the text “Sicut erat in principio” (As it was at the beginning), thereby creating a structural arch. This setting is predominantly a vocal work with supporting instruments suggesting that, in contrast to Zelenka’s extensive earlier setting of 1725 (ZWV 83), this work could be performed for an ordinary Vespers service by the talented young Kapellknaben of Dresden’s Catholic court church. Psalm 113 is required for Sunday Vespers from Advent until Acsension, as well as Vespers II of important feasts from the Proper of Time: Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost.

In convertendo is Zelenka’s only a cappella setting in the entire cycle of thirty-three psalms. Instruments are used only double the voices, a factor which, when considered along with the vocally undemanding solo passages, makes it likely that this was composed for performance by the Kapellknaben. In this somewhat stern but cleverly contrived composition Zelenka displays his contrapuntal skills. And yet the music eminently suits the text. Techniques include imitative motet style, ricercar, double counterpoint, and canon with inversion that is used at verse 5: “Converte Dominen captivitatem nostrum, sicut torrens in Austro” (Turn again in our captivity, O Lord, as a stream in the south). Within these confines Zelenka took every opportunity to depict the text through the use of musical figures. The setting of verse 7, with the chromatically ascending passage on the word “flebant” (wept), is especially affective. The doxology text “Gloria Patri” again is set symbolically in triple metre for three voices over a total of 33 bars. As the fourth psalm of the formula required for Vespers II of feasts for Apostles and Evangelists In convertendo would have been one of the lesser-performed psalms required only on a small number of occasions each year.

Beati omnes is required for Vespers I and II for the feast of Corpus Christi. This brief, tightly constructed through-composed setting of 101 bars is written for tenor soloist, SATB chorus, violins I and II, viola, oboes I and II, and basso continuo. The writing for the tenor soloist suggests that Zelenka had the solo Italian singer of the Dresden court, Matteo Lucchini, in mind whereas the simplicity of the duet for soprano and alto to the text “Gloria Patri” hints that selected Kapellknaben might have sung these solo parts.

The Laudate Dominum setting from Cycle 3 is the briefest of all these psalm compositions. This totally exuberant and joyful setting has a responsorial quality with the chorus interacting with the tenor soloist whose brilliant passage work at times suggests the pealing of bells. Surely Zelenka was thinking of Matteo Lucchini when he composed this work.

Zelenka set psalm 137, Confitebor … quoniam on one occasion only. It is the fifth psalm required for Vespers II for feasts of Angels (Apparition of St Michael, 8 May), Holy Custodian Angels (2 October now, but then held on Saturday and Sunday after 1 September), Dedication of St Michael (29 September), and St Raphael (24 October). A contemporary document stated that the feast of St Michael Archangel was especially honoured in the Dresden Catholic court church with nine days of prayers. Although apparently through composed in four sections, the third section (“Gloria Patri”) is no more than a brief bridging passage of seven bars while the remainder of the doxology is set as a double fugue.

The exquisite setting of psalm 131 Memento Domine David would have been heard in the Vespers of the Christmas season and at Vespers II for the feast of a Bishop Confessor. The work is composed in five independent movements, the third of which is particularly interesting because it foreshadows certain of Zelenka’s galant arias of the 1730s and 1740s. This movement of appears to be heavily imbued with symbolism. A triple metre (“3”) with 6/4 barring is used throughout except at bar 33 when 9/4 is used. Moreover, this is one of the very rare occasions where Zelenka used the key of E flat major. This, the longest of the settings of Cycle 3, ends with a double fugue.

Domine probasti me is the psalm required for Vespers II for feasts of Apostles and Evangelists. Zelenka set this psalm once only. The principal characteristic of this through-composed setting, the last of the “33 psalmi totius anni”, is the strong sense of unity that comes from the opening ritornello whose rhythm arises from the rhythm of the opening words: Domine probasti me. This little two-bar phrase assumes an enormous role due to its constant reappearance both in solo vocal passages and connecting instrumental links. The opening of the doxology (“Gloria Patri”) offers a brief respite from the energetic quality of this setting. Here, a change of metre, tempo, and texture appears for ten bars only, after which the doxology continues with a re-statement of the opening ritornello. This melody then becomes the first subject of the final double fugue to the text “Et in saecula”. Perhaps it is significant and fitting that the deeply spiritual Zelenka chose psalm 138 to be the final setting of his great project: the opening verse, Domine probasti me et cognovisti me translates as “Lord, thou hast proved me, and known me.”

It has been suggested that the offertorium Da pacem Domine might have been composed for a special devotion held in Dresden’s Catholic court church when the first of the three Silesian Wars broke out in 1740. These conflicts saw the rise of Prussia led by Frederick II and the devastation not only of major Saxon centres such as Dresden, but of great areas of Central Europe also. Set over one movement for two choirs of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses (“a 2 Cori; ora reali; ora obligati”) and accompanied by violins, viola, oboes and basso continuo, Zelenka’s majestic opening musical plea Da pacem Domine (Give peace, O Lord) twice returns as a refrain between settings of “in deibus nostris” (in our days). Zelenka’s urgent entreaty is heightened in the Allegro assai setting of the final text: “quia non est alius: qui pugnet pro nobis: nisi tu Deus noster” (Because there is no one who fights for us, O Lord).

Janice B. Stockigt
The University of Melbourne

Zelenka: Psalmi vespertini I, II


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