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Jiří Antonín Benda   (1722–1795) 
Harpsichord Concertos & Sonatas (Vol. III)


F10183   [8595017418327]   released 6/2011 

play all Concertos & Sonatas - Edita Keglerová, Hipocondria Ensemble 19:44
Concerto in F major - Allegro 6:39
Concerto in F major - Andantino quasi allegretto 8:57
Concerto in F major - Allegro assai 5:34
Concertino in C major - Mezzo allegro 3:49
Concertino in C major - Tempo di minuetto 2:19
Concerto in G major - Non tanto allegro 8:15
Concerto in G major - Andante 7:36
Concerto in G major - Allegretto 4:32
Sonata in C major - Allegro 8:28
Sonata in C major - Andante con motto 4:46
Sonata in C major - Allegro 4:24
Sonata in G major - Allegro 6:58
Sonata in G major - Andante con motto 2:59
Sonata in G major - Allegro assai 4:25

Edita Keglerová - harpsichord

Hipocondria Ensemble
Jan Hádek - violin
Jiří Sycha - violin
Michal Dušek - viola
Ondřej Michal - cello
Michal Novák - double-bass

The year is 1706. The world of music embraced new works (for example, the publication of the first book of the celebrated Pièces de Clavecin by Jean-Philippe Rameau), new composers (Giovanni Battista Martini and Baldassare Galuppi), and Johann Pachelbel wrote his last works. Moving over to Central Bohemia, we will note that, in May of 1706, weaver and village musician Jan Jiří Benda married Dorota Brixi from the well-known musical family (whose line includes composer Šimon and his son František Xaver). Few probably realised then that the new couple would start their own prominent family in which the gift of composition and performance would be handed down from one generation to the next.
     One of the couple’s offspring was Jiří Antonín Benda (1722-1795). He was born in Staré Benátky and was educated by the Piarists in Kroměříž and by the Jesuits in Jičín. He was able fully to develop his talent once he had arrived in Prussia, where the Benda family, members of the Czech Brethren church, relocated after the events at White Mountain. This was not a step into the unknown for them, however, since Jiří’s older brother František had been working here successfully for several years by this stage. 20-year-old Jiří Antonín was accepted into the Royal Prussian Court Orchestra in Berlin as second violinist; he was also a capable oboist and harpsichordist. This latter instrument was the domain in the orchestra of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, with whom Benda became friends and remained in contact later on as well. In 1750 Jiří Antonín was appointed court Kapellmeister in Gotha for Thuringian Duke Frederick III. We might suppose that he succeeded in gaining this position over court composer Johann Friedrich Agricola not only for his accomplishments, but perhaps also thanks to his considerable favour at court and through František’s connections as well… In his new place of work Benda initially wrote instrumental and sacred music, since a permanent opera stage was not established here until 1774. It was only after this that he produced four Singspiels in Gotha, along with the famous melodramas (Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea). After almost thirty years in service, Jiří Antonín resigned from his post (Kapelldirector) and spent the following two years looking in vain for a new position. In the end he returned to Gotha, living out of the public eye, and devoted his energies to publishing his works. His oeuvre also includes thirty symphonies, harpsichord and violin concertos; his last work was the cantata Benda Klagen for soprano and orchestra.
     With this recording of harpsichord compositions by Jiří Antonín Benda, we visit both the concert podium and the burgher household, in other words, the world of professional and amateur musicians. Unquestionably, the three-movement Concertos in F major and G major (here based on the Musica Antiqua Bohemica edition) belong in the first group. They were probably written in the 1780s and, in view of the difficulty of the solo parts, we can assume that the composer wrote them for himself. The solos are accompanied by a string quartet – as in Benda’s other harpsichord concertos – in this recording with the addition of a double bass, in line with period practices.
     Apart from the solo concerto, the latter half of the 18th century also saw the unprecedented rise of amateur music-making, as reflected in the popularity of instructional works and practical handbooks. The most widespread were manuals by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (keyboard instruments), Leopold Mozart (violin), Johann Joachim Quantz (flute) and Johann Friedrich Agricola (voice). Music, generally performed in a chamber ensemble, was played not only by the master of the house with his family, but also by invited friends, whose numbers frequently included professional musicians. Thus concerts at home were often of a high standard, bringing their hosts the reward of greater social prestige. A number of composers responded promptly to this new trend, among them Jiří Antonín Benda. Shortly after his departure from the Gotha court he began to publish his six-part Sammlung vermischter Clavier- und Gesangstücke für geübte und ungeübte Spieler (Collection of assorted piano and vocal pieces for experienced and inexperienced players). The composer was probably inspired to write them by the collection of keyboard sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whose first part was published to great acclaim in Leipzig in 1779 and intended for “all specialists and amateurs” (Clavier-Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber). Benda’s collection started to come out in print a year later and was immediately a bestseller. 2,400 copies had already been ordered even before the publication of the first volume. Subscribers included Mozart father and son and composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt (12 copies), and issues also found their way to German cities, Vienna, Riga, and even the Province of Astrakhan. At that time, it would have been difficult to find a German household that did not have the collection on its bookshelves. In the preface to Part 1 the author indicated that he had tried to appeal to all tastes, and he recommended that each take from it only what appealed to him. Music-loving amateurs were offered brilliant one-movement sonatinas, or more demanding, sophisticated sonatas. Benda added vocal compositions to subsequent volumes, and in 1788 the work was complete. It is worth mentioning that the authors of the texts chosen for the musical settings included Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Christian Felix Weiss, whose poem Ich war bei Chloen ganz allein was also used later by Beethoven (Der Kuß, Op. 128). The Sonatas in G major and C major (Parts 1 and 3 in the collection; period print kept in the Prague Conservatoire archive), in view of their more intimate character, are recorded with a string quartet accompaniment, as is the playful two-movement Concertino in C major (manuscript kept at the Statsbiblioteket Aarhus in Denmark).
     Benda’s harpsichord pieces betray elements of Classicism and also North German musical aesthetics, namely the concept of Empfindsamkeit (sentimentality, responsiveness), which was described in detail by its main representative, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. To capture the spirit of this style, and if he wanted to stir his listeners, the musician had to be able to truly feel all the emotions he wanted to arouse, so that he, himself, would be moved by the music. Perhaps this recording might allow us a “glimpse” of Benda’s personality, an artist who was influenced by the ideas underlying the Enlightenment and the Sturm und Drang movement, an impulsive man who is said to have had a sense of humour, profound empathy, and an endearing absent-mindedness…

Dina Šnejdarová

Other harpsichord concertos by J. A. Benda:

Further recordings by Hipocondria Ensemble:

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