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Jiří Antonín Benda   (1722–1795) 
Harpsichord Concertos, Vol. II


F10153   [8595017415326]   released 10/2007   media partnership

play all J.A.Benda:Koncerty pro cembalo - Edita Keglerová 60:33
Koncert G dur - Allegro 4:52
Koncert G dur - Largo 4:10
Koncert G dur - Allegro 4:50
Koncert D dur - Allegro 6:19
Koncert D dur - Andante 5:15
Koncert D dur - Allegro 4:11
Koncert F dur - Allegretto 6:40
Koncert F dur - Andante 5:43
Koncert F dur - Allegro 4:06
Koncert C dur - Mezzo Allegro 5:07
Koncert C dur - Andante Moderato 5:10
Koncert C dur - Allegro 4:03

Edita Keglerová - harpsichord

Hipocondria Ensemble
Jan Hádek - violin
Jana Chytilová - violin
Michal Dušek - viola
Ondřej Michal - cello
Michal Novák - double-bass

The eighteenth century was a time of great change in society, philosophy, and art. Various encyclopaedias, for example, were compiled and published. Works were written in the new field of aesthetics and other disciplines. Concert series for the public were started up, using amateur musicians and musical societies that had previously performed only privately. The Enlightenment, the philosophical movement emphasizing human reason and its diverse applications in understanding man, was penetrating all spheres and forms of life, both of the individual and society.
     It was in these eventful times that Jiří Antonín (Georg Anton) Benda lived and composed. He was born in the Bohemian town of Staré Benátky, the son of a keen folk musician, and was educated in a Piarist grammar school in Kosmonosy and a Jesuit seminary in Jičín. In 1742 he moved with his family to Berlin, where he was employed as the second violinist in the orchestra of the Royal Prussian court. Here, he met Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), who was at the time first harpsichordist at the court. Working together in the same ensemble, Bach and Benda eventually became friends, which turned out to be of considerable importance in Benda’s artistic development.
     Apart from playing the violin, Benda was also a skilled oboist and harpsichordist. He studied composition with Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773) and Carl Heinrich Graun (1703/04–1759). In 1750 he was hired by Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, and his wife Luisa Dorothea, as court Kapellmeister at Gotha, where he remained for 28 years.
     Benda’s compositions include not only small chamber works (solo and trio sonatas), but also orchestral works (sinfonia and concerti), works for the stage (operas, Singspiele, and intermezzi), and vocal-instrumental works, both secular and sacred (cantatas, oratorios, and masses). He became well known mostly for his melodramas (particularly Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea).
     His compositions reflect the eighteenth-century composition style, characteristic of the transition from the Baroque to Classical. In France it is usually called Rococo, in Germany Empfindsamkeit (denoting sentiment and the cult of emotion and feeling) or Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress,” exalting nature). The aim of the aesthetics of music, connected in the mid-eighteenth century to north Germany, was to achieve an intimate, sensitive, subjective kind of expression. Obsession with detail was the hallmark of works composed in the spirit of Empfindsamkeit. Detail was intended to express emotion, not merely to create an entertaining effect. Ornamentation often stemmed from a powerful hidden intellectual meaning.
     The term Sturm und Drang denotes a highly emotional, fleeting movement in German literature, and reflected in music and the other arts. It is perhaps best described using its own artistic aims: to terrify, stupefy, overpower with emotion. The leading figure of the movement was the young Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832), whose novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrow of Young Werther, 1774), was much like the manifesto of the writers in this movement.
     Developed throughout Europe in the eighteenth century the concerto for a solo instrument was a highly popular kind of composition. In keeping with the times the individual came to the fore in the concerto, expressing his feelings, arousing sympathy, and with his talent, art, and virtuosity, leaving the audience ecstatic. In 1760–70 the most popular instruments were the violin and flute, then, in 1770–80, the piano became highly popular. Concertos for keyboard instruments are often linked with Christoph Nichelmann (1717–1761/62), Jiří Antonín Benda, and mainly C.P.E. Bach, who composed more than fifty harpsichord concertos, thus becoming the most important concerto composer till Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) arrived on the scene. Bach refashioned an earlier kind of harpsichord concerto, thus influencing the development of this kind of composition for many years to come. Instrumental concertos could be heard in public concert series, at court festivities, or at private concerts. They were sometimes played also between the acts of oratorios, operas, or other theatre performances.
     Benda wrote his harpsichord concertos between 1748 and 1778. During that time, he was employed first at the Royal Prussian Court as second violinist and then as Kapellmeister at the court in Gotha. He composed at least eleven harpsichord concertos. The scores for ten of them have been preserved, but the Concerto in D minor (1771), listed in the Breitkopf catalogue, has probably been lost.
     The key signatures of Benda’s concertos do not have more than two sharps or two flats, in either major or minor keys, with the exception of the concerto in F minor. Benda, however, was not afraid to use some keys over and over again. When listening to them, we notice how strikingly the major-key concertos differ in character from those in minor keys. Concertos in major keys evoke moods that tend to be carefree, merry, and playful. Minor-key concertos, by contrast, tend to be impetuous, fierce, tempestuous, sometimes plaintive or meditative. The character of the individual keys was an important element for eighteenth-century composers and theorists (for example, Johann Mattheson and Quantz). When Benda was writing his harpsichord concertos, Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739–1791), for example, wrote Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1784–85), in which he describes the different keys. C major, he argues, is “innocent, plain-hearted, and naive, like a child’s language.” G major, according to him, “is suited to country idylls, and typifies calm, satisfied desire, affectionate thanks for sincere friendship and true love; it is affable, and can be used to express gentle movement.” D major is a “key of triumph, hallelujah, a battle cry, and triumphant jubilation.” The key of F major “expresses kindness and calm.”
     We can tell what keyboard instrument Benda actually wrote his concertos for both from the titles of the compositions and from the fact that when he wrote piano scores of his own compositions, he wrote them for harpsichord, preferring it to the increasingly fashionable fortepiano. In all of Benda’s harpsichord concertos the orchestral accompaniment consists only of strings: two violins, viola, and cello (often written as basso). In view of the conventions of those days it was assumed that the bass part, played by the cello, would be doubled by the double bass an octave below it. In concertos the harpsichord functions as a solo instrument as well as providing accompaniment.
     Benda wrote harpsichord concertos mainly for his concert work, and therefore paid special attention to them. He thus left us works that bear the imprint of his compositional and personal style, and have today been rightly rediscovered for critical editions and recordings. 

Edita Keglerová

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