Author Topic: Zelenka's Zenith  (Read 17188 times)

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Offline Rinaldo

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Zelenka's Zenith
« on: January 25, 2011, 06:06:56 PM »
Jan Dismas Zelenka (16 October 1679 – 23 December 1745)

No face-in-a-wig picture survived from his era (the one that's commonly associated with him is actually of his tutor, Johann Joseph Fux), so I'm providing a period postcard of Zelenka's birthplace:



The epitome of a forgotten great. Some baroque aficionados rank his musical craftsmanship alongside Bach, who supposedly held Zelenka in high esteem. What did the omniscient Wikipedia say?

"Zelenka's language is certainly idiosyncratic in its unexpected harmonic twists, obsession with chromatic harmonies, huge usage of syncopation and triplet figures, and unusually long phrases full of different musical ideas that even make Bach seem minimalistic." :o (the last part was later edited out – the Bach Mafia conspiracy rages on! ;D )

I'm certainly not educated (or crazy) enough to make such bold claims, but I know a masterpiece when I hear one: Zelenka's Missa Votiva! I've checked YouTube to dig out a few samples and some generous soul just recently (what a timely coincidence..) uploaded a whole live performance of the Mass by a Czech orchestra Collegium 1704!

Although I didn't have time to watch it yet (and I'm afraid I won't be able to cope with the lo-fi sound, which spoils particularly the vocals), Collegium's recording of the work is top notch & therefore highly recommended:



(link under picture)

Sadly, Zelenka is still very much unknown, even here in Czech Republic. I wonder if he's waiting for his Mendelssohn?

snyprrr

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2011, 10:28:43 PM »
No way did you coup this? :o

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2011, 10:58:07 PM »
I don't know much Zelenka, but what I know (the trio sonatas and Lamentations of Jeremiah) I like a lot.

Bach did admire Zelenka, and knew him personally. What's strange is the way he almost disappeared without a trace. His works were basically locked up in a library in Dresden, and only rediscovered after WW2. Also, very little is known about him as a person; we don't even have a verifiable portrait of him.

Thanks for the Missa Votiva rec!
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2011, 05:22:51 AM »
What's strange is the way he almost disappeared without a trace. His works were basically locked up in a library in Dresden, and only rediscovered after WW2. Also, very little is known about him as a person; we don't even have a verifiable portrait of him.

That's what puzzles me the most! I could understand him being forgotten if his style was unmemorable or easily interchangeable with his contemporaries, but it's completely the opposite! Was Zelenka's disappearance from view just the result of him being a Roman Catholic in a predominantly Lutheran society? I should probably get the book by Mrs. Stockigt, but it's way too pricey for me.

Makes you think about what else might be locked up in some library basement.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2011, 05:54:26 AM »
That's what puzzles me the most! I could understand him being forgotten if his style was unmemorable or easily interchangeable with his contemporaries, but it's completely the opposite!

I'm speculating here, but I think it's possible that his very individual style was a factor in his being forgotten ("this guy's music is too weird for us - let's listen to someone else"). On the other hand, it seems he was quite successful in his job, and being admired by JS Bach certainly wouldn't hurt his reputation.

So there are probably other factors at work, including a large dose of just plain bad luck.  :(
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Opus106

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2011, 06:43:23 AM »
jdzelenka.net

Just remembered about this site. There's even a Zelenka forum.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2011, 06:47:00 AM by Opus106 »
Regards,
Navneeth

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2011, 05:02:02 AM »
So there are probably other factors at work, including a large dose of just plain bad luck.  :(

Yes, sometimes the truth is very simple. Hopefully, with many brilliant performances in the past few years, Zelenka's luck has finally turned.

jdzelenka.net

Just remembered about this site. There's even a Zelenka forum.

I've never noticed they actually have a forum there – thanks for the heads up! Seems like a wealth of info can be extracted from those discussions. It warms my heart to know there are people even more devoted to Zelenka than I am :)
« Last Edit: January 27, 2011, 05:35:46 AM by Rinaldo »

Offline Brian

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2011, 06:03:23 AM »
I listened to the Missa votiva for the second time yesterday - on both occasions, the Dresden Chamber Orchestra / Frieder Bernius recording - and again was impressed by the power of the music. It begins with an intelligently conceived, dramatic idea and sustains it in different ways over the course of an hour. Masses usually are not my thing, in fact almost never my thing, but this is a happy exception. I remember good things about his orchestral capriccios, and look forward to trying those again too.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2011, 06:24:38 AM »
Masses usually are not my thing, in fact almost never my thing, but this is a happy exception.

The main problem I have with masses is the long, doctrinally specific Credo movement. Almost always, my mind wanders during it. If a composer can hold my attention throughout the Credo, then it's probably a masterpiece.

When time permits, I'll listen to the Missa Votiva and see if Zelenka passes the "Credo Test."
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Brian

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2011, 06:26:08 AM »
He passed the Credo Test for me with the help of a really inspired, and strategically placed, fugue.

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2011, 07:10:11 AM »
When time permits, I'll listen to the Missa Votiva and see if Zelenka passes the "Credo Test."

As Brian's post indicated, you might be in for a pleasant surprise! To quote this review:

Interestingly--and this you will notice immediately--although Zelenka was older than Bach (he was working in Dresden while Bach was in Leipzig) and died 11 years before Mozart was born, his "theatrical" style (including his dramatic use of the orchestra--the stunning "Et resurrexit", for example), crisply delineated textures, and free-spirited fugues are surprisingly closer to Mozart, bearing almost no resemblance to Bach. And his facile, song-like melodies have more in common with later classical style than with contemporary baroque practice. In fact, the Qui tollis could be a lost movement from Mozart's Requiem; and where/how do you classify the scintillating syncopated fugue in Cum Sancto Spiritu II? Perhaps most impressive is how Zelenka even creates a Credo of such salience and substance that you want to hear it again and again!

Offline Wanderer

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2011, 10:51:52 PM »
A most highly recommended new release of what must be one of the most imaginative and original Requiem settings of any period:



The whole work (not the same performance, though by the same ensemble) is also on youtube:

Part I
(Kyrie eleison: 8:02, Dies irae: 9:10)

Part II
(Huic ergo parce: 8:40)

Part III
(Sanctus: 3:45)

Part IV

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2011, 03:42:46 AM »
Quote
Zelenka's language is certainly idiosyncratic in its unexpected harmonic twists, obsession with chromatic harmonies, huge usage of syncopation and triplet figures, and unusually long phrases full of different musical ideas that even make Bach seem minimalistic." :o (the last part was later edited out – the Bach Mafia conspiracy rages on! ;D )

Its edited out because it just isn't true. Bach's musical density is a lot more subtle because of his greater focus on counterpoint. Its inches with inches as opposed the all out near cacophony of Zelenka.

That said, he is definitely one of the greatest composers of his era. He is in a similar league with Handel, Rameau and Scarlatti, but he is the least known of them all. Even Telemann gets a lot more press which is disheartening. BTW, i call dips on the fact i was among the first to mention his name in this forum.  8)

My favored compositions are the trio sonatas (obviously) and the final masses.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2011, 03:45:31 AM by Josquin des Prez »

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2011, 03:50:56 AM »
Bach did admire Zelenka, and knew him personally. What's strange is the way he almost disappeared without a trace. His works were basically locked up in a library in Dresden, and only rediscovered after WW2. Also, very little is known about him as a person; we don't even have a verifiable portrait of him.

From what i understand, a big chunk of his work got lost, including of all of his keyboard music, which was supposed to be great, near Bach in quality. Finding a copy of any of those compositions would be a major discovery.

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2011, 03:58:55 AM »
The credo is the best part of all of his late masses. Particularly great is the one from the Missa Dei Patris. The chromatic fugue in the crucifixus is heavenly.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #15 on: April 11, 2011, 01:04:35 AM »
How many Zelenka Requiems are there? I listened to some of the jolly one posted by Wanderer above, and found it not much to my taste. However, I found bits of a much grimmer one, which I liked more.
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"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Que

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #16 on: April 11, 2011, 02:21:37 AM »
How many Zelenka Requiems are there? I listened to some of the jolly one posted by Wanderer above, and found it not much to my taste. However, I found bits of a much grimmer one, which I liked more.

http://www.jdzelenka.net/works.php?action=show_result&form_category=Requiems+%26+Music+for+the+Offices+of+the+Dead&form_key=any+key&form_date=any+date+1700-1744

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #17 on: March 14, 2012, 08:03:39 PM »
Freshly pressed:



(picture link)

Didn't have time to check it out yet but the generous excerpt sounds enticing.

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #18 on: October 15, 2012, 02:27:59 PM »
Today I've attended a performance of Zelenka's last mass, Missa omnium sanctorum and you can too, via a video captured by the Czech Radio. Little bit of trivia: the organ at that church (St. Anne's) was supposedly played by Haydn & Mozart (not at the same time, I presume).

The music starts at the 5 minute mark and boy, it's really something. While it didn't knock my socks off like Votiva did (and continues to do), there are moments when I thought to myself "wait, did he really do what I've just heard?". As Josquin hinted earlier –

The credo is the best part of all of his late masses.

– Zelenka smashes through the Credo like a guy on a mission (from God, obviously). My favourite part though comes soon after with the Benedictus, which has a sublime but captivating string writing going against a sombre solo voice. Hearing it live was mesmerizing.

Offline Opus106

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Re: Zelenka's Zenith
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2012, 10:37:38 PM »
Thank you for the link, Rinaldo.
Regards,
Navneeth