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Jan Dismas ZELENKA

(*16. 10. 1679 Louňovice pod Blaníkem — †23. 12. 1745 Dresden)

Bohemian Baroque composer

His father was the local cantor and an organist and provided him early musical education. Later he studied at the Prague Jesuit College at the Clementimum. The Clementinum was a renowned centre for music and Zelenka maintained the lifelong contact with it. From 1709 he lived in the house of a member of the von Hartig family. Dresden was one of the most significant musical centres of the first half of the 18th century. The Elector of Saxony Friedrich August I converted to Catholicism when he became the King of Poland. As the Dresden population was predominantly Lutheran and no tradition of Catholic church music existed many choristers and instrumentalists were recruited from Bohemia to serve the liturgical requirements of the chapel. Zelenka arrived to Dresden in 1710 or 1711 and became principal double-bass player of the Dresden court orchestra. The years 1716-19 represent a period of study and travel for Zelenka, although details remain unclear. He studied briefly with Lotti in Italy. He accompanied the Electoral Prince to Vienna and during this time he received instruction from the Imperial Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux. In Vienna Zelenka was not only expected to improve his compositional skills and absorb the latest musical styles but also to acquire copies of liturgical music to be incorporated into the repertoire of the Dresden Catholic court church. Zelenka made the sizable collection of copies and transcriptions of works written in strict contrapuntal style and he also wrote many compositions himself. When he returned to Dresden he created a collection of vocal compositions a capella for five voices, 18 Cantiones sacrae based upon his study of Palestrina's works. From 1717 J.D.Heinichen was a Kapellmeister in Dresden and after the closure of the Dresden opera in 1720, he concentrated upon liturgical music for the Catholic court church. Throughout the 1720's the music provided for the Catholic court church by Heinichen and Zelenka, who was his assistant and also composed and arranged music for its use, was actively supported by the Electoral Prince and Princess. Zelenka and Heinichen also made alterations to 'imported' sacred music. In 1721-2 Zelenka visited Prague, and in 1723 the Jesuits commissioned Zelenka to compose and direct a music for the Prague celebrations of the coronation of the Emperor Charles VI as King of Bohemia. This performance of a Melodrama De Sancto Wenceslao entitled Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis was a great success. Zelenka assisted Kapellmeister Heinichen to provide the Royal church music for many years, upon Heinechen´s death in 1729 Zelenka assumed his responsibilities for the repertoire of the Catholic court church in full, he composed and directed most of the music himself. It was expected that Zelenka would succeed Heinichen as court Kapellmeister, but Augustus the Strong appointed J.A.Hasse to this position. This event led Zelenka to feel disillusioned by the lack of recognition he had received for his acheivements. In 1733 he addressed to the King a petition which clearly shows his frustration and bitterness. In this letter Zelenka asked for enough money to both eat and to publish his works because he also consistently received a lower salary than other composers at Dresden. In 1733 Friedrich August I died and Zelenka provided the Requiem and 7 Responsoria pro omnibus tribus Nocturnis at very short notice. In 1735 he was appointed as Court church composer. Much of Zelenka's surviving work is in the form of sacred vocal music. He composed over 20 masses - among them his first composition for Dresden Missa Sanctae Caeciliae (1711, rev.about 1712-28), another Mass setting Missa Judica me (1714, rev.about 1720-23), and Missa sanctissimae trinitatis (1736). In 1739 he composed a votive mass upon his recovery from illness Missa Votiva. He wrote Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae pro hebdomara sancta (1722), three Requiems, two Te Deums, three oratorios, I penitenti al sepolcro (1736), Il serpente di bronzo (1730), Giesu al Calvario (1735), three cantatas, Immisit Dominus (1709), Deus Dux (1716), Attendite et videte (1712), music for a Melodrama de S.Wenceslao, psalms, motets etc. Notable composition is his Miserere (1722/38). Zelenka´s secular works include a set of five Capriccios, composed in Vienna 1717-18, and his celebrated set of six sonatas, 6 Trio Sonatas for two Oboes, Bassoon, and basso continuo (1721-2), Hypocondrie á 7 (1723) or Concerto á 8 concertanti (1723). Zelenka won the admiration of his contemporaries J.S.Bach and G.P.Telemann. Among his composition students were J.J.Quantz, J.G.Harrer and J.G.Röllig Zelenka died of dropsy on the night 22/23 of December 1745. His music exhibits contrapuntal mastery and harmonic imagination. He often used shifts of harmony, or chromaticisms. His music, both instrumental and sacred, is always original and creative. His liturgical works show a concern for the rich musical expression of texts, the last masses and litanies, powerfully expressed his spirituality. His choral works is not similar to those of Bach, they were writing for different religious traditions and idioms. He also made some use of Bohemian folk elements. His compositional output, contrapuntal mastery, extraordinary rhytmic invention, imaginative orchestration, is the real treasure of baroque music.


J.Stockigt: Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745): a Bohemian Musician at the Court of Dresden (Oxford, 2000)


Allegro, Sanctus, Allegro
Allegro, Gloria, Cum sancto Spiritu
Et unam sanctam, Allegro

Anna Hlavenkova - soprano, Magdalena Kozena - mezzosoprano, Lubomir Moravec - counter-tenor, Stanislav Predota, Richard Sporka - tenor, Michael Pospisil - bass
Jana Brozkova, Vojtech Jouza - oboe, Jan Jouza - violin, Jaroslav Kubita - bassoon, Vaclav Hoskovec - double bass, Frantisek Xaver Thuri - harpsichord
Musica Florea, Marek Stryncl

CD Studio Matous

Concerto in Sol a otto concertanti, ZWV 186
Capriccios Nos. 1-5, ZWV 182-185, ZWV 190

Suk Chamber Orchestra, Frantisek Vajnar
2 CD Panton

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik
CD Supraphon

Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento, Z147
Regina coeli laetare, Z134
Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, Z135
Lactiones (Officium Defunctorum, Z47)
Invitatorium (Officium Defunctorum, Z47)

Carolyn Sampson - soprano, Rebecca Outram - soprano, Robin Blaze - countertenor, James Gilchrist - tenor, Michael George - bass, Peter Harvey - bass
Choir of the King's Consort, Robert King

CD Hyperion

Soloists, Kuhn Mixed Choir, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Pavel Kuhn
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Lubomir Matl

CD Supraphon

Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis in A minor, ZWV 17
Anna Hlavenkova - soprano, Magdalena Kozena, Lubomir Moravec - alto, Richard Sporka, Stanislav Predota - tenor, Michael Pospisil - bass
Musica Florea, Marek Stryncl

CD Studio Matous

Missa in D, ZWV 13
Responsoria pro Hebdomada Sancta, ZWV 55 (selection)
Sub tuum praesidium, ZWV 157 No. 3

Missa in D - Jana Jonasova - soprano, Marie Mrazova - alto, Vladimir Dolezal - tenor, Petr Mikulas - bass, Frantisek Xaver Thuri - harpsichord continuo, Jaroslav Tvrzsky - organ continuo, Czech Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek
Responsoria, Sub tuum - Jaroslav Tvrzsky - organ, Czech Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, Lubomir Matl

CD Supraphon

Requiem in D minor, ZWV 48
Miserere in C minor, ZWV 57

Soloists, Czech chamber Choir
Ensemble Baroque 1994, Roman Valek

CD Supraphon

Sonata II in G minor
Ars instrumentalis pragensis (Ivan Sequardt, Libena Sequardtova - oboes, Lubos Hucek - bassoon, Josef Ksica - harpsichord, positive organ)
and guests (Petr Hejny - viola da gamba, Petr Nejtek - double-bass)

CD Multisonic

Sonata No. 1 in F major for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo
Sonata No. 2 in G minor for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo
Sonata No. 3 in B flat major for violin, oboe, bassoon and basso continuo
Sonata No. 4 in G minor for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo
Sonata No. 5 in F major for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo
Sonata No. 6 in C minor for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo

Heinz Holliger - oboe, Maurice Bourgue - oboe, Thomas Zehetmair - violin, Klaus Thunemann - bassoon, Klaus Stoll - double bass, Jonathan Rubin - lute, Christiane Jaccottet - harpsichord

Trio Sonatas 1 - 3, ZWV 181
Jana Brozkova, Vojtech Jouza - oboe, Jan Jouza - violin, Jaroslav Kubita - bassoon, Vaclav Hoskovec - double bass, F. X. Thuri - harpsichord
CD Studio Matous

Sonata No. 4 in G minor
Sonata No. 5 in F major
Sonata No. 6 in C minor

Jana Brozkova, Vojtech Jouza - oboe, Jaroslav Kubita - bassoon, Vaclav Hoskovec - double bass, F. X. Thuri - harpsichord
CD Studio Matous

Sonata for Violin, Oboe, Bassoon and Harpsichord No. 3
Recordare, Domine, testamenti tui
Kyrie eleison in A minor from the "Litaniae omnium sanctorum"
Ipocondria - Overture for Orchestra
Exurge, providentia - Aria for the Widsom from the festive play "Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis"
In exitu Israel - Motet for Solo Voices, Choir and Orchestra

Soloists, Kuhn Mixed Chorus
Musici de Praga, Frantisek Vajnar / Ivan Parik

CD Panton

Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis conspicua orbi regia Bohemiae Corona
Noemi Kiss, Anna Hlavenkova - sopranos, Markus Forster - countertenor, Jaroslav Brezina - tenor, Adam Zdunikowski - tenor, Ales Prochazka - bass
Musica Florea, Marek Stryncl
Musica Aetrna, Peter Zajicek
Ensemble Philidor, Eric Baude-Delhommais
Boni Pueri - Czech Boy's Choir, Pavel Horak
conductor - Marek Stryncl
World premiere recording

2 CD Supraphon