BENDA, F.: Violin Concerto / BENDA, J. A.: Viola Concerto
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Frantisek Benda (1709-1786) & Jiri Antonin Benda(1722-1795)
Violin and Viola Concertos Benda's Klagen
The Benda family has provided a continuing musical traditionfrom the time of the first Jan Jiri Benda, born in 1686 in the Bohemian villageof Mstetice, to the present day. The Bendas had settled in Bohemia at least twogenerations earlier and Jan Jiri Benda's grandfather had served as an estatesteward. Jan Jiri himself, the founder of the musical dynasty, in 1706 marrieda member of a well-known Bohemian musical family, Dorota Brixi, and of theirsix children five were to distinguish themselves as musicians.
The first surviving son, Frantisek, was born at StareBenatky (Old Benatky) in 1709. He had his first musical training from hisfather and from the cantor Alexius in New Benatky, becoming a chorister at theage of nine at the Benedictine monastery of St Nicholas in Prague, where healso studied at the Jesuit school. In 1719 or 1720 he ran away to Dresden,where he also became a chorister, profiting from the rich musical life of thecity and court and studying the violin, the viola and singing. Eighteen monthslater he returned home to his parents, now as an alto to join the choir of theJesuit Collegium Clementinum in Prague, where he took a leading part in anumber of important musical events. When his voice broke, he concentrated onhis study of the violin and between 1726 and 1729 served as a violinist tovarious noblemen in Vienna, before escaping to Warsaw with the violinist JiriCart (Georg Czarth) and two other musicians, there to lead an ensembleassembled by Kazimierz Suchaczewski. In 1732 he joined the court orchestra inWarsaw, but this was dissolved the following year, on the death of August II,and Benda then moved to Dresden, before entering the service of the PrussianCrown Prince in Ruppin, moving with the latter's establishment to Rheinsberg in1736. In 1739 he married and the following year, when the Prince ascended thethrone, moved to Potsdam. In a letter to his sister Wilhelmine datedHeidelberg, 22nd August, 1734, King Frederick the Great writes about FranzBenda: "I have heard all violinists, in Mainz as well as in Darmstadt andMannheim, but none of them reaches up to Benda". In 1734 he had beenjoined by his violinist and viola-player brother Jan Jiri and was himselftaking lessons in composition, first from Johann Gottlieb Graun and then fromthe latter's brother Carl Heinrich, who became Kapellmeister to the Prince in1735. In 1742 King Frederick made it possible for Franz Benda, now aProtestant, to bring to Potsdam his parents and brothers and sisters, includingtwo younger brothers eventually to join the court musical establishment asviolinists. Franz Benda himself enjoyed a good relationship with theflute-playing King, with whom he collaborated in concert after concert, and in1771, on the death of Johann Gottlieb Graun, was at last named Konzertmeister,although the gout that afflicted him in later years meant that his place seemsoften enough to have been taken by the youngest violinist of the family, JosephBenda. Franz Benda provided for his family an autobiography, tracing his lifeup to 1763. He died in Potsdam in March 1786, five months before the death ofhis patron Frederick the Great.
Franz Benda was a prolific composer, chiefly of instrumentalmusic, and left a quantity of symphonies, concertos and sonatas. Many of hisconcertos were for solo violin or solo flute. His brother Johann Georg hadfirst joined the musical establishment of the Prussian Crown Prince in 1734 asa viola-player, later serving as a violinist. He died in Berlin in 1752. JiriAntonin (Georg Anton), the next musician brother, moved to Prussia in 1742, butin 1750 left Potsdam to become Kapellmeister to Duke Friedrich III ofSaxe-Gotha. In Gotha, where his sister, Anna Franziska, was employed as achamber singer at court, Georg Anton developed the form of melodrama that soimpressed Mozart and influenced later composers, dramatic speech accompanied bymusic, notably exemplified in Ariadne aufNaxos and Pygmalion
(Naxos 8.553345) and in Medea
(Naxos 8.553346). Mozart saw Medea
in Mannheim and wrote on 12th November, 1778, to his father: "I saw such apiece twice here with the greatest pleasure! Really - nothing ever surprised memore! What I saw was Medea by Benda; he also composed another one, Ariadne auf Naxos, both thoroughlyexcellent; you know that among the Lutheran Kapellmeister Benda always was myfavourite; I like those two works so much that I carry them along withme". In his letter of 3rd December, 1778, he adds: "My passion forthis kind of work is immense". For the court Georg Anton wrote cantatas,an Italian opera, and, after a short period of study in Italy, two Italianintermezzi. In 1778 he resigned his position as director of the court Kapelle,visiting Hamburg, Mannheim, Berlin and Vienna, in this last writing his finaltwo melodramas. Failing to find further employment, in 1779 he returned toGotha, retiring to nearby Georgenthal, before moving to Ohrdruf and finally toKostritz, where he died in 1795. His years of retirement found him, in 1781, inParis, where his melodrama Ariadne auf Naxos
was performed. His last work, in 1792, was the cantata Benda's Klagen.
Georg Anton Benda's ViolaConcerto in F major, scored for an orchestra of strings, was writtenabout 1775. It has been attributed by some to Georg Benda's nephew, FriedrichWilhelm Heinrich Benda, a son of Franz Benda, who was also employed at thePrussian court. The concerto opens with a well-defined melody, its bass at firstprovided only by the violas of the orchestra. The soloist enters with theprincipal melody double-stopped, returning with the first solo episode,accompanied only by the basso continuo, before providing a broken chordaccompaniment to the principal theme, which recurs, framing solo episodes ofincreasing complexity, before the final cadenza. The F minor slow movementopens in a sombre mood, lightened at first on the entry of the soloist with anextended aria and culminating in a cadenza. The solo viola introduces theprincipal theme of the final Rondeau, which recurs in the orchestra to providea framework for the intervening solo episodes.
Franz Benda had a considerable reputation as a violinist andin the 1740s and 1750s had undertaken concert tours to various German courts,while at Potsdam he accompanied the King in the many evening concerts at thepalace. His style of composition exemplifies the transition from baroque toclassical, with slow movements that were particularly admired by hiscontemporaries, reflecting, as they do, his experience as a singer, both as achorister and, in earlier days, as a tenor in Ruppin and Rheinsberg.
The Violin Concerto in Eflat major is dated to about 1760 and starts with a cheerfulAllegretto, introduced by the orchestra, before the solo entry, the wholepresented in textures of classical lucidity. The minor key slow movement,marked Affettuoso ma non troppo and Lento, provides a moving aria for thesoloist. This is followed by a final Presto assai. Attention has been drawn tosimilarities of style with the work of his colleague at Potsdam, the then courtharpsichordist, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, exponent of the Empfindsamerstil, inwhich the aim of music was to touch the feelings, a marked element of the slowmovement of the concerto. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach writes about his father'staste in a letter to Forkel dated Hamburg, 13th January, 1775: "At the endof his life, my father Johann Sebastian Bach greatly appreciated Haendel, thetwo Grauns, Telemann, Benda