Jan Dismas Zelenka

The second meeting of the Society using a combination of Zoom and YouTube took place on 19 October 2020 and concerned the Czech composer Zelenka presented by Peter Horwood. There are many who may not have heard of this composer, born in the town of Lounovice near Prague in 1679. His problem – if it can be described thus – was to be around at roughly the same time as Bach and Handel and so his fame was eclipsed after his death.

We listened and watched his Missa Votiva in E minor performed by Collegium 1704 under the energetic baton of Václav Luks. The playing and singing was of a very high standard and the conductor kept to a brisk tempo. The YouTube video was not of a high quality and may also have been compressed so that the full range of sound was not fully available. The recording took place in a large church yet there were no dynamic problems one usually experiences in these large spaces.

Although the music was harmonically rich, it did lack much in the way of memorable melody which might explain his low profile after his death. He was nevertheless a composer of great talent and does deserve to be heard more. As we have said before, one of the roles of the Society is to bring to the fore some of these lesser lights who sometimes get swept aside by musical titans of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven etc.

For those who want to know more there is a Website which tells you more and also lists recordings available on CD or for download.

Peter Curbishley

Music fit for an Emperor

Superb and surprising selection of music from the Hapsburg empire

Last night’s presentation by Angus Menzies was of music composed for several of the emperors of the Habsburg court from the middle of 16th to the middle of the 17th centuries.  This was pre-Haydn and Mozart of course and most of the music played was by composers who, for the most part have been forgotten – undeservedly so.

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Johann Fux. Picture: Wikipedia

Each would have his own favourites of course but those who stood out were Antonio Bertali; Johann Schmelzer; Heinrich Biber and Johann Fux.  We also heard a piece composed by Leopold I entitled Il lutto dell universe which was ‘not without talent’ as one might say.  The pieces played were mostly composed for weddings and coronations and hence had a magisterial quality.  Others were from operas.  Schmelzer’s Die Fechstchule was played alongside mass horse displays as monarchs from that era often used equestrian events to impress and show off their country.  Indeed, portraits from that era often feature monarchs astride a horse as a symbol of power.  Little is known of him but he was a favourite of Leopold I and became a Kapellmeister in Vienna.

Another composer to impress was Jan Zelenka and we heard Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao and also Johann Reutter whose aria Venga l’eta was played from La Magnamitada Alessandro.  Zelenka was ranked along side Telemann and Handel in his day but is now mostly forgotten.

A worthwhile evening with many surprises and providing a window into the music of this era in history.