“Jan Dismas Zelenka has of late been recognized as one of the most original composers of a musical epoch that was long thought to have been shaped by Bach and Handel...” (Susanne Oschmann)
“With its unusual harmonies and preference for sudden leaps, Zelenka's music takes on something extraordinary, shimmering, viciously unconventional...” (Hans-Josef Irmen)
“Zelenka's music is intentionally spiritual, leading to contemplation and a concentration on the quest for the meaning of life” (www.operaplus.cz)
“...one commentator [Kohlhase] has found the late works to be characterized by an overwhelming visionary creative power.”, “Zelenka's final compositions are moving testimonies to his spirit, beliefs and values.” (A/Prof. Janice Stockigt)
“It seems essential to me, that Zelenka (like Bach) obviously has absorbed the total compositional knowledge of the previous generations, and, by virtue of his most individual personality exposes it to a breaking test, thus setting free a critical element opposing the tradition.” (Heinz Holliger)
“volatile, utopian, experimental quality of the music - its insoluble mystery” (Heinz Holliger)
If you are interested in Baroque music, but haven't yet explored the music of Jan Dismas Zelenka – or if you are already familiar with Zelenka's music, but wish to delve deeper or just learn more – then this site is for you.
Most musicologists dealing with music of this period agree that the compositions of this long-forgotten musical giant equal those of his contemporaries J.S. Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Caldara and several other virtuosi of the Italian, Austrian and German Baroque, in their advanced use of counterpoint, their extreme demands on the players and singers, their ingenuity and resourcefulness, and their overall beauty.
To those with pre-conceived ideas of how 18th century music should sound, much of Zelenka's music will seem timeless and unrestricted – maybe even “utopian” or “experimental”. Yet in developing his sophisticated musical language – one of powerful expressivity and genuine spiritual depth – he was greatly inspired by the Italian masters of the 1500s and 1600s such as Palestrina and Frescobaldi. As a result of his strong individuality within the Baroque tradition, Zelenka's music holds many surprises.
Zelenka wrote instrumental music (including orchestral suites and chamber sonatas), a great amount of vocal music in various forms, and also religious music for the “stage” (oratorios). During Zelenka's final years, much of his music was inspired by Italian opera, which became fashionable in Dresden about fifteen years before he died. No-one has yet heard all of his music, as some of it is unpublished. An ever-increasing proportion is being recorded.
This website provides various resources to help you find out more about J.D. Zelenka and his music. Among these resources are informative articles on Zelenka's life, music and the historical context of the times (Baroque/18th century), written by various contributors; a comprehensive, regularly-updated database of recordings and works; recording/CD recommendations; sound-file downloads for musicians; and last but not least, a forum for interacting with the Zelenka community and learning about the latest events. The full list of resources can be accessed via the menu at the top of this page, or below, accompanied by explanations.
Read a short, informal essay about Zelenka's music in the wider context of the Baroque, and why this music continues to be relevant and inspiring today.
This section lists a numer of “must-hear” works, some of which are available on CD (with high quality sound) or on YouTube (for quick sampling).
Search for Zelenka's extant works according to category, title, key, year composed, etc. Can also show recordings of any particular work that have been issued on CD.
Information about where to find scores (current editions) and manuscripts (old/preserved). Includes several photographs of authentic manuscripts in Zelenka's hand.
This section contains electronic (i.e. computer-generated, synthesized) representations of little-known or unpublished Zelenka works. Please note that they are for “sampling” the music and are provided mainly for musicians, not listeners. The files have been contributed by regular visitors or forum members – for general interest and to encourage perfomances or recordings.
Recommendations of CD recordings based on excellence of interpretation. After listening to some samples on YouTube, why not purchase several CDs (warning: you may become hooked!) and experience the music in high-definition sound?
With so many outstanding CDs, one needs reliable suppliers from which to purchase recordings. This section contains a list of online suppliers of most of the recordings issued to date. (Note that the Discover Zelenka site doesn't sell CDs and is not affiliated with any of the suppliers).
Search through all (well... most or nearly all!) currently available recordings containing works from Zelenka. New issues are added regularly to the database of recordings. For the sake of the hungry collector, recordings that have been deleted from the catalogue have been retained in the database.
For curiosity and for fans of recording history, go back in time and find out about some of the very first recordings of Zelenka's music on LP.
Read a comprehensive survey of recordings (PDF file, 80 pages, 1.1 MB download), thanks to David Nelson from the UK. Throughout the survey, David recounts his own listening experiences and favourites – some of which coincide with Discover Zelenka's recommendations, and some of which differ. You may not agree with all of David's preferences, but everyone who is interested in Zelenka's music will find this compelling reading.
Learn about Zelenka's early life and birthplace in what was then Bohemia and is now the Czech Republic.
Learn about Zelenka's mature life and workplace at the Royal Court in Dresden, Germany.
Read a list of Frequently Asked Questions (and answers!). Why is Zelenka not more famous today? How did he look like? Why wasn't he awarded the prestigious Kapellmeister position at the Dresden court? ...
Read a slowly growing collection of articles about Zelenka's music, the cultural milieu of his time (Baroque/18th century) and more, all contributed by regular visitors and forum members.
For the bookworms, scholars and/or researchers among us, explore Zelenka in-depth and consider some further reading via this collection of useful references: both general and musicological articles, theses, etc. If any references are missing which you think should be here, please get in touch. A collection of useful reading material: general reading, musicological articles, theses, etc.
See what various musicians and musicologist say about Zelenka, collected from various booklet notes and reading material.
Learn more about Zelenka's time with this historical timeline (PDF file, 282 pages, 24 MB download), once again contributed by David Nelson from the UK. David takes a UK-centric perspective and covers the political climate, some major events, and more.
Last but not least, visit the Discover Zelenka Forum and share your thoughts and experiences with a highly civil, friendly and enthusiastic community of listeners and musical experts. You can also find out about the latest news (events/concerts), recordings and more, besides reading through the many nuggets of information spread throughout the various threads.
With such a wealth of information, where should you start if this is your first encounter with J.D. Zelenka? One good approach would be to read about the music (About), then listen to some samples on YouTube (based on Works to hear), then read the FAQ, and finally head to see which CDs one should acquire as a first-time (but also second-time, third-time, ...) listener (Recommended CDs).
And... (see further below)
Discover Zelenka intentionally makes use of some unique artwork, as well as better known masterpieces of the Baroque, in order to highlight and supplement the manifoldness and beauty of Zelenka's music with visual “counterparts”.
For example, the slider at the top of this page uses details from the painting “Angel of Growth” (with permission) from the Australian artist Annael (Anelia Pavlova), which was made to J.D. Zelenka's Missa Dei Patris ZWV 19 (see also the YouTube video, which uses Ludwig Güttler's rendition of ZWV 19). Annael's painting was created in 2009, and so is a strikingly recent example of a visual counterpart – and at that, in a very special way; however, the vast majority of artworks used throughout the website are from the Baroque.
The background of this page uses a ceiling photograph of the Church of St. Nicholas in Prague (photo by Daniel Lee), Czech Republic, architected by Christoph Dientzenhofer and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. The frescoes are by Jan Lukas Kracker and Frantisek Xaver Palko (dome).
Every page in Discover Zelenka lists details about the images used (e.g. backgrounds) at the bottom. Please do consider reading these small but significant details, and maybe even following the Wikipedia links from time to time, in order to learn more about the history, artworks and people (architects, sculptors, painters, ...) in Zelenka's lifetime whose works visually accompanied and, in many ways, reflected the aural edifices produced by Zelenka and other “musical giants of the Baroque”.
Jan Dismas Zelenka is truly a Baroque (re-)discovery that has taken off only in the last few decades. If you wish to be part of the journey in some way, please get in touch via e-mail, or, better still, sign up for the Discover Zelenka Forum (see above). Being a member of the forum will not only allow you to contribute via posts, but also (over time) to create and edit articles on whatever Zelenka- and/or Baroque-related themes you think would enrich readers of this website. Whether just by listening and telling your friends about Zelenka, or by actively contributing – please feel free to come along and take part!
First and foremost, thanks goes to Alistair Kidd, who created Discover Zelenka in 2002 and looked after the website for over 15 years with great dedication. A number of people helped along the way, by providing suggestions, materials, information or inspiration; these people include (in alphabetical order): Johannes Agustsson (Iceland), Vassilis Bolonassos (Sweden), Karl W. Geck (Germany), Ales Kaderabek (Czech Republic), Avner Kenner (Israel), Roger Peters (UK), Wolfgang Reich (Germany), Janice Stockigt (Australia), Alex Went (UK). Special thanks are due to the late David Nelson (UK) for his intellectual contributions to this website (Recordings Survey and Historical Timeline).
If you would like to share any suggestions for improvement or information about new recordings, or if you would simply like to get in touch, then please write via e-mail. If you are already familiar with Zelenka, please consider contributing in some fashion (see above).