View Full Version : Zelenka the Violonist

04-01-2010, 05:17 AM

I am new to this forum and have excitedly been reading through different threads. As a double bassist myself, I am centering my research around what, if anything, we might conclude about Zelenka as a instrumentalist. From what I have read it truly seems it was for his skills as a violonist, not a composer, that Zelenka first found employment in Dresden. Financial records from the court continually list Zelenka as a "violonist".
I would like to stress that the "violone" is a loaded term that is continually debated in the bass community (for further discussions see Stephen Bonta or Joelle Morton). But when it comes to Zelenka Jeffrey Burgess, Janice Stockigt and others believe that the type of violone Zelenka used was a six string instrument that sounded in the 8' register (at pitch).
Therefore I think we should be careful when calling Zelenka a "contrabassist" or "double bassist" as that technically isn't quite correct. Dresden certainly owned larger "double basses" (three string larger German basses sounding in teh 16' register) but there isn't much reference to Zelenka performing on these instruments.
At any rate, I am excited to join the Zelenka discussion. I am actually taking some time this year to go over the original manuscripts of the trio sonatas as I believe that, if we are going for a historically informed performance, the double bass 16' register might be an inappropriate choice for these pieces.

04-01-2010, 09:51 AM
Thank you. This is extremely interesting. I must ask you two rather obvious questions. What size would Zelenka's violone have been in relation to the size of a modern cello? And would he have been standing while playing, or sitting with it in the cello position?
Zodia (http://www.cyclechaos.com/wiki/Honda_Zodia)

Osbert Parsley
05-01-2010, 01:47 AM
I think his instrument, if it was a 6-string instrument sounding in the 8' register from the viol rather than violin family, would have been approximately the height of a modern double bass and (therefore) played while standing. However, I am no expert and welcome any corrections!

Are there any paintings or engravings showing the Dresden court orchestra in Zelenka's time (even if only in the background) that might show the double bass (and possibly also Zelenka)?

07-01-2010, 11:36 PM
I believe there are pictures of the Hofkapelle in the role of the court opera after it was re-established during the Hasse administration. See Daniel Heartz's "Music in European Capitals". I believe the section on the Dresden Court contains that type of picture. The problem here is that, while Zelenka probably performed on one of these instruments in the Hofkapelle, he might have used a smaller "chamber bass" for works such as the trio sonatas or his other small group works. The picture in Stephen Perreau's 2007 book on Zelenka, while erroneously attributed to be Zelenka, also contains a picture that shows that type of violone.
What I find interesting about Zelenka is how little the outside world had to say about his level of violone playing. Quantz mentions a marvelous violone player when visiting the court in 1716, but does not mention Zelenka here by name. He wasn't paid much, at least not as much as other principal players in the Hofkapelle. Lotti also demanded that the court hire the two Viennese violonists Personelli and Gaggi for the opera as he found the current violonist(s) incapable of the task. (Personally I think Lotti was a diva who was trying to get his friends some work).
It is also interesting to look at Stockigt's 1709 registry (p. 33) of known players in the Hofkaplle. The violoncello section is quite diverse. Rossi (Italian), Hennig (German), Houlondel (French/Spain?), Tilloy (France). Zelenka, of course, was Bohemian. It is practically a European Union of continuo players!
My questions are there: How much did his compositional skills play a role in his hiring? His Catholicism? Was he initially brought in because he was a marvelous violone player and everything else was just an added bonus?Where did the Bohemian Zelenka fit into the international continuo section? Was he fluent in both the Italian and French continuo styles?

Many questions on my end! Always interested in other points of view.


07-01-2010, 11:42 PM
Also here is a useful link to an article on a recent recording the Bach's Brandenburg Concerti from the view of the Violone. Some interesting pics on the different types and styles of violones available at that time.