Jan Dismas Zelenka,  baroque composer:
born Lounovice 1679, died Dresden 1745.




These quotations are presented in random order

"When did Catholic Zelenka first meet Lutheran Bach? And why, during the Leipzig cantor's final years, did he regard Zelenka so highly?" Janice Stockigt

"One must always sit up and listen when Zelenka calls for the instruments to be silent." Konrad Wagner

"Zelenka's final compositions are moving testimonies to his spirit, beliefs and values." Janice Stockigt

"...it is almost criminal the way he has been portrayed in the literature by certain musicologists, as being a composer not liked by his superiors or his court. There are simply no sources
to back this up." Johannes Agustsson

"...his Missae ultimae stand out from the typical products of their time as fascinating manifestations of an entirely self-sufficient will rooted in an unshakable faith..." Thomas Kohlhase

"With the benefit of hindsight, we are gradually realising that his instrumental music, with its combination of rapture and reason, pathos and wit, makes Zelenka one of the most original composers of the eighteenth century." Uwe Schweikert

"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

"The complete manuscript is kept at the Dresden court under lock and key as something very rare." Georg Philipp Telemann (referring to the Responsoria pro hebdomada sancta, ZWV 55)

"...one commentator [Kohlhase] has found the late works to be characterized by an overwhelming visionary creative power." Janice Stockigt

"One need only look at the remarkable 'Virtuosen' poem by Kittel presented to the Dresden court in 1740, where he is praised as 'the most highly regarded, perfect Virtuos', to see how his art was perceived and discussed during his lifetime." Johannes Agustsson

"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

"Even though a number of constant features are to be found in Zelenka's works - as in those of his contemporaries - no two of his twenty masses are alike." Wolfgang Horn

"...in an age when every master-tailor had his portrait painted, Zelenka seems to have gone through life with his features unrecorded." Dietmar Polaczek

"...the sources reveal a composer very much admired by his court, colleagues and contemporaries, and who was ready and willing to embrace changes and accept new challenges - all, it seems, with a minimum of fuss." Johannes Agustsson

"His uncommon harmonic procedures, fondness for keys related by intervals of a third, and sudden changes of direction give Zelenka's music a strangely iridescent character." Dietmar Polaczek

"...that unusual blend of melancholy, fervour and ecstasy which lends them a quality entirely of their own. These are works that have clearly transcended the bounds of opera to which they owe so much." Wolfgang Horn (referring to Zelenka's late masses).

"Into this world of predictability and clear-cut rules bursts the music of the Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka..." Uwe Schweikert

"Evidently the volatile, utopian, experimental quality of the music - its insoluble mystery - still makes a great many performers (whether using period or modern instruments) feel insecure and frightens them off." Heinz Holliger

"Jan Dismas Zelenka was over fifty years of age when he opted for a new style." Wolfgang Horn

"With its unusual harmonies and preference for sudden leaps, Zelenka's music takes on something extraordinary, shimmering, viciously unconventional..." Hans-Josef Irmen

"Zelenka's works, certainly, were treated as the apple of the Elector's eye, and guarded with the eyes of an Argus." Reinhard Goebel


These wonders of nature capture the enigmatic and colourful world of Zelenka's instrumental music perfectly. The characters were used on the first CD covers of the Archiv recordings (originally from 1973 and 1978) that heralded the renaissance of Zelenka's music outside Czechoslovakia (CDs cat. 423 937-2 (Sonatas ZWV 181) and cat. 423 703-2 (Orchestral Works)). This reworked picture is a composite of details from Spring (right) and Summer (left) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (Louvre, Paris).

"...in his instrumental compositions there are incredibly difficult passages, almost to the limits of the instruments' capacity..." Jaroslav Buzga

Contrary to what is commonly believed (mainly because of a black and white picture of the composer J.J. Fux disseminated on the internet), there is no portrait of Zelenka.

Other than formal letters to his employer(s) and dedications on his manuscripts, very little from his pen has survived (apart from his music).

It is to Zelenka's music that we must look in order to gain insight into his personality.

With some notable exceptions, the majority of these quotations are derived from programme notes which accompany recordings. Some have been translated, mostly from German.


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