View Full Version : Zelenka and his absence from the souces

13-01-2017, 05:24 PM
I am a new Italian member of this wonderful community. First of all, sorry for my english. It is a real pleasure to find such affection towards our adored Zelenka. I have a burning desire in knowing something about his life, which lies in obscurity, and mostly the opinions of his contemporaries about his music, from the sources that have survived. We know him as a "perfect VIRTUOS", maybe because of his knowledge in musical science or for his ability with the violone, but maybe because he was a sort of very pious man, too). It seems to me very strange that a composer who had such great fame is not, at least, mentioned by the great critics and guides of musical aesthetics, as Mattheson and Scheibe, or that it is not mentioned in the Musicalisches Lexicon by Walther (1732). For example, we know that Mattheson remarked in Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739) that the great fugal masters known to him were: "J.S. Bach, J.J. Fux, G.F. Handel, Johann Krieger, Johann Kuhnau, Johann Theile, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Johann Gottfried Walther". Our Zelenka here was not mentioned, just like wasn't mentioned when Scheibe criticized another certain great man who could be "the admiration of whole nations if he had more amenity".
What do you think?

edit: "sources", not "souces".. sorry again for the english

13-01-2017, 11:41 PM
Dear Zeluka, welcome to the Forum. First, I am pleased to say that except for the first 30 years Zelenka's life is no longer clouded in obscurity: by now we know a great deal of his time and 35-year tenure as a musician and composer at the Dresden court. The best source is of course Jan Stockigt’s biographic bible, which every Zelenka lover must read. And just recently a large study, drawing on a great number of unknown archival sources, has been published by Stockigt and me, see this and other fine articles on Zelenka’s life and music: http://www.acecs.cz/media/cu_2015_04.pdf

Second, you pose a good question. It is true that our Zelenka isn’t as frequently mentioned in contemporary literature as one would perhaps expect, but there might be reasons for this and I’ll list two. One is the fact that his sacred music was exclusively Catholic, it was never published at the time and thus enjoyed a limited circulation, especially in what is todays Germany. As a result, Zelenka’s music was not a part of the repertory of the Lutheran cantors (an exception is the Magnificat, several copies of which are found in Lutheran church collections in Saxony, as we heard in the Zelenka conference in Prague last year) and therefore not easily accessible for study. A case in point is the Catholic ouevre of Zelenka’s colleague Heinichen, a widely respected German composer who enjoyed great fame as a writer on music in addition to being the Kapellmeister of the Dresden court: almost no copies of his Catholic sacred music circulated in Germany. Another reason might be the focus of the contemporary German music/lexicon/journal writers (all Lutheran), who more than often concentrated on their fellow countrymen; note that in the example you take from Mattheson he lists only Germans, and not even a great Italian master like Lotti. I am sure if contemporary Lexicons/music journals from Bohemian and Moravia had existed Zelenka would have featured prominently, given the great number of copies of his works held in these lands.

However, Mattheson does indeed refer to Zelenka in his Der vollkommene Capellmeister from 1739, and in such glowing terms that there is no doubt he considered him to be a major master when it comes to the science of music:

p. 415
Zwei und zwantzigstes Haupt-Stück. Vom Doppelten Contrapunct.
"Der doppelte Contrapunct, und die von ihm herstammenden Doppel-Fugen gehören nicht nur für solche Componisten, die von Natur eine starcke Urtheils-Krafft besitzen, von grossem, unermüdeten Nachdencken und Fleiß sind, auch die Kräffte der Harmonie oder Voll-stimmigkeit tief einsehen, wie man solches von dem Herrn Zelenska zu Dresden rühmet;"

As for Walther's landmark Lexicon (note that his entry on JS Bach does not mention a word about his church music), he also refers to Zelenka but only as a musician in the Dresden Hofkapelle. To this I might add, that I have examined Walther’s personal copy of his Lexicon (now held in Vienna), which he used to make notes and to add more information, no doubt with the idea of updating his publication at a later date although this did not happen. To the entry on Zelenka Walther added the following:

"Vermuthlich ist es eben derjenige, von deßen Arbeit in der 4ten Lection des Telemannischen Music-Meisters, p. 16. ein 4 stimmiger Canon mit der Verkehrungen befindlich ist, in welchene der discant u. Alt die worte in Vide, Domine, et Considera laborum meum; der Tenor und Baß aber folgende worte hören laßen: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum."

Here, Walther is referring to Zelenka’s Canon (ZWV 179), which was published by Telemann in 1728. In a letter dated 1735 Walther marvelled at this Canon, saying it was wrapped in mystery. But he was clearly not personally familiar with Zelenka nor any of his sacred music.

Zelenka also lived on in the music and the teachings of his students. Here’s what I wrote a few years ago in here in the Forum:

The Dresden scholar Gerhard Poppe lists the following as Zelenka's students:
Quantz - the famous flutist and musical companion of Frederick the Great in Berlin. Referred to Zelenka in his 1752 Versuch.
Harrer - Kapellmeister of Saxon Prime Minister Count Brühl and later Bach's successor in Leipzig.
Riepel - composer, violinist and important theorist, worked for 30 years as a Kapellmeister to Prince of Turn and Taxis in Regensburg. Referred to Zelenka in one of his publications.
J.G. Röllig - composer and vice Kapellmeister in Zerbst where he taught princess Sophie, who would later become Catherine the Great of Russia.
Schaffrath - keyboard player and composer, later at the Berlin court where he was in the service of Princess Anna Amalia, Frederick's sister.
W.F. Bach - Bach's son...
J.G. Schürer - church composer at the Dresden court for decades.
Peter August - composer, organist and harpsichordist at the Dresden court, teacher and musical companion to Saxon Elector Friedrich Agust III.

All the above are major players in the late baroque and early classical periods. To this list we can now add Dresden church composer Butz, as can be seen in the Virtuosen poem.


14-01-2017, 02:33 AM
Grazie mille for your kind reply! I will try to buy as soon as possible the book you advised me.
I did not understand all the text in German, but it is clear that Mattheson recognized Zelenka's mastery.
I'm truly satisfied with your answer and particularly fascinated by the relationship teacher/pupil between Zelenka and WF. Bach.
Thank you for your work and words.

25-01-2017, 11:33 AM

Can someone traslate the following passage by Mattheson?
I realized that the appropriate qualities that a composer must have in order to master invertible counterpoint and the double fugues that derive from it are not only the knowledge, the diligence, the deep understanding of the powers of harmony, like the celebrated "Herrn Zelenska zu Dresden".. then the sentence continues and i'm not able to read. What more is needed, in the opinion of Mattheson?

edit: here can be seen better

26-01-2017, 10:32 AM
Great find. I have the modern edition of 'Der Vollkommene Capellmeister' packed somewhere in my old flat. It will take some time, but I will dig it up and see what that passage really says...

edit: I'm confused. Isn't it the passage Johannes mentioned?

26-01-2017, 04:20 PM
edit: I'm confused. Isn't it the passage Johannes mentioned?

He quoted up to "...von dem Herrn Zelenska zu Dresden rühmet;", I think zeluka wanted to know about the next sentence. I am quite rubbish at the Blackletter font