View Full Version : Zelenka's Keyboard Music

Andrew Hinds
28-10-2007, 07:23 PM
Supraphon's "Musica Antiqua Bohemica" Volume14 page Vlll & lX makes clear that Zelenka wrote keyboard music: "Zelenka's compositions for the solo instrument, which were compared for their remarkable qualities with Bach's Wohltemperiertes Clavier, have not come down to us."
I would very much like to know the source of this information and to discover if the music that has been lost was identified before it was lost.
My thoughts go in various directions. First, do we accept that the music is lost? Surely if it was well-known at the time, there would have been multiple copies in circulation and somewhere something is waiting to be unearthed.
Secondly, should we assume that the music was likely to have been written before Zelenka's appointment to the Dresden Court because it is not included within his own list of works found there?
Is Zelenka's former employer, Count Hartzog (said to be a good performer on the harpsichord), likely to have asked Zelenka to compose for him? Quite probable, wouldn't you think? What happened to Count Hartzog's library - i.e. where is it now and has it been scoured for what might turn out to be Zelenka's keyboard music?
Scheibe - the excellent composer who moved to Scandinavia - was responsible in the 1730's for criticising Bach in a German Music Periodical that he founded. Was he one of the people who preferred Zelenka to Bach and would we find Zelenka keyboard music in Danish libraries containing his effects and music?
There is reason for optimism and for effort in this direction. Take just two examples!
200 Cantatas by Bach's Dresden pupil, Homilius (1714 - 1785) have been found in Dresden and much of it is splendid. (Carus are working on this.)
Of 400 works found in the library of St Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, a central part is by an unknown Belgian, Franz-Joseph Krafft (1721 - 1795) who was organist there for many years. Paul Dombrecht (whose Zelenka CD on Passacaille 9528 is also fine) has made a first recording of Krafft's music (Passacaille 934) and a masterpiece from 1766 is revealed. Never before have I heard a fugue where the choir began with having to sing what is known as the "Mannheim Rocket". In track 15 "Dominus custodiat", the effect is most striking and effective. Indeed, the whole of the second item on the CD (tracks 8 to 15) is inspired.
Please can we jointly make a great effort and see if we can unearth Zelenka's missing keyboard music? What an achievement that will be!
Andrew Hinds

David Hein
29-10-2007, 09:16 PM
Andrew, this is a fascinating topic! Finding keyboard music of Zelenka would be a booster for his public recognition as one of the greatest baroque composers.

What did Scheibe criticise at Bach? This is interesting to now because nowadays Bach is sacrosanct and stands above any criticism. And were there more who preferred Zelenka to Bach? How did those come to know of Zelenka's music?


Andrew Hinds
30-10-2007, 06:07 PM
I don't know who preferred Zelenka to Bach but have read a few snippets about this. The information (or a small part of it) is out there and needs to be gathered. I hope that someone will be inspired to do the research.
What I have in my small library is a short biography of Johann Adolph Scheibe (1708 - 1776) who was son of one of Bach's organ builders and lost an eye when he was a child in an accident at his father's workshop. This comes from Maitland's 1910 edition of Grove which also mentions that Bach was one of the judges when Scheibe failed to get the Nikolaikirche, Leipzig organist's job in 1729 - one which I see that my other "favourite" Dresden composer, G.A. Homilius, managed to secure a few years later (though he was so young that he may just have been deputy organist - I'm not sure).
Scheibe produced "Der Critische Musikus" as a weekly journal in 1737 and the sixth edition dated 14 May 1737 included "a weighty criticism of Bach's manner of composition. This seems to have come as a severe blow to Bach" according to pages 104-5 of Christoph Wolff's "The New Grove - Bach Family" and developed into a public controversy that continued into 1739 and was concluded by Scheibe in 1745 with a conciliatory review of Bach's famous Italian Concerto.
This is only a partial answer to your points, David, but a start! A close look at Scheibe's weekly journals from the 1730's and 1740's by someone who can read German may reveal something.

David Hein
30-10-2007, 09:52 PM
Hello all! The German Wikipedia knows that Christiansborg castle, where Scheibe worked, was destroyed by fire in 1794, and with it the royal music archive. If there were any Zelenka works, they are most likely lost. Best wishes! David

Andrew Hinds
31-10-2007, 01:08 PM
Your information about the Danish Castle must be seen as a positive point - it sounded negative!
With all research, we journey down blind alleys and have to recognise that we have discovered a closed door. It is simply one of many closed doors. Suddenly after twelve closed doors, we may have our effort rewarded with the information that we have been searching for.
Perhaps, as someone who speaks German, you can get access in Germany to a copy of Scheibe's weekly journals? Those writings (which almost certainly will still exist) should provide some fruitful information.

Andrew Hinds
07-02-2008, 07:15 PM
There has been effort behind the scenes in connection with this subject but nothing encouraging has yet emerged.

I have provided some further background information to Alistair for follow up in the Czech Republic - names of the editorial staff of the keyboard music book that contains the allegation that Zelenka wrote keyboard music (now all lost) that one person at least compared to Bach's 48 Preludes & Fugues - the Well-tempered Clavier.

Only yesterday, I unearthed a copy of the BBC Music Guide by Christopher Hogwood on "The Trio Sonata" published in 1979. He has half a page on Zelenka on page 75 and says: "Only with the recent appearance of some of his church and orchestral music can we begin to take seriously one contemporary's claim that his keyboard music (now all lost) was as great as Bach's".

About a month ago, knowing of the Christopher Hogwood comment, I visited a website that is in his name and left a message asking if he could provide any help in identifying the source of what he had put. I hope that he may have received the question and that he will be able to enlighten us all.

For now and until evidence is forthcoming, the official line is that Zelenka is not known to have written any keyboard music (i.e apart from a few Canons when he was studying with Fux which hardly count).

Andrew Hinds

07-09-2008, 08:56 AM
I am getting a bit above my existing skills, but one wonders if some of Zelenka's music could not be transposed to keyboard works? Perhaps like how some of Bach's music has been altered to fit whatever instrumentation is desired.