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Thread: Was Zelenka 'Bitter'

  1. #1
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    Default Was Zelenka 'Bitter'

    In the few Zelenka links on google there are references to his alleged 'bitterness'. Examples:

    Zelenka achieved little recognition during his lifetime, and died a bitter and lonely man in 1745.

    The Finchcocks Series
    Early Music.1984; 12: 283-287
    He died in 1745, in all probability a bitter and disappointed man.

    Concert programme notes
    Is there any scholarly under-pinning to the claim, or is it just a wild guess wrapped up as respectable comment? In other words, it’s a lie which has gained credence because people keep repeating it?

  2. #2

    Default Bitterness

    Hi Philidor,

    Anyone who knows Zelenka's last masses will know that he couldn't possibly have been bitter.

    I think 19th century scholars such as F?rstenau put this into "the literature", and now that "the literature" has become so free in its authorship, due to the internet, there is no way of stopping this kind of silliness. Zelenka was not bitter. He didn't suffer fools gladly, but he wasn't a sour person. He was serious. He didn't have a big ego, so why should he want to be "tops"? It's all there in his music...

    Best wishes.


    ________
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    Last edited by paperMoon; 27-01-2011 at 04:10 PM.

  3. #3
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    Default

    Thanks paperMoon. I assumed it was rubbish but thought I'd ask. I'd be interested if anyone can come up with one scholarly source to back the claim.

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    Default Was Zelenka 'Bitter'?

    One scholar who has unfortunately made matters worse is the well-known German (?) Bach scholar Peter Wollny. In his cover notes to Hyperion's CD of Sacred Music by Zelenka (CDA67350) from 2003, he wrote some pretty uninformed things e.g. about Zelenka dying "an embittered, broken man". I was so horrified that I wrote a letter of complaint to the boss at Hyperion, but got no reply of course.

    So if some people had their way, Zelenka would have been a manic depressive with minority sexual preferences who bore a remarkable resemblance to Fux (looking in the mirror!). It's all nonsense.

    Janice Stockigt wrote little or nothing about Zelenka's temperament in her scholarly book from 2000, simply because the sources of the "bitterness" rumours are dubious to say the least.

  5. #5
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    Default

    Hello Philidor,
    This might interest you. There was an article in The New York Times on Oct 8
    1995 by Alex Ross, called, "Biber, Zelenka, and how baroque got a 'bad' name.
    Just google, Biber + Zelenka + Ross, and the article will come up. Mixed with a qualified praise for both men, you will see a biting sarcasm. Some quotes of note, "Darker and more dismal (an obvious play on his middle name) is the world of Zelenka." He also calls him an "Unhappy man." He also refers to him as a "Gifted contempory of Bach whose Catholic devotion took a tortuous, dissonant turn." And finally, " His music suggests medieval piety rather than Bachian geometry. His polyphonic lines twist together like Prague's gaunt, blackened spires."
    It does not really matter that he also offers praise, as these lines quoted above do stick, and they stick with a large audience since The New York Times is widely read. How sad that many may have been put off by such comments.
    I am in agreement with papermoon. His late masses are joyous, exhubrant, full of fun in places, and lovingly tender in other places. Certainly not the work of a "bitter" man by any stretch of the imagination.

  6. #6
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    Thanks Alistair & Brian. The claim struck me as odd because as there’s not even a portrait how could anyone know he’s ‘bitter’? They’ll be saying next he was mean to his mother! It’s as if critics are ashamed he’s neglected and make up lies to justify it. ‘Oh no wonder Zelenka isn’t played he was so dismal and bitter and once kicked a cat!’

    Quote Originally Posted by Alistair
    I wrote a letter of complaint to the boss at Hyperion, but got no reply of course.
    I'm going to start doing that, referring to this thread's url.

  7. #7
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    Default Was Zelenka 'Bitter'?

    Good idea.

    You will find 2 jpg files (scans) of my letter at www.jdzelenka.net/TimParry1.jpg and http://www.jdzelenka.net/TimParry2.jpg. It is probably best to save them by right-clicking with your mouse.

    Re-reading the letter after 5 years, I am pleased with it. The address to Hyperion was, of course, more specific on the envelope, so I can't think why he didn't reply...

    Jan Stockigt got a copy of the letter at the time.

    Alistair
    Last edited by Alistair; 05-07-2008 at 01:21 PM.

  8. #8
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    Default

    Great letter.

  9. #9
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    I've taken the liberty of posting your excellent letter to Hyperion on the BrightCecilia Zelenka thread: Link. Should you object I'll remove it immediately.


  10. #10
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    Default Was Alistair "Bitter"

    Not at all. On the contrary, I feel flattered.

    A.

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