Posts by rnkt

    Next instalment in my Zelenka keyboard transcriptions project is a reworking of the Amen fugue from the psalm motet "In Exitu Israel" (ZWV 83). It's a beautifully chromatic work, the first section of which toys precariously with atonality. It is well suited to the piano. It also provides a foretaste of the greatly anticipated CD by Ensemble Inegal covering the first psalm cycle, which includes ZWV 83.

    My transcription can be downloaded here.


    It should have been done by Bach 290 years ago, but now I have done the necessary with the "nearly atonal" Amen fugue from ZWV 83: The keyboard transcription can be found at IMSLP here. It lies nicely under the fingers (at least compared to other Zelenka fugues I am trying to transcribe) and seems to work equally well on piano, organ and harpischord.

    So, enjoy and don't break it :)


    Two very nice analyses Elwro and Sebastian! Both of these quite possibly touch on aspects of Zelenka's motivation for penning this remarkable amen setting. The implied harmonic progression described by Elwro is now clear to me. Indeed, towards the end of the fugue Zelenka actually takes the harmonic progression one step further during a setting of the subject answer in the basses. It is a neat trick but still I wonder why Zelenka did it - it's a serious work for the royal chapel and not some kind of private experimental exercise (like Bach's WTC, for instance). It is fiendishly hard to sing and not especially easy on the ears (though the keyboard version I am currently cooking up sounds other-worldly good on the piano - like a 49th fugue from the WTC, but much much weirder). As Sebastian pointed out, the amens of the 1st vesper cycle are quite striking, but might Zelenka have not gone a bit too far with the ZWV 83 one? Perhaps the lack of anything similar in his subsequent output (even in the late works supposedly written for himself) probably sums up the reaction he got. I mean, imagine if Zelenka's colleagues and superiors had enjoyed this amen so much that they demanded more music like that. We might have got a 12-tone mass setting from him!! I digress...

    It is also interesting that Zelenka has apparently tried to hide the implied tonality further with his strange jumps in the subject. Perhaps here, his motivation is related to what Sebastian wrote. The fugue subject is perhaps a bit too angular (more like bounding from rock-to-rock than wandering aimlessly in the desert!) to be imitative of the tonus peregrinus. However, considering the subject matter of the Psalm perhaps Zelenka really meant to create something oriental-sounding? There was growing interest in oriental music at the time in Europe (think Rameau and co.). In a cosmopolitan place like Dresden, Zelenka may have heard first hand about music-making in the middle east and north Africa and found a neat way (the implied harmonic progression plus angular subject) to imitate it. If I was one of his singers, I would probably have accepted this explanation and got on with the hard work. Still, a penny for their thoughts (and those of Josepha) on this work....

    I really look forward to hearing Inegal's reading of this and I hope the whole work (including the stridently brilliant 1st movement) finally gets the recognition it deserves.


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    Update on my ZWV 83 fugue project. I managed to get a copy of the (to my knowledge) only published edition of the work, on loan from the Bavarian State Library.

    The fugue is certainly the weirdest 18th century fugue I have ever seen. Ignoring the rhythm, the first subject of the fugue (the poor old altos get the honour!) falls gradually downward: A F# G# E G C# C
    The key is A minor so although the first and last note of the subject belong to the A minor triad, the chromaticism of the notes in between completely cloud the tonality. Why did Zelenka do this? I mean, there must have been a good reason because the singers would have found it extremely difficult to sing because they would never have come across something like that before. They must have rolled their eyes when he put that to them the first time.

    I am guessing that there is something encoded into the pitches of the notes of the subject. The question is, can we figure it out?

    I made a first attempt. Let's say C=1, C#=2, D=3, D#=4 ..up to B=12. If we replace our fugue subject with numbers we get the sequence: 10 7 9 5 8 2 1. Doesn't look like a very obvious code for something. However, if we add these 7 numbers up, we get 42!! Amazing or what?

    OK, can anyone come up with a better theory? Or am I musing on something which has been sussed out (and published in some lofty journal) long ago?!

    - RNKT

    According to an information given by SLUB, the autograph of ZWV 16 is not digitalized yet, but the digitalization is planed in the next 5 or 6 month.

    Thanks for this update. It's strange, I am pretty sure I looked at this autograph earlier in the year because I wanted to convince myself that Zelenka really did write some of the really crazy stuff in that work (esp. the lost-sounding unison musings in the ritornello of the Kyrie and the extremely funky syncopation at the end of the ritornello of the Gloria).

    But I guess I just dreamt it...

    For the fantastically comprehensive write-up of last week's events we are truly indebted - thanks so much djdresden!! It's great to hear that Zelenka research is making leaps and bounds thanks to a truly international effort, no less. Specifically, it is nice to hear that you are tackling the "miserable old bastard" myth head-on. While I never really believed it because I know his music so well (how could a miserable old bastard compose such music?!) I am still at two minds as to whether the myth helps or hinders an increasing (public) awareness of Zelenka's work. Afterall, everyone loves an underdog and since we don't have his mugshot and we know not so many personal details about him, I think it is quite important for modern audiences to have some kind of human link to him. So, the myth that he was bitter about being repeatedly shafted by his superiors propagates extremely easily and captivates people much more than a simple "we know s0d all about him but he wrote brilliant music". That is why the work you are doing to uncover the real conditions and environment (which I guess we assume, since he was in Dresden for so long, shaped his personality in a major way) is so so important. I hope that some key online sources of information (where concert planners get ideas for their programme notes) will be updated. For example, how about a short section entitled "Myths about Zelenka" on the Wikipedia page (which anyway seems to include some factual errors e.g. the replacement of Zelenka by Bach as church composer!!!) along with a summary of the latest research findings which you have mentioned?

    It is also fascinating to hear about the 19th century interest in Zelenka. Nevertheless, one can muse on why a large-scale Zelenka revival like the Bach-revival did not occur. As a keyboard player (see my other thread on my Zelenka keyboard project) I think the complete lack of Zelenka keyboard music probably can account to a certain extent for the only smaller-scale interest. On this point I am curious if researchers have found any 19th century keyboard transcriptions of Zelenka's work?

    Thank's again for your inspiring write-up (also of the 3 concerts which sounded awesome - I've just bashed through that duet "Qui nihil sortis" from the autograph and it is indeed a gem and long overdue a recording!)


    Indeed! He was very appraising of Zelenka and experiencing the piece, in stark contrast to the first review.

    This was nice too:

    'The concert opened the ensemble’s 45th season, and the date also coincided with Zelenka’s 336th birthday — reason for celebratory cupcakes and the singing of “Happy Birthday” during intermission.'

    ... i hope they sung it at counterpoint, in a minor key and with lots of syncopation, just as JDZ would have intended. And I do wonder what kind of decoration the Zelenka birthday cupcakes had - having personally taken part in a cupcake crawl in San Francisco, I can testify that they can reach high, even baroque levels of elaborateness in that city!

    Does anyone happen to have a pdf copy of the autograph of Missa Purificationis BVM (ZWV 16). I am pretty sure I accessed this on the SLUB digital webpage in spring this year but stupidly forgot to save it on my computer. Now, bizarrely, it has disappeared from the SLUB digital webpage (cat. no. Mus.2358-D-22) although all the other masses and mass fragments held in Dresden are still there. Perhaps there was some problem with the scan and they pulled it from the site and plan to re-do it at some point?

    Maybe one of you saved this autograph when it was available and can kindly share it with me?

    Thanks in advance


    I doubt there'll be a proper recording or broadcast, but I will have my phone (flight mode of course :P) microphone on, so I can send it across to anyone who'd be interested. It won't be very good audio quality sadly.
    And I'll be taking quite a few photos too


    Thanks, but don't go too crazy trying to get a good recording with a smartphone - I tried this a few weeks back at the (world premiere!) performance of my organ arrangement of the Quoniam from Josephi and it was too miserable to share (it was during a kids' church service, so I was asking for trouble). The main thing is, enjoy the moment, a rare moment with so much great Zelenka music being performed LIVE! Hope it will be a great concert this evening. I hope the acoustics will be better than expected - I am not sure Zelenka quite intended his works to be performed in a barn :p . And let's hope it is a springboard for even bigger Zelenka projects in the UK. A Zelenka Prom, even a late-night one, would be very nice and probably enough to tempt me over there!

    (thanks also for your email - I could not reply because the system says your mailbox is full :( )


    It turns out that the reviewer is a "pioneering researcher in computer-assisted music theory". He probably looks down on all baroque music apart from that which is "computer-generated" i.e. JS Bach. ;)

    I just feel sorry for the performers and conductor of the concert. If that was my performance I would be pretty miffed by that kind of review. I would be happier to hear if my oboes were out of tune or my choir was lagging behind than having the rug pulled from under me with criticism of the music itself! Well, perhaps there is some kind of Bay Area music scene politics which we don't know about.

    - RNKT

    Well, the first review of the Bay Area "Votiva" concert is out and makes for "interesting" reading:…a-performance-disappoints

    When I read the title "California Bach Society’s Zelenka performance disappoints" I thought probably this is going to be a sorry story about a choir/orchestra/soloists who were simply not up to the task (performing Votiva is not a piece of cake after all). But no! The reviewer said nothing about the actual performance but rather laid into the music itself. That's not cricket! My favourite sentence: "Indeed, for a composer with “operatic” virtues, the instrumental music seemed to pay little heed to the text and for the many variations in emotional disposition associated with that text." Is there a baroque (or classical for that matter) mass setting apart from the B minor mass which handles the "emotional disposition" of the mass text better than Zelenka's Votiva?

    I guess it is quite feasible that the performance lacked the necessary energy and polish and did not sparkle like it should. This mass, when performed well should shout out "I'm alive!!!" (which is precisely the point Zelenka wanted to make by writing it of course).

    Let's hope that this reviewer does not get assigned a Zelenka concert again!