Zelenka, Jan Dismas

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Zelenka, Jan Dismas

Zelenka, Jan Dismas, notable Bohemian composer; b. Launowitz, Oct. 16, 1679; d. Dresden, Dec. 22, 1745. He was the son of an organist and it is most probable that he received his early music training from his father. About 1710 he went to Prague, where he attended the Jesuit Clementinum. He also learned to play the double bass and was a member of the orch. of Count Hartog. Upon Hartog’s recommendation in 1710, Zelenka was accepted as a member of the Dresden court orch. In 1715 he went to Venice to study with Lotti and, between 1716 and 1719, he spent considerable time in Vienna studying with Fux. With his training completed, Zelenka remained at the Dresden court for the rest of his life. In 1721 he became vice-Kapellmeister there, but was passed over as Kapellmeister in 1731 when Hasse accepted the court’s appointment. In 1735 he was named Kirchen-compositeur to the court. Zelenka was particularly known during his lifetime as a composer of sacred music, winning the admiration of Bach and Telemann. His extensive output of such music included the oratorios II serpente di bronzo (1730), Gesù al Calvario (1735), and I Penitenti al sepolchro del Redentore (1736), about 20 masses, 2 Magnificats, over 35 cantatas, and various motets, Psalms, antiphons, hymns, and other pieces. For the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Karl VI as King of Bohemia, Zelenka composed the Melodrama de Soneto Venceslao (“Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis conspicua orbi Regia Bohemiae Corona”), which was first performed in Frankfurt am Main on Nov. 12, 1723. Almost all of the MSS of Zelenka’s sacred music were lost in 1945. Since several of his instrumental works were publ. in his lifetime, copies have survived and today Zelenka is known as a distinguished and refreshing composer of instrumental music. Among his extant works for orch. are 5 Capriccios (1-4, 1717-18; 5, 1729), a Simphonie a 8 Concertante (1723), a Concerto a 8 Concertante (1723), and the Hipocondrie a 7 Concercante (1723). Also extant are 6 Trio or Quadro Sonatas for 2 Oboes, Bassoon, and Basso Continuo (e. 1720).


W. Reich, Zwei Z.-Stücken (Dresden, 1987).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire