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8.553408 - BENDA, J. A.: Sinfonias Nos. 1-6

Jirí Antonín Benda (1722 -1795)
Sinfonias Vol. 1
Sinfonia No. 1 in D Major
Sinfonia No. 2 in G Major
Sinfonia No. 3 in C Major
Sinfonia No. 4 in F Major
Sinfonia No. 5 in G Major
Sinfonia No. 6 in E Flat Major
(Solo Violin: Karel Stadtherr; cadenza composed by Sebastian Benda)

The Benda family has occupied an important and continuing place in music in Germany for some 250 years. The founder of the musical dynasty, Jan Jirí Benda, was born in 1686 in a village in Bohemia and combined the trades of weaver and musician. He married Dorota Brixi, a member of the Skalsko branch of a distinguished family of Czech musicians, and five of their six children became musicians, working in Germany. There the eldest son of the family, Frantisek, composer of some eighty violin sonatas and fifteen concertos, entered the service of the Prussian Crown Prince, continuing as Konzertmeister after the latter’s accession to the throne as Frederick the Great. Frantisek Benda was a colleague of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Potsdam, where both showed a certain originality in an otherwise musically conservative court, the former more notably in his violin concertos. In 1742, two years after Frederick’s accession, the Benda family joined Frantisek in Potsdam. The second son, Jan Jiri Benda, had also entered the service of the Crown Prince as a viola-player, continuing his service at Potsdam as a violinist, while the fourth, Joseph Benda, joined the Prussian royal orchestra in 1742 and later succeeded his eldest brother as Konzertmeister. A daughter of the family, Anna, found a career for herself as Kamrnersängerin in the service of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, on the recommendation of her brother Jirí Antonín. In Gotha she married the court violinist and composer Dismas Hatas

Jirí Antonín Benda, known in German as Georg Benda, was born in 1722 at Staré Benátky and had his schooling in Bohemia before moving in 1742 with the rest of his family to join his brother Frantisek at Potsdam, where he became a violinist in the court orchestra. In 1750 he became Kapellmeister to Duke Friederich III of Saxe-Gotha. Gotha had long and distinguished musical traditions, to which Benda contributed, breaking new ground there with his Italian opera seria Xindo riconnosciuto, written for the Duchess Luise Dorothea. There followed a period in Italy for further study which resulted in the composition of two Intermezzi, Il buon marito and Il nuovo maestro di capella, performed in Gotha in 1766 and 1767. More significantly he was largely responsible for giving wide popularity to the form of melodrama. His early and very successful attempts at the genre were written after the arrival in Gotha in 1774 of the theatrical troupe directed by the Swiss actor Abel Seyler, a company which had been active in Hanover and Weimar. For the Seyler troupe Benda wrote his melodramas Ariadne auf Naxos, Medea and Pygmalion, the first two of which aroused the admiration of Mozart, who heard performances in Mannheim and planned something of the same kind on the subject of Semiramide. Benda also wrote a series of Singspiel for the Gotha theatre

Benda had been given the title of Kapelldirektor in 1770, but resigned in 1778, moving to Hamburg and to Vienna. Finding no position there, he returned in 1779 to Gotha, living in retirement at first at the nearby Georgenthal before moving to Ohrdruf. He spent his final years at Köstritz, where he died in 1795. His compositions include some half dozen other stage works, Singspiel, melodramas and a children’s operetta, a quantity of church music and vocal compositions, keyboard sonatas and sonatinas and some thirty symphonies, ten harpsichord concertos and eleven violin concertos

The twelve symphonies, not published as a set, are all in three movements, developed from the Potsdam style of the Graun brothers. The Sinfonia No. 1 in D major opens with characteristic panache, proceeding to a minor key slow movement, its theme punctuated by plucked notes. Any passing melancholy is dissipated in a rapid final movement. The horns assume some importance in the opening theme of the Sinjonia No. 2 in G major, a lively movement that is followed by a moving minor key Andante. The horns return for the last movement with its recurrent refrain. An energetic opening theme marks the energetic Allegro of the Sinfonia No. 3 in C major. There is again a minor key slow movement dominated by the violin thematic material. The last movement brings a return to the key of C major in a solidly rhythmic final Allegro. The Sinfonia No. 4 in F major summons attention in its first notes, followed by music of the expected brilliance and energy. A note of poignancy is added in the minor key Andante, dispelled in the final Allegro. The Sinfonia No. 5 in G major has the expected vigorous opening, a call to the attention of the listener, in a lively movement with the necessary elements of thematic and dynamic contrast. A minor key Andante molto follows, capped by a cheerful final Tempo di Minuet to in which a flute adds contrast. Sinfonia No. 6 in E flat major is distinguished by its use of a solo violin, making of the opening and final Allegro concerto movements in a style that must suggest Mozart’s violin concertos of 1775.

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