The oratorio In exitu Israel by Jan Dismas Zelenka, the “Czech Bach”

The oratorio In exitu Israel by Jan Dismas Zelenka, the “Czech Bach”
The oratorio In exitu Israel by Jan Dismas Zelenka, the “Czech Bach”

It was not until the 1970s that a Swiss oboist rediscovered the chamber works of Jan Dismas Zelenka, a Czech originally from Louňovice pod Blaníkem, who then spent his life in Dresden.

In 1945, during the bombing of this German city, the archive containing Zelenka’s compositions burned. For a long time, it was thought that all his work had disappeared. But when Heinz Holliger made this totally unexpected discovery, experts began searching in all directions, and even today, we still find astonishing pieces.

of Camerata Bern, Heinz Holliger: Zelenka, Sonata à 8 concertanti in sol maggiore, I – Allegro

In this Sunday’s musical program, we listen in particular to his oratorio In exitu Israel.

If we talk about Jan Dismas Zelenka, often considered “Bach’s Catholic counterpart”, we must pay tribute to the work of the Czech early music orchestra Collegium 1704 and its great conductor Václav Luks.

of Collegium 1704 / Collegium Vocale 1704 / JD Zelenka / Václav Luks

Jan Dismas Zelenka wrote a number of notable works, such as music for the grand allegorical opera on the life of Saint Wenceslas, Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis, orchestral pieces and famous trio sonatas. During his lifetime, Zelenka was admired by his contemporaries such as Telemann, or Bach with whom he interacted. And yet, information on his solitary life, without wife or children, largely spent as a double bassist and composer in the Dresden Court Orchestra, remains fragmentary, the man remaining hidden behind his work.

of Jan Dismas Zelenka: Sonata No. 1 F Major, ZWV 181/1 / Ensemble Berlin Prag

And yet Jan Dismas Zelenka continues to amaze modern musicians and researchers with the rigor of his style, but also the richness and depth of his inspiration. First a student of the Jesuits at the Clementinum in Prague, this fervent Catholic, eldest of a family of eight children whose father was an organist, was first in the service of Count Hartig before completing his training at the Protestant court of Dresden , then in Vienna, with Johann Joseph Fux, and finally in Venice, where he received lessons from Antonio Lotti. A singular composer, the one who was recognized in his time as a master of counterpoint achieves, according to musicologists, a sort of synthesis between Italian and German style.

of Jan Dismas Zelenka | In exitu Israel

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