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Ján Levoslav Bella (Composer)

Born: September 4, 1843 - Liptovský Svätý Mikulas, Slovakia
Died: May 25, 1936 - Bratislava (Preßburg)

Ján Levoslav [Ján Ignác; Johann Leopold; János Leopold] Bella was a Slovak composer living in Vienna. He was sent to the Gymnasium at Levoča by Bishop Ladislav of Spiške, where he studied from 1853 to 1859 piano, organ, general bass, several stringed and wind instruments, composition and conducting under the supervision of Leopold Dvořák (a regenschori in Spišská Kapitula). Already at 16 he wrote a mass, with orchestral aocompaniments, given in the Episoopal Cathedral of Spiške. From 1859 to 1863 he completed his secondary school studies in Banská Bystrica, attended a theological seminary, started music event organization, conducting, composing, and publishing activities. From 1863 to 1865 he had theological studies at the Vienna University, alumnus of the Pasmaneum college, simultaneous music studies under Simon Sechter and court conductor Gottfried Preyer.

Ján Levoslav Bella continued work in composition and theory of sacred music, conducted the Pasmaneum choir. From 1865 to 1869 he was back in Slovakia and worked in Banská Bystrica. Eventually in 1866 he was ordained priest, and his musical gifts were at first entirely devoted to the service of the Church. As a prebendary of the cathedral he taught singing and music theory at the theological seminary. From 1869 to 1881 he was municipal music director in Kremnica, organizer of music events. In 1871 and 1873 he had two visits to Bohemia and Germany. He was associated with the Cecilian movement in his native country. His early masses are remarkable for being based on the familiar tunes of the Slovak folk. Besides these masses he composed the choral works: The Prayer of St. Cyril on his Deathbed (Olomouc, 1869), an Old Slovakian Paternoster (Glöggl, Vienna, op. 3), Matké Sláve (Hail, Mother!), and many lesser compositions, all strictly polyphonic and liturgioal in style. Bella was caught up into the general movement for the reformation of ecclesiastical music which prevailed in mid-Europe about the sixties of the 19th century.

From 1881 to 1921 Ján Levoslav Bella served as Cantor in Hermannstadt (Transylvania), now Sibin in modern Romania, with its then considerable German population. He left the priesthood, converted to evangelical faith, got married and until 1921 worked in Sibin as a regenschori of the evangelical church there, taught music at the secondary school, and conducted the local music society and choir Hermania. After the end of World War I, he moved to Vienna and lived there from 1921 to 1928. In 1928 he returned to Slovakia and lived in Bratislava until his death.

In the last forty years of his life, Ján Levoslav Bella established a reputation as a conductor and composer, respected by his contemporaries Johannes Brahms, Hans von Bülow, Joachim, Dohnányi and others and writing music that at times echoes Liszt or Schumann and at times is overtly Slovak. Educated in a conservative atmosphere, he was not blind to the progressive tendencies of his time, although the German neo-romantic school attracted him more than the dramatic naturalism of Smetana. With the rebirth of the spiritual and political life of the Slovaks after World War I, renewed interest in his work showed itself in the revival of his motet for double male choir, Tu es Petrus, by the famous Prague Choir 'Hlahol,' at a Slovak concert, March 1920. This motet and his Adoramus (also for male voices) are the most characteristic examples of his sacred music. Of his secular works, two stand out prominently - the symphonic poem Osud a ideal (Destiny and Ideal) and the string quartet in C minor (1876), frequently played by the Bohemian (Czech) Quartet. The symphonic poem owes much to Liszt, but, as one of the younger school of Czech critics, Dr. Emil Axman, reminded us, it required considerable courage and independence of mind in a church composer of late 19th century to embody in music a psychological programme dealing with problems of modem life. Bella has done much for the salvaging and diffusion of Slovak folk-music; sometimes in the form of paraphrases, as in his collection Při Prešburka, sometimes by partsongs a cappella, two series of which were produced at Bratislava by the Academic Choral Society, under the Rev. Prof. Orel, March 1923, and repeated in Vienna.

Source: Naxos Website Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition; Authors: Rev. Dr. Alois Količek & Mrs. Rosa Newmarch); Music Centre Solvakia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Fantasy on the chorale Christus, der ist mein Leben (1918)

Christus, der ist mein Leben


Links to other Sites

Bella, Jan Levoslav (1843 - 1936) (Naxos)
Ján Levoslab v Bella (Music Cenre Slobvakia)

Jan Levoslav Bella (Karadar)


D. Orel.: Ján Levoslav Bella. Bratislava 1924
Hudobnovedný zborník SAV Bratislava 1953.
K. Hudec: J. L. Bella. Praha 1937
Z. Bokesová: Návrat J. L. Bellu na Slovensko. (Listy Jána Levoslava Bellu synovi Rudolfovi z rokov 1925–1936). Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš 1944
L. Burlas: Život a dielo J. L. Bellu. Bratislava 1953
Z. Nováček: J. L. Bella, veľká postava slovenskej histórie. In: Hudobnovedný zborník SAV Bratislava 1953 Martin 1953
F. Zagiba: Johann L. Bella (1843–1936) und das Wiener Musikleben. Wien 1953
E. Zavarský: Ján Levoslav Bella. Život a dielo. Bratislava 1955
Hudobný archív 9. E. Muntág, ed. Martin 1985
Exegi monumentum. Ján Levoslav Bella (1843–1936). Život a dielo v obrazových dokumentoch. V. Čížik - J. Lengová ed. Banská Bystrica 1992
J. Lengová, ed.: Ján Levoslav Bella v kontexte európskej hudobnej kultúry. Nadácia Jána Levoslava Bellu, Banská Bystrica 1993
J. Potúček: Bibliografia tlačených diel a literatúry o J. L. Bellovi. In: Hudobnovedný sborník SAV I., SAV, Bratislava 1953
J. Potúček.: Bibliografia literatúry o J. L. Bellovi (1953–1992). In: Ján Levoslav Bella v kontexte európskej hudobnej kultúry. Nadácia Jána Levoslava Bellu. Banská Bystrica 1993

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