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Jan Dismas Zelenka (Composer)

Born: October 16, 1679 - Louňovice, near Prague, then Bohemia
Died: December, 1745 - Dresden, Germany

Jan Dismas Zelenka, also known as Johann Dismas Zelenka, was a Czech Baroque composer whose music was notably adventurous with great harmonic invention and mastery of counterpoint.

Zelenka played the violone, the largest and lowest member of the viol family, analogous to the double-bass in the violin family of stringed instruments.

Zelenka was born in Louňovice, a small market town southeast of Prague in what was then Bohemia. His father was a schoolmaster and organist there. Nothing more is known with certainty about Zelenka's early years. It is thought he may have received some musical training in Prague at a Jesuit college named the Clementinum.

It is known that Zelenka served Baron Hartig, the imperial governor resident in Prague before becoming a violone player in the royal orchestra at Dresden in 1710. He studied music in Vienna and Venice in 1715 and 1716. He was back in Dresden by 1719. Except for a visit in 1723 to Prague and an occasional trip, he remained a resident of Dresden until his death.

In Dresden, Zelenka initially assisted the Kapellmeister, Johann David Heinichen, and gradually assumed Heinichen's duties as his health declined. After J.D. Heinichen died in 1729, Zelenka applied for the prestigious post of Kapellmeister. The post went, instead, to Johann Adolf Hasse. In 1735 Zelenka was named a mere church music composer. Zelenka died in Dresden in 1745.

As might be expected, most of Zelenka's compositions were sacred works. They included three oratorios, 12 masses, and numerous other pieces of sacred music. Zelenka's orchestral and vocal pieces are often virtuosic and demanding. In particular, his writing for bass instruments is far more demanding than that of other composers of his era and the "utopian" (as Heinz Holliger describes them) requirements on the oboe playing in his trio sonatas are also notable.

One of J.S. Bach's sons later recalled that: "No master of music was apt to pass through this place (Leipzig) without making my father's acquaintance and letting himself be heard by him." As Christoph Wolff noted in his brilliant biography of J.S. Bach: The Learned Musician, "Guests (of J.S. Bach) included some of the leading figures in contemporary German musical life, among them ... Jan Dismas Zelenka...."

Selected list of works

Six trio sonatas (no. 1,2,4,5 and 6 for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo, in the third a violin replaces the second oboe) and eleven other instrumental works
Twenty-three masses, some missing, and a number of mass movements
Four requiem settings
Fifty-three psalm settings, some missing


Source: Wikipdia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2006)

Jan Dismas Zelenka: Short Biography | Magnificat in D major, ZWV 108 | Jan Dismas Zelenka & Bach | Music

Works performed by J.S. Bach

Magnificat in D major, ZWV 108 - performed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig 1729-1735
A. Lotti: Missa Sapientiae in G minor, arranged by J.D. Zelenka (c1730) - probably performed by J.S. Bach in Leipzig 1732-1735

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Links to other Sites

Catalogue (ZWV) of Compositions by Jan Dismas Zelenka
Discover Zelenka - A database of works and recordings
Jan Dismas Zelenka (Wikipedia) [English]
Jan Dismas Zelenka (Wikipedia) [German]
Jan Dismas Zelenka: a biographical note (Baroque Music)
Classical Net - Composers: Zelenka

Zelenka, Jan Dismas (Sojurn)
Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) (Karadar)
Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) (NewOlde)
Zelenka, Jan Dismas (1679 - 1745), Bohemia (Estrella)
Zelenka, Jan Dismas (1679-1745) (Naxos)



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Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 16:04