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Missing music? The Baroque Concerto in Bohemia.

From the very beginning of the "invention" of the history of Baroque music in Bohemia, instrumental music proved a particularly thorny problem for its chroniclers. The basic problem was a lack of sources: for the period of the first third of the 18th century especially, not only was the music itself missing, but even mere reports of it in period inventories or other written records. Yet this was a time when new court Kapellen were formed and not long afterwards musicians and composers emigrating from the Bohemian Lands were to become famous in almost all the important musical centres of Europe, often precisely for their symphonies and concertos. Today more sources have come to light, but there is still a problem with their relevance, because while the work of composers coming from Bohemia but working abroad may be held to belong to the history of Czech music, in many cases it does not tell us much about the situation in the Bohemian Lands themselves. On the other hand, some light can be thrown on that situation by sources surviving only abroad that at first sight have little to do with the Bohemian Lands.


Despite the lack of sources, the first Czech music historians generally believed that instrumental music had been abundantly played and composed in the Bohemian Lands, but later authors tended more to the view that at the least in the particularly obscure first third of the 18th century the conditions were not favourable for the independent development of instrumental music there. This was a period dominated by the concerto, which overflowed like a great flood from its native Italy and inundated all Europe. The new musical genre found immediate responses especially in the work of German composers. Yet what was the specific effect in the case of their Bohemian colleagues? And which works actually fall into this as yet unwritten chapter of the history of Baroque music in Bohemia? This article is an attempt to pose these questions and to sketch out answers.

Over the Alps to the North--the Ways by which the Venetian Solo Concerto Spread

It is no accident that the cradle of the solo concerto was Venice, which abounded with opera companies, and that the two men who were the most important of the many godfathers at the birth of the concerto were at the same time successful operatic composers. This was because the ritornello structure of the fast movements typical for the Italian concerto developed throughout the 17th century in parallel in instrumental music and in the aria. The solo concerto gradually emerged from a whole range of sources to crystallise around 1700 in the music of Tommaso Albinoni, among others. The form was then refined by his Venetian colleague Antonio Vivaldi, and through Vivaldi's works it spread to the countries north of the Alps at the turn of the first two decades of the 18th century, not just becoming fashionable, but for a time seizing first place in the perceived hierarchy of forms of instrumental music--a place from which it was only to be dislodged by the symphony around the mid 18th century.

Concertos initially spread directly from Italy through hand written copies, but soon Amsterdam and later Paris and London became important as centres for the production of printed music and trade in it. In this context, Vivaldi's collection L'estro armonico op. 3 published in Amsterdam in 1711, is usually considered to have played a major role in the dissemination of the basic principles of the new form of the instrumental concerto. The collection won widespread popularity immediately after publication, but it is clear that Vivaldi's compositions were known and performed in Germany before that date. Travelling musicians and music-loving travellers were also very important for the dissemination of printed and transcribed music. For example, the Prince of Weimar Johann Ernst, an enthusiastic admirer of modern concertante music who had himself composed solo concertos at a young age, brought many of these pieces from the Netherlands. Johann Sebastian Bach was later to rework a number of these works for clavier including some from the Vivaldi collection already mentioned. Young noblemen or musicians encountered the concerto directly in Italy on their "Grand Tours'. Similarly, in our problematic early 18th century period a whole series of German composers personally visited Italy and Venice--Johann David Heinichen or Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel, for instance, or Johann Georg Pisendel and Daniel Gottlob Treu who became direct pupils of Vivaldi. Finally, a number of halians composing modern concertante music worked at German courts, for example Giuseppe Torelli in Ansbach or Evaristo Felice Dall' Abaco in Munich. The solo concerto had a powerful impact on listeners and musicians on their first meeting with it. In his autobiography Johann Joachim Quantz still remembered his first encounter with Vivaldi's concerto in 1714 in Pirna forty years afterwards, while we find a similar recollection associated with a rather later stay in Dresden in the case of Frantisek Benda. Vivaldi's "magnificent ritornellos" served Quantz and many others as a model for their own work. Thus during the second decade of the 18th century the solo concerto became a commonly cultivated genre above all in the German Lands.

Bohemian Background--Inventories, Foreign Concertists and the Prague Music Academy

One source of evidente about instrumental compositions in Bohemia immediately before the arrival of the new stylistic models is the inventory of music of the Cistercian monastery in Osek, dated 1706. Specifically, the instrumental music that we find listed here consists partly of dance suites designated in this case "ballettae" and composed by the Knight of the Cross Frantisek Ludvik Poppe and the Minorite Ferdinand Bernard Artophaeus, among others. The likewise listed "Ouvertura avec les 4 parties" by the Prague composer Krystof Karel Gayer shows that the influences of French orchestral music, predominant at the time in nearby Dresden, for example, were not unknown in Bohemia. None of these listed compositions has survived, however. The next Osek inventory dating from the years 1720-1733, already records a whole series of concertos by Italian and Bohemian composers: thus the two inventories frame the whole period in which we are interested.

In this period several foreign composers who were important authors of concertante music worked in Bohemia, but only on an episodic basis: they were Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Giuseppe Tartini. No direct records of their compositions produced in Bohemia have survived and it is extremely hard to identify such pieces in the context of their work. If we are asking about the arrival of the solo concerto in Bohemia, then the first of these composers is the most important for our purpose, for while Fasch and Tartini's period in Prague fall into the 1720s, the young Stolzel was here in the years I715-1717 and came to Bohemia immediately after more than a year of travels in Italy, where he visited Venice, Rome and Florence. In his autobiography he writes that he composed a great deal of instrumental music in Prague, but evidently not a single one of this "great deal" of instrumental pieces written and performed in Prague has survived, or at least these cannot be identified among the composer's surviving works.

Through Stolzel, however, we come to the very beginnings of public concert life in Prague--something that is also part of the context of our theme. In Tomas Baltazar Janovka's dictionary published in Prague in 1701 we find the term "concertus musicus", but only in its earlier meaning as a term for a Baroque vocal concerto, or more widely for any kind of vocal-instrumental composition. In the first decade of the 18th century, however, we find not only pieces involving all kinds of combinations and forms but also--as today--music production itself being called a "concert", "concerto". It was in fact Stolzel who in his contributions years later to Matthesson's collection of the lives of important musicians, Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (Hamburg 1740) provided us with unique testimony to the so-called Prague Musical Academy, an institution founded in 1714 on the initiative of four Prague burghers with the aim of organising regular concerts open to the public. We know almost nothing about the activities and fortunes of this remarkable society headed by Freiherr Hartig and it clearly did not last for very long, but its existence was undoubtedly bound up with the development of instrumental music in Prague in the second decade of the 18th century.

Jan Josef Ignac Brentner--Horae pomeridianae op. 4 (Prag 1720)

With the surviving instrumental works of Jan Josef Ignac Brentner (1689-1742) we finally arrive at some actual preserved music. We have only fragments of information on the life of the composer. He was born and died in Dobrany in the Pilsen area, and at the turn of the second/third decade of the 18th century he resided in Prague. He lived in the Lesser Quarter, composed for the Kapellen and spiritual brotherhoods there and perhaps also directed an orchestra in the musically famous Church of St. Francis Serafine at the Monastery of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. In Prague he published at least four collections of his pieces and a number of sources testify to the popularity of his works in his time and their diffusion abroad: to this day Brentner's pieces are played in the former Jesuit missions in what is now Bolivia. The reason for his popularity was undoubtedly the new musical style inspired by the works of the Italian composers which Brentner promptly adopted. Brentner also shared with his models the method of disseminating music using the music press, which was not entirely usual in Central Europe. While the Italians usually launched their publication activities with a collection of trio sonatas, in Prague the preference was for publishing church arias, reflecting the supremacy of church music over other branches. From the point of view of our theme, however, it is worth mentioning that apart from a series of pieces surviving in manuscript, two of Brentner's collections contain arias that were akin--as we know--to the solo concerto both in structure and in this concrete case in the use of obligato instruments in the accompaniment.

The earliest trace of Brentner's instrumental music is a bill of 1717 by which the director of Count Thun's Kapelle, Sebastian Erhardt, confirms the purchase of "9 Prentnerische Concerten und parthien" and another "6 Prentnerishe Hautbois concerten". We do not know these pieces, although it is very possible that they are identical to some of the surviving works: one of Brentner's partitas, which to judge by its peculiar instrumental combination (viola d'amoure, two oboes, French horn, double bass) was designed for performance in the open air, has been preserved in Dresden. In 1720 Brentner published as his fourth opus (probably at his own expense) a collection of six chamber concertos entitled Horae pomeridianae (Afternoon Hours). The print was for a long time believed lost, and survived in one never used exemplar. We can only speculate on the print run, but the collection must have been disseminated to some extent since we find it listed in the already mentioned later inventory of the Osek Monastery.


These are not solo concertos in the true sense of the word but pieces that combine concertante elements with sonata and suite elements, but they could be called "oboe concertos". This is because the first of the four voices is assigned alternatively to the oboe, transverse flute or violin (the relatively early use of the transverse flute, then a new instrument, is worthy of note) and is augmented by second violin, viola and cello. The three- or four-movement compositions always start with a slow movement reminiscent of the introductory movement of a trio sonata, but the second fast movements which probably draw most from the Vivaldian style are often in two parts and only occasionally can we sense in them any germ of ritornello form; the second movement of the first concerto may have been inspired by Vivaldi's Violin Concerto op. 3/6. See the note example:



The compositions do not lack dance or quasi-dance parts such as a Menuet, Bouree or Capriccio. The fourth Concerto is noteworthy, its middle fast movement bearing the title Vigil nocturnus (Night Watchman). The title derives ;from the opening melody, which is a free quotation of a night watchman's song widespread in Central Europe and often used in pastoral pieces as a symbol of midnight; the pastoral colouring is also evident in the initial slow movement.

The lack of clear genre definition in Brentner's compositions can be understood with reference to the vivid mixture of styles and forms that we meet only a little earlier for example in the Capriccios of Jan Dismas Zelenka, in the Concerti da Camera op. I by Francesco Venturini or in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. In Brentner's case, however, the "sonata" elements predominate over the "concertante". The subtitle of the collection (Concertus camraerales) thus corresponds not just to the chamber character of the pieces but also to the lack of a figured bass part: it is not clear whether the latter ever existed or whether the pieces were really written just for quartet with the cello as bass instrument; the viola part carefully complementing the harmony would suggest the second possibility, in its time very progressive. It is evident that in his instrumental works the composer did not confine himself to copying foreign models and instead looked for his approaches of his own. The long lost and today rediscovered Horae pomeridianae constitute the first known printed instrumental music of domestic provenience in Prague. The composer himself shared the fate of his music--in the laconic entry in the list of deaths he is described as "very famous" (praeclarus), but not long after his death he was entirely forgotten. Nonetheless, at least in the history of the Baroque concerto in Bohemia his compositions have an enduring place.

Jan Dismas Zelenka--concerti 6 fatti in fretta Praga 1723

The orchestral works of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) are definitely not unknown music, either in themselves or in the context of the history of Czech music. On the contrary, these pieces are among Zelenka's most frequently performed and recorded compositions. Ultimately indeed it was through his orchestral works--only just behind the fascinating cycle of trio sonatas--that the composer's music was rediscovered in the modern age and one of the most brilliant jewels of Baroque music was gradually uncovered in the legacy of an eccentric, kleinmeister'. To explain why a paragraph on Zelenka has been included in this article we have to return to the problem of the relevance of sources for study of the history of the Baroque concerto in Bohemia.

We know very little about Zelenka's youth, education and compositions in Bohemia. He went off to Dresden at thirty, i.e. already quite a mature age, and although he soon afterwards called himself a beginner as a composer and studied for another ten years before working up to the first high point of his music, the question of whether he composed any instrumental music before his departure from Bohemia remains an open one. We have already mentioned his Capriccios, orchestral pieces with extremely difficult horn parts that were written with one exception in Vienna in 1718 and are distinctive for the remarkably showy treatment of the material, combining for example the genre of concerto and suite, and also for the unusual multiplicity of styles perhaps suggesting sources in folk music. Both the use of the French horn, most of the important performers on which carne from Bohemia, and also the form of works that have no clear antecedents in either Viennese or Dresden tradition, have led many musicologists to search for Czech roots in the music. But given the limited possibilities of musical analysis and without new sources it has proved impossible to get any further in this direction and reach any well-grounded conclusions on instrumental music in Bohemia.



The situation is different with regard to Zelenka's four concertante pieces of 1723. These works were by contrast written in Prague, where Zelenka was staying in connection with the celebrations accompanying the coronation of Charles VI as King of the Bohemian Lands. For this occasion the Czech Jesuits staged a melodrama about Saint Wenceslas in the presence of the imperial couple at their college in the Prague Clementinum: it was entitled Sub olea pacis etpalma virtutis, and Zelenka wrote the music for it. It is not known for whom Zelenka composed his four orchestral pieces, but it looks as though their scores and parts probably remained in the hands of the commissioner and the composer evidently made a cursory copy for himself in his own hand. A note on the margin of the first page of the score of the Concerto G Major a 8 (ZWV 186), which appears as the subheading of this part of the article and means "six concertos made in haste in Prague 1723", does not shed too much light on the matter: were there originally six concertos, or does this number include Hipocondrie a7 (ZWV 187), Ouverture, a 7 (ZWV I88) and Symphonie a 8 (ZWV 189), which likewise contain conspicuously concertante elements but except for the last named Symphony are not concertos? And if not, what about the other concertos making up the six? Was the composer ultimately in too much haste to write them at all, or have they been lost?


Here too we cannot get any further without the discovery of new sources, and existing suggestions on whom the pieces were written for and where they were performed are pure guesswork. Nevertheless, Zelenka's highly original compositions--this time more influenced by the Italian style than his Capriccios--testify at least to the virtuosity of the musicians for whom they were written. In this context it is very likely that they were Prague musicians: In his autobiography Quantz, who also travelled to Prague with several Dresden colleagues and hired himself out to an orchestra so as to be at the performance of Fux's opera Costanza eFortezza, mentions that a large part of the two-hundred member orchestra was made up of local musicians from nobles' Kapellen and Prague students (only thirty-seven instrumentalists came from Vienna), but he is silent on the pieces of his teacher and Dresden colleague Zelenka. Perhaps the only clue--and again without further documentation the matter is necessarily vague and speculative--might be the combination of instruments used in the pieces and the distribution of their difficult solo parts. This is the case particularly with the Concerto and Symphony--in both cases the most important solos are entrusted to one violin, the oboe, bassoon and cello, while for example the second oboe remains with the tasks of the ripieno part. A relatively economical combination of this kind is definitely in no way unusual, but at the same time it demands outstanding virtuosos in each of the solo parts. In Prague the Kapelle of Count Wenzel Morzin had musicians of the kind needed; this was certainly one of the most important ensembles of its type for the time and place. And with this assertion we arrive at the last section of this article.

Count Morzin's Composers--Vivaldi, Fasch, Reichenauer

We have already mentioned the name of Antonio Vivaldi several times and--without wishing to exaggerate it--the importance of his compositions for the spread of the concerto outside Italy. Vivaldi's contacts with the Bohemian Lands were relatively many-sided: they involved co-operation with an Italian opera company playing in Prague from 1724, and the supply of instrumental pieces for a number of Bohemian magnates and may well have led (although the evidence is not conclusive) to an actual visit to Prague in 1730 or 1731. Work by Vivaldi that belongs to the history of music in the Bohemian Lands includes the concerto and trios with solo lute composed for the Count of Vrtba or the concertos that the composer sold at the end of his life to the Count of Collalto, whose seat was in Brtnice in Moravia. The most important of these contacts was, however, Vivaldi's relationship with Count Wenzel Morzin (1674-1737).

Count Morzin seems to have been an expert on and lover of Italian instrumental music and the solo concerto and/or he considered it very important for the prestige of his court that this kind of music should be played there. He did not hesitate to spend a considerable amount of money on the upkeep of an outstanding instrumental ensemble that as early as 1714 was mentioned in records as a Kapelle that in its excellence had no rival in the Kingdom of Bohemia. He got to know Vivaldi in the course of a trip to Italy in 1718, when he was accompanying his two sons to Rome on the first stage of their "Grand Tour". The contact between the composer and the count is confirmed with certainty a year later--when Vivaldi sent Morzin a package of music and received a very handsome payment for it. Their contact finally developed into a permanent relationship: the composer became the count's paid "maestro di musica in Italia", whose services consisted not just in supplying pieces but also in taking care of the count's affairs in Venice, for example the training of a musician sent from Bohemia or the supervision of Morzin's third son. One record of this relationship is the dedication of the composer's eighth collection of concertos--containing the famous The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni)--to Count Morzin; in addition to its praise for the count's Kapelle ("virtuosissima orchestra") the dedication also contains the information that the Count had received the The Four Seasons already. Was it perhaps part of the package of 1719?

Morzin employed a whole range of other composers as well as Vivaldi. In the years I721-22 Johann Friedrich Fasch worked with the Kapelle in Prague, and he later supplied the count with compositions from his new position in Zerbst. During the 1720s Antonin Reichenauer and Christian Gottlieb Postel were Morzin's house composers, and several other members of the Kapelle evidently composed instrumental music. From the point of view of our theme the most important name is Antonin Reichenauer (ca. 1694-1730)--if we are trying to identify a creator of solo concertos of Vivaldian type for this short history of the Baroque concerto in Bohemia, then he is our man.

We have no concrete information on Reichenauer's origins, and he first appears in the historical record at the beginning of the 1720s in Prague. He was a relatively prolific com poser who wrote both church and instrumental music. His sacred pieces can be found in a number of Czech music collections, but his instrumental work has survived only abroad. It consists of oboe, bassoon, violin and cello concertos, but also trio sonatas and orchestral ouvertures. Reichenauer's solo concertos were clearly composed for very able soloists and with great understanding for the principles of the genre. The composer followed some subtle compositional principles of Vivaldi's concerto's more closely than most of the great throng of later imitators of the immensely popular "red priest"--but if we take into account his engagement in Morzin's Kapelle, then this fact will scarcely surprise us.

If we finish our journey in search of the Baroque concerto in Bohemia here, it is not because Reichenauer died just on the border of that first third of the century that defines he period of our interest (the composer's premature death at the age of only thirty-five s one that is in any case only to be lamented From our point of view). It is instead because more general answers to the questions relating o our theme are hidden in the late of Rechenauer's instrumental music and Morzin's orchestra. After the death of Count Morzin his Kapelle was disbanded and the musicians had to seek work elsewhere. Of the collection of music that was undoubtedly part of Morzin's estate and must certainly have contained many concertante pieces by Bohemian composers alongside the fine lines of Vivaldi's works, however, nothing has survived. The situation is the same in the case of a number of other court Kapellen or the personal estates of individual musicians. Here we might well be inclined to succumb to scepticism--is he history of so chronologically and locally defined a phenomenon as our Baroque concerto in Bohemia entirely a chance matter and dependent on the mere vagaries of fate? To certain extent it is, but I think we have no need for depression. After all, all the works hat have been the subject of our interest have survived precisely because they managed to break free of the local context of their birth. And conversely, the very fact that precisely these works ultimately stood the test of time speaks to us of their possible importance. First and foremost, however, this is marvellous music--it is always here with and for us, right now.

Recommended recordings:

Jan Josef Ignac Brentner

Jan Josef Ignac Brentner: Concertos & Arias, Hana Blazikova--soprano, Collegium Marianum, Jana Semeradova, Prague 2009, Supraphon SU 3970-2 (Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague)

Jan Dismas Zelenka

Complete information on the recordings of the orchestral works of Jan Dismas Zelenka is available at Discover Zelenka. A database of works and recordings

Antonin Reichenauer

Rorate coeli. Advent and Christmas in Baroque Prague, Collegium Marianum, Jana Semeradova, Prague 2009, Supraphon SU 4002-2 (Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague) contains a trio sonata and a cantata by Antonin Reichenauer

You will also find Reichenauer's music in the next (planned) titles of the series Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague.
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Title Annotation:history
Author:Kapsa, Vaclav
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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