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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

available from MusicaBona

Jirí Antonín BENDA (1722 - 1795)
Sonata in a (1781) [14.08]
Sonata in D (1757) [11.05]
Sonata in d (1757) [12.12]
Sonata in c (1781) [11.17]
Sonata in C (1787) [10.04]
Sonata in c (1787) [14.02]
Tamara Franzová, 2 manual harpsichord by Sheer & Vogel after Stehlin 1760
Notes in English, German, French, and Czech.
Photos of the composer, artist, and harpsichord.
Recorded at Domovina Studio, Prague, Czech Republic, 16 April 1999
SUPRAPHON SU 3745-2 131 [73.16]

Comparison recording:

J. C. Mann, 6 harpsichord Sonatas, R. E. Simpson, harpsichord Initium CD A001/2

AVAILABILITY Initium CDs are available from

Benda is one of those Czech composers who were featured on a series of sumptuously illustrated Supraphon LP recordings with many photographs and what are probably fascinating and informative texts ó what a pity I donít read a word of Czech. The music was always very interesting and very much of its period, but out of all that listening no single work ever caught my attention enough to actually become familiar to me. Here with notes in English I can at last learn something about a composer I already know.

Benda was born in N-E Bohemia, and his father was a weaver and folk musician. Benda got a good local education then emigrated with his family in 1742 to Berlin where he joined his older brother Frantisek in the violin section of the Prussian court opera orchestra. In 1750 he became Kapellmeister in Gotha where, in addition to the usual composing of all kinds of church and secular music for all combinations of instruments, he also achieved distinction as a writer of melodramas, two of which were in Mozartís personal library. He failed to obtain an appointment in Vienna in 1778, and retired to study and compose in the town of Köstritz in Saxony.

These sonatas resemble the harpsichord sonatas of Johann Christoph Mann (1726 - 1782). Note that the two composers were born within two years of each other. Both were active in the same general area of Europe, Mann a native Austrian based in Vienna but spending much time in Bohemia. Both wrote clearly in a North European pre-classical style (Mann uses a Scottish folk song in his fourth sonata) in three movements, both wrote both for harpsichord as well as fortepiano, and both men in their music set out to entertain, writing in a variety of forms and utilising songs, dances, and even operatic style settings. Benda is rather serious; Mann has more fun with his music. Although Benda was a friend of C.P.E. Bach, his music resembles that of the older man only slightly. C.P.E. Bachís keyboard music tended to be stiff, conservative, and somewhat ungracious, whereas both Benda and Mann wrote very floridly and eloquently with bold harmonic colour. The interesting fact is that the pre-Classical period was more experimental harmonically than the Classical period and it is not until Chopin and Schumann that you see bolder harmonies.

And both composers are not well known to modern audiences, yet hearing their music will teach you quite a bit about the evolution of German and Viennese Classical keyboard style. Some of these movements are almost pure Bach, some almost pure Mozart, and thereís just a hint of Beethoven here and there.

J. C. Mann used to be frequently confused with G. M. Monn (1717 - 1750), but Simpsonís research has established their separate identities, although they may have been brothers.

Ms. Franzová plays a full size two manual instrument with a clear, sweet tone and little tonal difference between the manuals. Simpson uses an electronically sampled MIDI two manual harpsichord for his Mann recordings, and both use equal temperament tuning which most people will probably feel is appropriate, although I take exception to that and am convinced that unequal temperament was very much in use on keyboard instruments even after 1800. Both Franzová and Simpson use excellent judgement in ornamentationóneither too much nor too little. Ms. Franzová receives excellent well balanced recording that is close but not too much so, with just the right amount of live acoustic to allow the sound to breathe, but the lines remain perfectly clear. Simpsonís recorded sound is very close and dynamic, and he makes judicious use of the coupled 16 foot rank.

Ms. Franzová studied harpsichord with Christiane Jaccottet and musicology in Switzerland and Germany, attending master classes given by Hogwood, Koopman, and Leonhardt, among others. Simpson studied with Paul Nettl at Indiana University, played oboe in the orchestra under Wolfgang Stressemann, and then studied musicology at University of Vienna with Schenk.

Paul Shoemaker


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