Jiri Benda Keyboard Music

Born in N-E Bohemia. Dates: 1722-95. Moved to Berlin in 1742. His brother Frantisek was a composer too; he played violin in the Prussian court orchestra. In 1750 he became kappelmeister in Gotha. He wrote church music, secular music, music for melodramas and lots of keyboard pieces. He applied for a job in Vienna in 1778 but was not appointed. Following this he studied and composed in Kostritz.

His sonatas are most attractive. The style is pre-classical. He was a friend of C.P.E.Bach, but the sonatas are better than Bach's; the writing is florid, and flows beautifully, from the performer's point of view and from the listener's. The notes fit under the fingers amazingly well. There are bold harmonies, wonderful quick movements, and equally beautiful slow movements. There are faults - Benda can be weak at endings; certain pieces fizzle out slightly and need careful alterations in some bars to achieve the desired effect. Some of the basses have weak points too, and benefit from a little thought and, again, alteration. It's as if he lost interest at the penultimate draft, and he never got around to finishing things off. Nevertheless there is wonderful music here. And if you like it, you'll probably like Dussek too.

The edition I use: Musica Antiqua Bohemica, vol 24, sonatas 1-16, piano, ed. V.J.Sykora, Prague, 1956. I think this is still in print. The MAB series is well known.


No. 11 in F
Possibly the best in the collection. Graceful, flowing first movement: bar 7 needs a bass F on the first beat to strengthen the rhythm. On the piano the ties in this and the following bar can be removed with advantage. Bar 21 - needs a stronger cadence on beats 2 and 3. Left hand- put an f above the b and resolve to ce, a third apart. Bar 40- remove the tie between beats 2-3 in rh. Last bar of movement - weak ending. Instead of semiquavers faefc, play fa'b'g'a' (where ' denotes the octave below). Andantino: bar 16 - the rest on the first 2 beats doesn't work very well; replace with bass f'a, g'b, a'c (tenths), crotchets, and accompanying figures in rh (afafaf, gegege, running into the third beat fef). Rest of movement is ok. Allegro - lovely movement except for the final cadence which sounds anaemic. For last two beats, use C-F octaves in bass and in rh chords BbEC followed by FAF.

I've recorded some sonatas by Benda; email if you'd like a CD. A fiver covers my costs.

More to follow soon....

Nigel Deacon / Diversity Website

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