Benda

For years now, in fact, ever since I first started playing the concerto in F major attributed to Georg Anton Benda, I had been seeking the two other concertos written by this composer. Despite an in-depth search of publishers’ catalogues, and numerous discussions with my violist colleagues, I simply couldn’t find them. And yet, references to these works appear in Franz Zeyringer’s book, Litterature for viola (Literatur für Viola, 3rd ed. 1985). According to it, there should be three concertos vor viola with a large orchestra (18th century). One in F major, published by Schott in 1968, another in F major as well, and lastly, one in E-flat major. All three refer to manuscripts held by the State Library of Berlin’s musical division (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung).

I therefore went to the Berlin Library, believing I would finally be able to expand my repertoire of classical concertos. Alas, I didn’t find any of the concertos attributed to Georg Benda. The references provided by Zeyringer who writes of two concertos in F and one in E flat were wrong.

One can indeed find a copyist’s manuscript of a concerto in F major, which is attributed to Georg Benda. Under the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich, however, his nephew, there exist two concertos in E flat major, as well as the one in F major that has been published already. Are these the same two impossible to find concertos attributed to Georg?

The evidence indicates that they are. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians clearly states that three concertos are attributed to Georg and three are composed by Friedrich: in my opinion, they are the same. The same goes for what’s written in the MGG (Die Musk in Geschichte und Gegenwart).

To find one’s way through the intricate maze that is the Benda family tree is an admittedly confusing task : there are two Georgs, three Friedrichs, two Heinrichs… To put it briefly, this is a musical family that answered Frederick the Great’s call to move from Bohemia in 1742, and stayed tied to the royal court for close to a century.

The Benda family’s importance for the history of German classical music is considerable. The patriarch, Jan Jiři Benda (1686–1757) had four sons who also became musicians for the Prussian court : Franz (1709–1786), Johann Georg (1713–1752),Georg Anton (1722–1795) and Joseph (1724–1804). To these sons, one must also add the daughters, singers, who took part in public concerts in addition to those performed at different courts in Weimar, Dresden, Leipzig, and Potsdam.

The Bendas, primarily Franz and Georg-Anton, belonged to the Berlin school with composers such as Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788). The work on the [dramatic form ?] in Georg’s operas greatly influenced Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). At the time, the Benda family’s music was just as popular as that of Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) or Mozart, which is telling.

The Benda who concerns us here is Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich, Franz’s son and Georg’s nephew, born in 1745 and deceased in 1814. He wrote operas, profane cantatas and oratorios. But he was primarily known as a composer of instrumental music and concertos for various instruments. His talents as an accomplished violinist and violist made him quite popular as a performer as well. The virtuoso passages of three concertos that he wrote for the viola doubtlessly show that he mastered the contemporary technique of the instrument to the point of perfection.

There is a theory according to which Friedrich plagiarized the first two concertos which were supposedly written by his uncle, Georg. I disagree with this idea put forward by Ulrich Drüner.

If one compares the two concertos in E flat major with the one edited in F major, numerous sixteenth notes patterns from the solo part are remarkably similar. The slow movements also present a troubling similarity in the harmonic progressions. The style in general indicates that the three concertos are Friedrich’s and not Georg’s. It has to be remembered that Friedrich and his uncle Georg have a near-quarter-century age difference — hence a certain modernity in Friedrich’s composition compared to that of Georg — and that even if the latter was also a violinist and violist, he dedicated the major part of his life to lyrical works : operas, cantatas and oratorios.

Additionally, as Philip Schmidt underlines in his highly detailed preface on Carl Hermann Heinrich’s concerto (1748–1836), our Friedrich’s brother (I warned it could get confusing…), the concerto’s orchestration, which contains two [wind instruments], flute or oboe, and even a bassoon obbligato in the third concerto, doesn’t appear in any of the concertos written by Georg Benda.

The classification of the three concertos is based on differences of style, orchestration, and finally, on the dating of the paper utilized for the manuscript of the third concerto. This manuscript was likely written by Friedrich himself and not by a copist (this can be established on the basis of a comparison of Friedrich’s handwriting in letters with the handwriting in the manuscript). On the paper that was used and produced between 1790 and 1803, one finds a watermark of a crowned eagle with a scepter and a sword, linked to a paper mill named Wolfswinkel and located in Eberswalde near Berlin. Therfore we can assume that Benda composed the third Concerto after 1790.

The above is the fruit of fascinating research undertaken by a musician who doesn’t pretend to be a musicologist, far from it. In fact, this work allowed me to glimpse and appreciate the true value of the research, patience, and numerous skills involved in the noble profession of musicology. Needless to say, I would have been unable to find my way without the many professionals with whom I was lucky enough to cross paths. I do, however, take responsibility for all mistakes that may be found in my remarks about the concertos.

Rarely does the critique of a viola recital or concerto ever begin without the worn phrase : « despite the limited viola repertoire… ». Whether the critics accept it or not, the repertoire of our instrument isn’t tied to the twentieth century, and there is in fact a large amount of unknown repertoire, from all periods. For instance, over a hundred viola concertos from the classical period have been identified, lying buried in different European libraries. They aren’t all of equal value, of course, but those of Friedrich Benda are certainly magnificent additions to my instrument’s repertoire. They have nothing to envy the Stamitzes and other “Hoffmeister,” to the contrary… I hope that listeners enjoy discovering them as much as I did working with them.

I want to thank the following individuals [and institutions?], without whom this editing and recording work would have been impossible:

  • Sonia Simard, pianist, who in addition to having produced the orchestral reduction for piano, participated in all the stages of research and editing.
  • The State Library of Berlin’s musical division, who were very friendly and equally competent, with the exception of its director, who evidently refuses to understand the importance of contact between original manuscripts and performers, the very people who give life to the works entrusted to him.
  • The musicians of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, the conductor Bernard Labadie, and the sound engineer Tobias Hoff, who, thanks to their incredible knowledge of the classical repertoire and its style, helped me discover and record the concertos in the best conditions a musician could dream of.
  • The musicologist Phillip Schmidt from Leipzig, who patiently lent me his expertise to understand the countless pitfalls tied to archival research, endlessly presenting themselves to the amateur that I am…
  • CPO and its director, Mister Schmilgun, who truly cares about making it possible to distribute and listen to works that are often unjustly forgotten.
  • The SWR (Südwestrundfunk), its management and conductor (Reinhard Oechsler, Franxois-Xavier Roth) who allowed and supported this project.
  • And last [but not least?], thanks are due to the publisher Edition Offenburg, to Mihoko Kimura, who thanks to her probity, to the quality of her editing work and to her sense of risk, offers a royal gift to all violists. (The concertos will be published by Edition Offenburg in a version with piano and a version with orchestra.)

Jean-Eric Soucy

 

References:

Dictionaries and encyclopedias :

  1. Franz Zeyringer, Literatur für Viola, Hartberg 1985, page 285.
  2. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie (ed.), London 1980, page 465.
  3. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2. Ausgabe, Personenteil, Bd. 2, Kassel 1999, colonne 10551073.
  4. The Breitkopf Thematic Catalogue. The Six Parts and Sixteen Supplements 17621787, édité par Barry S. Brook en 1966.
  5. Katalog Johann Christoph Westphal u. Comp., Hamburg 1782, page 209.
  6. Franz Lorenz, Die Musikerfamilie Benda, Bd. 3: Themenkatalog der Kompositionen der Familienmitglieder mit durchnumeriertem Benda-Register (Be-Re), Selbstverlag, Berlin 1972.
  7. Literaturverzeichnis für Bratsche u. Viola d’amore, hrsg. Wilhelm Altmann u. Wadim Borissowsky, Verlag für Musikalische Kultur u. Wissenschaft, Wolfenbüttel 1937.
  8. Vera Grützner, Potsdamer Musikgeschichte, Arani-Verl., Berlin 1992, S. 76.
  9. RISM online (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales)
  10. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung, manuscrits concertos F, LorB 314, Es, LorB 315, Es, LorB 316.
  11. Karin Friese, Papierfabriken im Finowtal. Die Geschichte der Papiermühlen und Papierfabriken vom 16. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert mit einem Katalog ihrer Wasserzeichnen, hrsg. von der Stadt Eberswalde, 2000.
  12. Phillip Schmidt, Préface, Carl Hermann Heinrich Benda. Konzert für Viola, Streicher und Basso continuo F-Dur, Ortus Musikverlag, Beeskow 2016.

Articles :

  1. Ulrich Drüner, «Das ViolaKonzert vor 1840», Fontes Artis Musicae 28, Kassel u.a. 1981, page 153.
  2. Walter Lebermann, “Zur Autorschaft dreier Violakonzerte von Frederico Benda”, Die Musikforschung, Jg. 32, Kassel u.a. 1979, page 289.
  3. Lettres de Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda que l’on peut consulter chez http://kalliope.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/de/search.html
  4. La vie de Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda (Franz Lorenz, Die Musikerfamilie Benda, Bd. 1: «Franz Benda und seine Nachkommen», Berlin 1967, reprint: ed. De Gruyter 2015)