Sunday, January 14, 2018

Franz Benda

Franz Benda was a Czech violinist, teacher, writer, and composer born (in Benatek, Bohemia) on (approximately) November 22, 1709.  It has been said that his 1763 autobiography is an excellent source for information regarding the lives of many important musicians of his time, including the great J.S. Bach.  Benda was one of many family members who became indistinguishable from the musical arts, down to the present day, in the same vein as the Bach family.  This musical tradition (or music dynasty) was started by Franz Benda’s father, Jan Benda.  In addition, the family gave rise to at least two female composers, a rarity in those days.  Franz Benda spent much of his career working at the court of Frederick the Great, the Prussian (German) King – in fact, Benda died the same year as his benefactor.  Benda received his earliest music education from his father.  At age nine, he was engaged as a singer at the St Nicholas Monastery in Prague.  At age 10 he ran away from home and settled in Dresden where he also found work in the choir of the Royal Chapel.  He also began to study the violin while there.  At age 12 he returned home and joined the choir of the Jesuit College in Prague.  In 1726, at age 17, he began playing violin in orchestras engaged by various members of the nobility situated in or near Vienna – in effect, he was a free-lance violinist since he also played for social events such as weddings and fairs.  In Vienna, he continued to study the violin, most notably with a court musician named Johann Gottlieb Graun, a violinist who had studied with the famous Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini.  Two years later, Benda moved to Warsaw with a group of musician friends and was eventually appointed concertmaster of the Chapel orchestra in Warsaw.  He remained there until the orchestra was dissolved after their patron died.  Benda moved to Dresden after that.  He was either 22 or 23 years old by that time.  Finally, he entered the service of the Crown Prince Frederick (who later became Frederick the Great) in 1733 – one source says 1732.  He was either 23 or 24 years old.  Henceforth, he participated in countless concerts with the King, often working alongside C.P.E. Bach who was the King’s harpsichordist for many years.  Although he spent most of his time in Potsdam, Benda met J.S. Bach while working in Dresden.  (One source states that Benda played 50,000 concertos over the course of forty years – an utterly ridiculous statement on the face of it.)  Benda was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra in 1771 – he was 62 years old.  Three of his brothers eventually joined him as members of the orchestra.  For at least two decades between 1740 and 1760 (approximately), Benda toured Germany as a soloist while in the employ of his patron.  He also had many violin pupils, among them being Johann Peter Salomon, the man who became Haydn’s impresario in London.  In addition to exercises and study books for the violin, Benda composed many symphonies, concertos, and sonatas, many of them (understandably) for flute.  YouTube has some files of his recorded output.  His composition style bridged the gap between the Baroque and the Classical epoch.  Franz Benda died on March 7, 1786, at age 76, five months before his famous benefactor.  

3 comments:

  1. At the time of Benda's death, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) had been dead 36 years. However, Mozart (1756-1791) survived Benda by only 5 years.

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  2. The autobiography mentioned in the post is currently out of print. A copy is hard to come by.

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  3. Samuel Dushkin, the famous Polish violinist, composed a work titled "Grave for Violin and Orchestra" which he attributed to Franz Benda's brother, Johann Georg Benda. Dushkin was later found out.

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