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Franz (Frantisek) Benda
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Franz Benda’s compositions, rarely written after 1751, include 17 Concertos for the violin (his own instrument), 17 symphonies, numerous solo-sonatas (157 for Violin and Basso continuo — markedly difficult, requiring a cello — are preserved; his solo-capriccios are most remarkable) and various chamber works. By his own admission his knowledge of contrapunt was limited, explaining the absence of major vocal(-instrumental) works. Contemporary musicologist Charles Burney, who heard him play during a visit to Postdam in 1772, called his style extraordinarily melodic, so hardly a passage in his work could not be sung, as well as inward and impassioned. His style mostly remains anchored in the Baroque, with motoric or expressive themes, irregularly articulated and long-breathed, but also shows indications of emerging classicism, such as free melodics and periodical structure, indeed more often fast-slow-fast then the Baroque slow-fast-fastest structure.
In 1763 Franz Benda also wrote a valuable autobiography recounting his young years, which was published in 1856 in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung.
Franz Benda’s Trio VI in ES major for Violin, Alto-viola, Cello and Basso continuo (on harpsichord) and his Sonata in A major for Cello and Harpsichord are recorded by “The Benda Musicians” (performed by present members of the musical Benda family) on the Pantheon-CD no. D07167 entitled “Music of the Benda Family”, alongside works of his brothers Jiři and Johann.
This Bohemian composer and violin virtuoso was the eldest of five musical children of Jan Jiři [Johann Georg] Benda (1686–1757) and Dorota Brixi, including the composers Georg (Jiři) Benda and Johann (Jan) Benda. In 1720 he ran away from his position in the choir at St. Nicolas’s in Prague, where he studied vocal music as well as in Dresden, where he sang in the court chapel choir and began study of violin and viola. In 1723 he returned to Prague, where he was a chorister and seminary student; later he shortly held positions as a violinist in Viena and Warshaw in the Saxon elector’s Polish royal orchestra. He received employment in the Prussian crown prince (later king Frederick II)‘s court orchestra in 1733, starting as first violinist, while in his first years also singing daily concert arias in his beautiful tenor voice, and was promoted to bandmaster in 1771 at the death of Johann Gottlieb Graun, a position he held until his own death. In Berlin he had close contact with C.P.E. Bach, Johan Joachim Quantz, Carl Heinrich Graun and Johann Gottlieb Graun, who all worked at some time for the Prussian court. Franz was famous for his cantabile playing; copies of his violin works contain embellished melodic lines that perhaps represent the way he played them until gout ruined his dexterity circa 1750. He remained a significant pedagogue, teaching not only his younger brothers and sons but also a wide circuit of musicians, so the Benda family’s house in Postdam became a meeting place for his students and other followers; his series of 101 etudes represented a prominent contemporary violin school and remained in use troughout the 19th century.
This contribution is based on booklet written anonymously for the “Benda musicians” recording and by Zdenka Pilkova for the F. Benda Violian sonatas, both mentioned in the Music section, N. Slonimsky’s “The Concise Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians”, New York, NY, Schirmer Books, 8th edition, 1994 and the HOASM link below.