The Benda family belongs to one of the most important musical dynasties of a very rich 18th century. The first ancestor who makes his appearance was “majordomo in an aristocratic court”; he was a roman catholic. However the origin of the family name is probably jewish: Benda being the abbreviation of Ben David, son of David.
The son of this majordomo, Jan Jiri (John George), was already president of the weaver’s corporation, but apparently he was also a musician. He married Dorothy Brixi, who also came from a very important musical dynasty. From this marriage of two musical families, five children, all with extraordinary musical talents, were born. The three eldest became masters of their art. The following generation of the Benda family also included four high quality musicians.
The biography of FRANTISEK, is rather like an adventure story, somewhat uncommon in the musical world. Frantisek began to work with a potter, but at the same time he learnt to sing with a professional singer in his home village. When his voice was sufficient prepared, the young Frank was admittedto the choir school of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Nicholas in Prague. But at night, Frantisek used to go and sing for the Jesuits of Dresden, for his wonderful soprano voice won him praise in the Saxon capital from such musicians as Pisendel. It was at Dresden that the young Benda learnt to play the violin and sing alto and soon became a virtuoso in the art. But he was the victim of an irresistible nostalgia and (again at night) ran away from the Jesuit convent in order to return to the Czechoslovak capital and to his native town. During the interim period, when his voice was breaking, his soprano voice became an alto of rare gravity. He made a name for himself as an exceptional alto and presented his first musical compositions in the churches on the banks of the Vlatva. Once his voice had broken, he took up the violin again and in 1726 he followed his father to Vienna.
This time (1730) he was not alone, but accompanied by three friends; he became a protestant and entered the service of Staros Suchaquewsky in Warsaw. Three years later, the latter dismissed his chapel and Frantisek led an unstable existence, finishing back in Dresden where he was in close contact with H. Graun and C.P.E. Bach, it appears that Frederick II took a liking to Frantisek, for when the court moved to Potsdam, Benda followed with the whole of his family. His two sons became well known musicians and his two daughters, who were also accomplished musicians, married musicians. Marie Caroline, a virtuoso harpsichordist married the composer and choirmaster of Weimar Ehst Wilhelm Wolf. Julienne, one of the most famous prima donnas of her day, married Carl Friedrich Reichardt. Frantisek Benda died on the 7 th of march 1786 at Potsdam.
He must have been quite an exceptional violinist, for Schubert, one of the most qualified witnesses, tells us that he had often seen people cry when they heard Benda play an adagio.
We hardly know anything about his brother JAN. One of the rare scores that is known is this slow movement of a violin concerto that we have recorded here. It reminds one of some of Bach’s movements, but with a depth of personal expression. We would very much like to learn of other scores written by musicians of the same quality.
JIRI ANTONIN BENDA also entered the royal chapel of Potsdam. In 1742 he became a musician of the King’s chamber, but left the orchestra in 1750 in order to devote himself to the opera. He became choirmaster of the duke of Gotha. Mozart appreciated him as being one of the most eminent of the “lutheran composers”. In the field of lyric opera he has left us some extraordinarily lively scores, quite revolutionary for his day. He used the new symphony orchestra and wrote in the classical style that his two brothers had only begun to appreciate. The overture of the opera Der Holzhauer by Benda can be considered, and with good reason, as the model used by Mozart in The abduction of seraglio. The symphony that we have recorded on this record is without doubt the work of the young Benda. The absolutely perfect poetic form of the andante, which reminds us of the most beautiful classical scores from Vienna, is quite remarkable.
From Carl de Nys