Germany is a strange country. I think it is fair to say that, I have lived there for many years, in different parts. I have grown fond of Germany, but some things continue to baffle me. Many Germans seem to have auto-destruct genes that compel them to minimize their achievements and to feel ashamed about their virtues. This tendency even interfers with their language as certain expressions, positive in their original meaning, have taken a negative connotation or have even turned from praise to curse.
Two examples: The “Gutmensch” used to denote a person doing helping neighbours, strangers, donating to a good cause, participating actively in social life. The word has turned into slander after Germany started to discuss how many refugees from Syria it should take in. The term now stands for a naive idiot embracing immigration without really thinking about it, just for ideological reasons. Another example is the “deutsche Gemütlichkeit”, a certain idea Germans have about snugness. I like coziness, but Germans use this now as synonym if passivity or to decry what they perceive as a lack of responsibility in international affairs which usually would imply going to war against whoever.
Crazy, isn’t it? I like the “deutsche Gemütlichkeit” which by the way can be experienced in Austria and Switzerland. too. With respect to coziness, these countries share a common idea(l). By now, you are probably wondering what I am up to since I haven’t said a word about music yet. But I am coming to that. Snugness was my first though when I listened to Jan Dismas Zelenka’s work “Six sonatas” ZWV 181. Truly pleasant music that I associate with autumn, a cup of tea or hot chocolate, windy weather outside and the feeling of feeling comfortable at home. Which comes pretty close to the German idea of snugness.
Zelenka, a Bohemian composer employed by the royal court in Dresden, wrote these sonatas between 1721 and 1722 for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo* or for two violins, oboe and basso continuo in the case of sonata no. 3. They are written in the keys F major, G minor, B flat major and C minor. We have met Zelenka so far only once as a composer of church music (see the post on his Magnificat), but here is more to enjoy. My favourites are sonata no. 1 , no. 4 and no. 6.
Challenging and exceptional
Upon the completion of the sonatas Zelenka had climbed the social ladder in Dresden and been appointed Vize-Kapellmeister of the Saxon court. His music was well-known in his day and both Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann are known to have admired his works. The Czech ensemble “Collegium 1704” has released a recording of the sonatas in May 2017 and praise the work with these words: “Zelenka elevates the sonata da camera to a genre of enormous technical difficulty for the performers, making especially great demands on the wind players, and the composer confronts his listeners with a most intimately personal statement. Zelenka’s sonatas are exceptional works in the repertoire of Baroque chamber music.”
Now as you know I am careful about the word “intimate” in connection with music, as we don’t know for wha occasion or use Zelenka wrote the six sonatas. Nevertheless, the harmony and balance of the pieces, their humble elegance make them an excellent companion for grey day of October.
© Charles Thibo