Sunday Concert: Jan Dismas Zelenka: Requiem in D major | Collegium 1704

In this the second of two postings dealing with music composed by Zelenka for the funerary and commemorative ceremonies of Frederick Augustus the Elector of Saxony known as Augustus the Strong I deal with his Requiem in D major. (You can find the first posting here: Sunday Concert: Jan Dismas Zelenka: Officium Defunctorum | Collegium 1704 – YouTube | Saturday Chorale). It’s a stunning piece of music that is very large in scale, and very lavishly set. Zelenka obviously felt the normal orchestral accompaniment wasn’t enough for such an august person’s Requiem so he added a brass section and timpani to provide further attack to the choral and orchestral sound. As if that were not enough he cheerfully mixed and matched Gregorian plainchant with state of the art harmonies, some very dramatic orchestration, and eloquent chromaticism to accentuate the text. It’s a Requiem that despite the fact that it follows the traditional liturgical pattern is full of unexpected moments, and while it expresses grief and lamentation most eloquently can in no way be described as downbeat – the spirit of this Requiem is a defiant one that in places such as the Kyrie or the Tuba Mirum  is both joyous and energetic. One of the joys of this Requiem is Zelenka’s use of the Chalumeau this instrument – now mostly defunct, sounds a bit like a clarinet you’ll hear it first in the Christe eleison it’s a lovely sound and worth keeping one ear cocked for when it makes appearances as an extra, almost unearthly voice shadowing the soloists to provide moments of intense emotionality.

Zelenka’s brilliant treatment of the text is also worth bearing in mind as you listen. Just as the Chalumeau shadows the soloists so does the music shadow the text. He doesnt go in much for operatic repetitions of words preferring instead to repeat entire lines at the ends of some phrases where the exigencies of musical logic require it. He also builds many very expressive relationships between text and music and on occasion engages in word-painting. The end result is music that illustrates the text in a devotional, graphic, and moving fashion that expanded the boundaries of what was considered to be musically allowable at the time.  I’d be remiss not to mention the frequent displays of orchestral virtuosity demanded by the score, no matter how many time I hear it I still find the arpeggios of the Pleni sunt coeli thrilling to listen to and love how they’re revisited in the Hosanna in excelsis. I could go on and on like this, but you’re here because you want to listen to beautiful music not to read reams of text about it. So I’ll end by saying that how Zelenka ends the work is one of those quiet and gentle musical enigmas that stays with you long after you’ve heard it. Enjoy :-).


Performer Information: Jan Dismas Zelenka: Officium Defunctorum & Requiem in D major

  • Katerina Knezikova: soprano
  • Mariana Rewerski: mezzosoprano
  • Marketa Cukrova: alto
  • Jaroslav Brezina: tenor
  • Tobias Berndt: bass
  • Tomas Kral: bass
  • Collegium 1704
  • Conductor  Václav Luks
  • Directed by Louise Narboni © Broadcast by Mezzo, 2009

Video Source: Jan Dimas Zelenka: Requiem in D major | Collegium 1704 – YouTube Published on 17 Oct 2012 by Simon Birch

Series Navigation<< Sunday Concert: Jan Dismas Zelenka: Officium Defunctorum | Collegium 1704 – YouTube

4 thoughts on “Sunday Concert: Jan Dismas Zelenka: Requiem in D major | Collegium 1704

  1. As you so aptly put it, Mark, “it can in no way be described as downbeat!” I enjoyed seeing the ancient instruments, the Chalumeau and also that huge Lute-like instrument seen behind the alto during the Agnus Dei. What kind of a Lute is it?

    A truly splendid performance.


    • It’s a theorbo which you may sometimes see called a ‘Chitarrone’ – the Chitarrone’s colloquial name was ‘tiorba’ which got translated into English as ‘theorbo’. If you’re interested Linda Sayce has a very good short history of it here: A Brief History of the Theorbo


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