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Jan Zach (1699 - 1773): Sinfonias
Capella "Sancta Cæcilia"


  F10033  [8595017403323]  released 2/1993, remastered re-issue 11/2007

play all Sinfonie - Jan Zach 67:20
Sinfonia in A - Presto con brio 4:19
Sinfonia in A - Andante 3:48
Sinfonia in A - Tempo di Minuetto 2:03
Sinfonia in F - Allegretto 2:47
Sinfonia in F - Andante 2:40
Sinfonia in F - Minuetto 1:27
Sinfonia in F - Finale.Allegro 0:52
Sinfonia in A - Allegro 3:45
Sinfonia in A - Polonese 1:38
Sinfonia in A - Minuetto 2:57
Sinfonia in A - Finale.Allegro 2:59
Sinfonia in G - Allegro non tanto 2:46
Sinfonia in G - Adagio 3:50
Sinfonia in G - Menuett 3:16
Sinfonia in A - Allegro 2:10
Sinfonia in A - Andante 2:30
Sinfonia in A - Allegro 2:19
Sinfonia in B - Allegretto 6:07
Sinfonia in B - Andante molto 2:01
Sinfonia in B - Allegro 1:25
Sinfonia in D - Tempo giusto 3:20
Sinfonia in D - Andante 5:02
Sinfonia in D - Tempo di Minuetto 2:01

Ivan Ženatý - violin (Zosimo Bergonzi, Cremona 1773)
Gabriela Demeterová - violin (Kašpar Strnad, Praha 1799)
Jan Šimon - viola (Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Brescia 1630)
Petr Hejný - cello (Peregrino Zanetto, Brescia 1531)
Vít Mach - violone (David Tecchler, Roma 18th cent.)
Jaroslav Tůma - harpsichord (František Vyhnálek, Hovorčovice 1988 (German model 18th cent.)

Among the outstanding personalities coming from the Czech lands and influencing the evolution of European music on the break of Baroque and Classical periods, inevitably belongs Jan Zach. He was born in Čelákovice near Prague on November 13, 1699 but we can trace his life events only from 1724 when he emerges in Pratur as a violinist at St Gallus and St Martin churches. Later he was active there as an organist. Allegedly he was a student of the exquisite Czech organist and composer Bohuslav Matěj Černohorský. Although there is no proof of that, it is not out of the question because Černohorský’s stay in Prague falls in the period between 1720 – 1727. In 1737 Zach applied for the highest organist post in the country, in St Vitus’ Cathedral but with no success. The reason for his refusal was not probably due to insufficiency in his playing but rather his gusto for experimenting and not following the established practices.
     After this failure Zach did not leave Prague immediately but stayed until 1740. Later there is a gap in his biography during which he probably matured very quickly and his name gained its reputation: in April 1745 he took one of the most prestigious musical positions in Europe – the court Kapellmeister of the Prince Elector of Mainz. His predecessor here, Jan Ondráček, was also a Bohemian musician. In 1746 Zach was given a leave for a study tour to Italy; in the fall of 1747 he stayed two months in Bohemia.
     But Jan Zach – as his music also proves to us – was a controversial personality and he soon got into conflict with his employer. In 1750 he was suspended and six years later he was fired from the court services altogether (his successor was another Bohemian musician J. M. Schmidt). This dismissal is often thought of in connection with Zach’s alleged mental illness. But the newest research challenges this assumption. After leaving Mainz Jan Zach composed many of his significant works, gave concerts as a violinist and harpsichord player and was active as a pedagogue. He stayed at many courts (Cologne, Koblenz, Darmstadt, Würzburg, Wallerstein) and in monasteries (Seligenstadt, Amorstadt, Ebersbach, Stams). Twice more he visited Italy. And it was also during these travels when he was caught by death, in Ellwangen on June 5, 1773.
     Zach’s currently known work is quite extensive. His church music includes several dozen masses, three requiems, many offertories, motets, and other liturgical compositions. In his secular work the instrumental compositions prevail: sinfonias, concertos, trio sonatas and compositions for organ and harpsichord.
     The recording focuses more in detail on Zach’s sinfonic work. A total of 38 sinfonias was preserved until today. These compositions show how the composer managed to extricate himself from the older Baroque tradition in which he was brought up and how he aimed towards a new musical style, simultaneously and in the same way as his kinsman Jan Václav Stamic did, on the kindred and not so far court on Mannheim. The chronology of Zach’s work is unknown. What we do know is that some of his sinfonias (for example the Sinfonia in G major) were created during his stay in Mainz.
     Zach’s sinfonias are composed for the string trio (two violins and bass), string quartet or for string and wind instruments. As a type of composition, these sinfonias balance on a certain boundary-line, as we can see in some of their titles like “Quatro o Sinfonia” and others. It was possible to play them either as a string quartet or in a small string orchestra where the cello part was strengthened by double-bass. On the recording the string quartet is added by violone and – as Zach’s period routinely required – by harpsichord.
     The composer usually follows a three-movement schema but a four-movement model is presented as well. For example in the Sinfonia in F major the composer joined a fourth movement behind the usual minuet. He animated it with such drive and drift that the reminiscence of the sinfonias of the Mannheim school or the energy of the later symphonic scherzos thrusts itself upon the listener. The Sinfonia in A major (third in succession) has a fourth movement also but this one does not have the dance character. As of the structure and the extent it is equivalent to the composer’s most significant first movements. Also interesting is a narrow interchange of passages reminiscent of folk music sources (here as a 2/4 polka-like dance) and a chromatically structured melodical line. The spectrum of the composer’s expressive nuances is very broad, ranging from the deepest melancholy and inward expressiveness to a very rustic spirit. In fact, in Zach’s sinfonias we can find a broad variety of deviations in form, sound and/or expression. Let the Andante molto from Sinfonia in B flat major be mentioned in this connection. We are witnessing an inwardly dramatic scene of a painful lament, where the scenery changes, measure by measure. In the same way we can perceive the minuet from the Sinfonia in G major. After a beginning full of the motion the trio, with a sudden break into a parallel minor key, opens a vista onto an all but different, very melancholy expressive level.
     In Zach’s sinfonias there is clearly a quest towards a new type of theme, free of the Baroque evolution. It is not always entirely crystallized, in many cases it’s rather a formation put together from several motivic elements with which the composer eventually works in a two or three part ground plan. But the theme is already steadily articulated into two- and four-measure groups, inset by figurations. We don’t find firm tonal relations of a sonata movement here yet but nevertheless some parts of Zach’s sinfonias have already the typical symphonic drive of the latter period (for example the first movement from the Sinfonia in A major, first in succession).
     The structure, on the whole, is mostly homophonic. Only at times we can glimpse the composer’s craft in counterpoint, for example in the Sinfonia in A major (third in succession), the minuet theme of the third movement is logically and beautifully joined together with the polyphony structure. Violin parts are usually lead in thirds and sixths, other times the melody in the first violin is accompanied by rich figurations of the second violin or both voices interchange motivic fragments. We can also follow the composer’s effort to make the viola part more independent from the basso part, perhaps most strikingly in the fourth movement of the Sinfonia in A major (third in succession). Very often we can hear an echo of the explicit folk melodics and rhythm. Also Zach’s contemporaries noticed this feature and with no hesitation they were able to recognize the music of Zach’s native country.

Editions of Jaroslav Pohanka (Musica Antiqua Bohemica, Vol. 43, Supraphon – Praha 1989: Sinfonias in A, A, A, F, B flat) and that of Adam Gottron (Hortus Musicus 145, Bärenreiter Kassel – Basel 1956: Sinfonias in G, D) were used for this recording.

Zdeňka Pilková, Prague 1992

© Studio Svengali, June 2024
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