The musical language of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) has been memorably described as "the private rhetoric of the heart". Heinz Holliger has assisted, greatly, in the wider broadcasting of that personal language. His exemplary recordings of Zelenka's trio sonatas for the Archiv label in 1972 - work that also entailed reconstruction of some of the sonatas from early manuscripts - helped elevate the status of the Bohemian-born Dresden court composer beyond that of "minor Baroque master". More than 200 years after his death an international audience began, finally, to discover the depth of Zelenka's music. As Zelenka scholar Wolfgang Reich observed: "The compositions of the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka occupy a special position among the musical treasures of the past which have been unearthed in recent decades...There is scarcely any other master of his craft whose complete production so obstinately resists classification in terms of familiar epochal patterns."
Heinz Holliger has, alongside his new music commitments, maintained his intense interest in Zelenka's craft, and finally took the decision to re-record this beautiful music. The cast of the ECM New Series recording of the trio sonatas overlaps considerably with that of the old Archiv session. Maurice Bourgue, Klaus Thunemann and Christiane Jaccottet were all on the early recording. Thomas Zehetmair, Klaus Stoll and Jonathan Rubin are Holliger associates of long-standing. (Zehetmaier of course has recorded Holliger's own music for the New Series on the Lieder ohne Worte album). Holliger, in 1972: "The expressive power and complexity of Zelenka's music breaks through all conventional bounds. The conventions of the Baroque trio sonata are stretched to the limit both in terms of the physical demands made on the players and of the capabilities of the instruments. All this gives the music an inner tension, a life very much of its own which differentiates it strongly both from the everyday pleasantries of music by minor baroque composers and also, quite fundamentally, from the static uniformity and monumentality of Bach's art."
Why record this music again' Holliger, 1999: "Capturing a musical interpretation on record essentially means perpetuating a single instant in one's exploration of a work. Much as the medium might suggest otherwise, there is no such thing as a final, objective reading. Every interpretation is the result of an ever new interaction of infinitely many, mutually dependent forces....Precisely the works that never entirely reveal their secrets...make a performer's life worth living. Exploring these masterpieces will always be a lifelong undertaking."
Heinz Holliger first played a Zelenka sonata in 1957, with his teacher Emile Cassagnad. "For over forty years now, this enigmatic composer's magnificent trio sonatas have accompanied me as a constant challenge and inspiration. And they have proven a significant factor in my development not only as a performer but also as a composer." Holliger, Christiane Jaccottet, Maurice Bourgue and Klaus Thunemann have gained many new interpretational insights into the music since launching the "Zelenka renaissance" with their first recording of the sonatas. Hence the urge to make these manifest in this evocative recording for the New Series.Jan Dismas Zelenka was born in Lounovice in what is now Czechoslavakia. It is believed he studied at the Klementinum in Prague. As a double-bass player he found a place in the orchestra of Count Johann Hubert Hartig, word of his prowess as a player soon spreading, and in or around 1711 he was admitted to the Dresden Hofkapelle as virtuoso double-bassist. He was sent by employer Friedrich Augustus to study counterpoint in Vienna with Imperial Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux. Accompanying the Crown Prince to Italy, he also studied in Venice with Antonio Lotti in 1716.
Back in Dresden, Zelenka worked alongside Pisendel and Kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen, adapting "imported" sacred music to match the new Dresden aesthetic. (Zelenka, for instance, refashioned a mass by Francesco Durante). He also found his own, unique compositional voice, informed by his broad knowledge of other musical idioms. His masterpiece, the Trio Sonatas, was written around 1721. With consummate skill, Zelenka here combines elements of the fugue, the Italian concerto, the rondo, the Neapolitan opera symphony with influences drawn from Czech folk music. Heinz Holliger: "While Zelenka (like J.S. Bach) assimilated the techniques of composers of the preceding generations, by virtue of his highly individual personality he put their styles to a trial of strength as it were, and thus introduced a critical element into his attitude to tradition." Simultaneously imposing, buoyant and, in historical context, experimental, the Trio Sonatas are amongst the towering instrumental achievements of the High Baroque.
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In his 60th year, Heinz Holliger is becoming the subject of intense media scrutiny, as press articles and radio and television portraits focus upon the diversity of his activity, his strengths on so many artistic fronts. Composer (his opera "Schneewittchen" premiered recently in Zürich to enthusiastic notices), virtuoso instrumentalist, conductor, scholar, teacher, champion of new and overlooked music - Holliger is all of these things.
Born in Langenthal, Switzerland, in 1939, Heinz Holliger studied oboe and composition at the conservatories of Berne, Basle, and Paris. His composition teachers were Sándor Veress and Pierre Boulez. His mastery of the oboe brought him his first professional breakthrough, first prizes at international competitions in Geneva (1959) and Munich (1961) propelling him toward the concert and festival stages. He has averaged a hundred concerts a year since the mid-1960s. His extraordinary prowess as an instrumentalist has prompted numerous composers to write pieces for him, including Elliott Carter, Stockhausen, Berio, Ernst Krenek, Frank Martin, Penderecki, Pousseur and Henze. Holliger's repertoire includes several hundred works from the baroque to the avant-garde: he has been an innovator in both domains, playing improvised cadenzas in Baroque and classical concerts, and greatly expanding the vocabulary of the oboe in new music by the introduction of unorthodox playing techniques.
ECM recordings of Heinz Holliger's music include the albums "Lieder ohne Worte", "Beiseit/Alb-Cher", and "Scardanelli-Zyklus". ECM has also recorded his compositions "Chaconne" (12 Hommages à Paul Sacher), "Duo", "Studie über Mehrklänge" and "Trema" (JS Bach/Heinz Holliger). He appears as oboe soloist and conductor of the Camerata Bern on a New Series album dedicated to the music of Sándor Veress, and conducts the Kammerorchester der Jungen Deutschen Philharmonie in ECM's Edition Lockenhaus series.
CD package includes three-language booklet with an introduction by Heinz Holliger and liner notes by Uwe Schweikert.