Georg Anton Benda was born on 30 June 1722 into a family of reputable musicians in the town of Old Benatek, Bohemia. When nineteen, Frederick the Great bestowed upon him the position of second violinist in the Berlin chapel, and in 1749 he entered the service of the Duke of Gotha as Kapellmeister, specializing in religious music. Following a stipend from the Duke, Benda was able to travel to Italy in 1764, following which he returned to Gotha two years later, where he devoted himself to composing stage-works in the form of ten operas, several operettas and melodramas, among which we find Ariadne auf Naxos and the work under review. In 1778 he resigned his post and visited Hamburg, Vienna and other cities, finally settling in the little hamlet of Kostriz, where he died on 6 November 1795, aged seventy-three.
Benda's most important contribution lies in the development of the German melodramas, a form of musical stage entertainment which influenced Mozart. Indeed, this is what the great master had to say on Benda's Medea. In a letter to his father dated 12 November 1778 Mozart son wrote, 'The piece I saw was Benda's Medea. He has composed another one, Ariadne auf Naxos, and both are really excellent. You know that of all the Lutheran Kapellmeisters, Benda has always been my favourite, and I like those two works of his so much that I carry them about with me.' Well, who needs a better endorsement than this from, maybe, the greatest composer that ever lived?
Listen — Benda: Erster Auftritt (Medea)
(track 2, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2020 Coviello Classics :
The ancient myth of Medea, one of the most fascinating mythological female figures ever, had an immense impact on literature, art and music for more than 2,800 years, and it has remained alive even to this day; Aribert Reimann's opera of 2010 is a case in point. So it is really no surprise that Benda was strongly attracted to this tragic character.
Listen — Benda: O, meine Kinder! (Medea)
(track 6, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2020 Coviello Classics :
In the late eighteenth century, a special form of musical theatre developed, the so-called 'melodrama', where the text was not sung but spoken, combined with orchestral music and scenery, and where the traditional formal structure of opera was dissolved and replaced by a new type of interaction between music, scene and language. Also these 'melodramas' concentrated mainly on one mostly female character, and thus the focus and the rapid delicate interplay of spoken text and music made it possible to develop conflicting and contradictory character psychograms with an unusual intensity. The premiere took place in Leipzig on 1 May 1775 and the work, with its dramatic overtones and highly ingenious music, took like wildfire. Indeed, the piece was performed throughout Central Europe for decades, and was considered as the model composition of the melodrama genre.
Listen — Benda: Jason! (Medea)
(track 9, 1:41-2:30) ℗ 2020 Coviello Classics :
Towards the end of his life Benda reworked Medea in a profoundly new way, and it is this 1784 version that we have on this very fine recording. Katharina Thalbach is overwhelmingly effective as the narrator, while Marcus Bosch's conducting is intensely committed, capturing all the seething complexities of love, betrayal and revenge, grappling in Medea's heart and mind, with electrifying exuberance. An invaluable addition to the Benda discography, albeit the short playing time. Do not hesitate to investigate.
Copyright © 15 April 2021