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Franz Benda (Composer)

Born: baptised: November 22, 1709 - Staré Benátky (Old Benatky, Altbenatky), Bohemia
Died: March 7, 1786 - Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany

Franz Benda [František, Franticek, Frantisek] was a Bohemian violinist and composer. He came from a musical family. The Benda family has provided a continuing musical tradition from the time of the first Jan Jiri Benda, born in 1686 in the Bohemian village of Mstetice, to the present day. The Bendas had settled in Bohemia at least two generations earlier and Jan Jiri Benda's grandfather had served as an estate steward. Jan Jiri himself, the founder of the musical dynasty, in 1706 married a member of a well-known Bohemian musical family, Dorota Brixi, and of their six children five were to distinguish themselves as musicians. Franz Benda's brother was Georg Benda, who worked for much of his life at the court of Frederick the Great.

The first surviving son of Benda family, Franz Benda, was born in Bohemia at the village of Staré Benátky. Benda himself claimed to have been born November 25, but baptism records show he was baptised three days earlier, on November 22. His actual date of birth seems not to have been recorded, but it was probably no more than a day or two earlier than 22 November. Franz had his first musical training from his father and from the Kantor Alexius in New Benátky, becoming a chorister at the age of nine at the Benedictine monastery of St Nicholas in Prague, where he also studied at the Jesuit school. In 1719 or 1720 he ran away to Dresden, where he also became a chorister, profiting from the rich musical life of the city and court and studying the violin, the viola and singing. Eighteen months later he returned home to his parents, now as an alto to join the choir of the Jesuit Collegium Clementinum in Prague, where he took a leading part in a number of important musical events. When his voice broke, he concentrated on his study of the violin.

Between 1726 and 1729 Franz Benda served as a violinist to various noblemen in Vienna, before escaping to Warsaw with the violinist Jiri Cart (Georg Czarth) and two other musicians, there to lead an ensemble assembled by Kazimierz Suchaczewski. In 1732 he joined the court orchestra in Warsaw, but this was dissolved the following year, on the death of August II, and Benda then moved to Dresden, before entering the service of the Prussian Crown Prince in Ruppin, moving with the latter's establishment to Rheinsberg in 1736. In 1739 he married and the following year, when the Prince ascended the throne, moved to Potsdam. In 1734 he had been joined by his violinist and viola-player brother Jan Jiri and was himself taking lessons in composition, first from Johann Gottlieb Graun and then from the latter's brother Carl Heinrich Graun, who became Kapellmeister to the Prince in 1735. In 1742 King Frederick made it possible for Franz Benda, now a Protestant, to bring to Potsdam his parents and brothers and sisters, including two younger brothers eventually to join the court musical establishment as violinists. Franz Benda himself enjoyed a good relationship with the flute-playing King, with whom he collaborated in concert after concert, and in 1771, on the death of Johann Gottlieb Graun, was at last named Konzertmeister, although the gout that afflicted him in later years meant that his place seems often enough to have been taken by the youngest violinist of the family, Joseph Benda. Franz Benda provided for his family an autobiography, tracing his life up to 1763. He died in Potsdam in March 1786, five months before the death of his patron Frederick the Great.

Franz Benda became the founder of a German school of violin playing. He was a master of all the difficulties of violin playing, and the rapidity of his execution and the mellow sweetness of his highest notes were unequalled. He had a considerable reputation as a violinist and in the 1740's and 1750's had undertaken concert tours that had taken him to the courts of Bayreuth, Dresden, Weimar, Gotha and elsewhere, while at Potsdam he played solo parts with the King in the many evening concerts at the palace. He had many pupils, and his important influence over the following generation of violinists extended to Haydn's impresario, the violinist Johann Peter Salomon, who had met Benda's colleague Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, harpsichordist to Frederick the Great, in Berlin and played the unaccompanied violin works of the latter's father.

Franz Benda was a prolific composer, chiefly of instrumental music, and left a quantity of symphonies, concertos and sonatas. However, only few of his works were published. Many of his concertos were for solo violin or solo flute. His style of composition exemplifies the transition from Baroque to Classical. His slow movements were particularly admired by his contemporaries, reflecting, as they do, his experience as a singer, both as a chorister and, in earlier days, as a tenor in Ruppin and Rheinsberg. Something of the same quality is apparent in the faster outer movements.

J.S. Bach Connection

Franz Benda became acquainted with J.S. Bach at Dresden, and was among those who credited him with the invention of the Viola Pomposa.

Works List

See: Franz Benda (Wikipedia)

Other Members of the Benda Family

Three of Franz Benda's brothers were musicians: Georg Benda, Johann (Georg) (1713-1752), a violinist who played in crown prince Frederick's ensemble and composed (mainly for the violin), and Joseph (1724-1804), who joined Frederick's orchestra at Potsdam as a violinist and succeeded Franz as Konzertmeister (1786-1797). Their sister Anna Franziska (1728-1781) was a soprano. Among Joseph's sons were (Johann) Friedrich Ernst (1749-85), a violinist, harpsichordist and composer who served at Potsdam and in 1770 founded a concert series in Berlin. Four of Franz's children became musicians: Maria Carolina (1743-1820) was a singer, pianist and composer at the Weimar court, where she married the composer E.W. Wolf. Both Friedrich (Wilhelm Heinrich) (1745-1814) and Karl Hermann Heinrich (1748-1836) were violinists at the Prussian court. Friedrich composed concertos, symphonies, chamber music and various vocal works; Karl Hermann Heinrich succeeded his uncle Joseph as Konzertmeister in 1802. Their sister (Bernhardine) Juliane (1752-1783), a singer and composer, married J.F. Reichardt in 1776.


Source: Wikipedia Website; Naxos Website; Music Encyclopedia; Malcom Boyd, editor: Oxford Composer Companion J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Works performed by J.S. Bach

Sinfonia in Bb major - performed by J.S. Bach & Collegium Musicum in Leipzig c1737

Links to other Sites

Franz Benda (Wikipedia)
Franz Benda Biography (Naxos)
HOASM: Franz [Frantisek] Benda

Franz Benda (
Benda, Franz: Biography (Sojurn)
NationMaster - Encyclopedia: Franz Benda



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