Personalities | Georg Benda | Classical Era | Opera
Georg Benda was a Czech composer who produced several stage dramas for the ducal court at Gotha, where he was Kapellmeister. His first – and only – Italian opera was Xindo riconosciuto (‘Xindo Remembered’, 1765). Subsequent works were distinctly innovative. In this phase of his career, Benda turned first to German ‘duodramas’, also known as ‘melodramas’. He wrote three on ancient Greek themes – Ariadne auf Naxos (‘Ariadne on Naxos’, 1775), Medea (1775) and Pygmalion (1779), in which the music provided background accompaniment to dialogue spoken by two actors. Between Medea and Pygmalion, Benda composed Singspiels: these featured a different arrangement in which the music alternated with the dialogue. Benda’s three Singspiels – Der Dorfjahrmarkt (‘The Annual Village Market’, 1775), Romeo und Julie (‘Romeo and Juliet’, 1776) and Walder (1776) – were markedly different from previous examples of the genre, which comprised comedy, ballads or fantasy. By contrast, Benda’s experience with melodrama developed his dramatic musical skills and this enabled him to give much more serious plots the Singspiel treatment for the first time. Benda’s music reflected the tense and heightened atmosphere of these stories and, in doing so, created a much more dramatic musical language. This was done by Benda’s frequent changes of tempo and rhythm, and his vivid orchestration.
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