Together with Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773), the brothers Carl Heinrich (1703/04–1759) and Johann Gottlieb Graun (1702/03–1771), and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), the violinist and composer Franz (František) Benda (1709–1786) counts among the most eminent musicians at the court of Frederick II (1712–1786). Benda is also regarded to be one of the founders of a specifically north German school of violin playing. [...]
Benda composed almost exclusively instrumental music, and specifically works for violin. Approximately 15 symphonies, about 20 solo concertos (for violin or flute), more than 150 solo sonatas with basso continuo (for violin or flute), a number of violin duets and trio sonatas, about 100 caprices for solo violin and a number of songs have survived; they were disseminated mainly in manuscript copies, but there is also a moderate number of contemporary prints. The most important group of works within Benda’s oeuvre are his solo sonatas for violin and basso continuo. Berlin composers used to introduce these so-called Solos with a slow adagio, which in a way served as the emotional core of a piece. [...] It is little known that Benda also composed a solo sonata for viola – the sonata in C Minor presented here. Its authenticity cannot be doubted. In Douglas A. Lee’s thematic catalogue of the works of Franz Benda the sonata for viola and basso continuo is listed under the number III-137 (= LeeB 3.137) primarily as a work for violin and basso continuo in B-flat Minor. It also circulated in a version in C Minor for viola, as is documented in the thematic catalogues of Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf (1719–1794) and Christian Ulrich Ringmacher (1743–1781). [...] The piece is transmitted in four contemporary manuscript scores (see the descriptions of sources A–D in the Kritischer Bericht: three of them transmit the version for viola in C Minor; they are part of the musical archive of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin (not recorded by Lee as at the time the collection was considered lost). The fourth source, which contains the version for violin in B-flat Minor, was copied by Friedrich Wilhelm Rust (1739–1796) and is transmitted in a composite manuscript containing solo sonatas and duets for violin, most of which are attributed to Franz Benda; today it is kept in the library of the Conservatoire royal in Brussels. [...] Composed by 1761, the solo sonata in C Minor, LeeB 3.137, by Franz Benda is of eminent significance in the Berlin and Potsdam viola repertoire – not only because due to the publishers’ catalogues it must have been noticed well beyond its place of origin, but also as in the third quarter of the 18th century the viola was paid only marginal attention as a solo instrument. It has to be regarded as a rare stroke of luck that Benda chose the viola while in general violin, violoncello, viola da gamba, flute, oboe or harpsichord were preferred as solo instruments. The three-movement structure with the succession slow – fast – fast and consistent keys is typical of works by the Berlin masters but was also adopted by composers of the late 18th century who were influenced by them. The initial Adagio in particular illustrates exemplarily and most impressively the characteristics of the sentimental style (empfindsamer Stil) represented by Benda.
By the preface of Phillip Schmidt
Translated by Stephanie Wollny