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Ján Levoslav Bella Photo: Archív

Ján Levoslav Bella

(4. 9. 1843 Liptovský Sv. Mikuláš – 25. 5. 1936 Bratislava)


classical music: composition

CV

1853 – 1859 Secondary School in Levoča, piano, organ, general bass, several stringed and wind instruments, composition and conducting under the supervision of Leopold Dvořák (a regenschori in Spišská Kapitula)
1859 – 1863 completed his secondary school studies in Banská Bystrica, attended a theological seminary, started music event organization, conducting, composing, and publishing activities
1863 – 1865 theological studies at the Vienna University, alumnus of the Pasmaneum college, simultaneous music studies under Simon Sechter and court conductor Gottfried Preyer. He continued work in composition and theory of sacred music, conducted the Pasmaneum choir.
1865 – 1869 returned to Slovakia and worked in Banská Bystrica
1866 – 1866 was ordained as a priest, and as a prebendary of the cathedral he taught singing and music theory at the theological seminary
1869 – 1881 municipal music director in Kremnica, organizer of music events
1871 and 1873 two visits to Bohemia and Germany
1881 – 1921 cantor in Sibiu, Transylvania, converted to evangelical faith, got married and until 1921 worked in Sibiu as a regenschori of the evangelical church there, taught music at the secondary school, and conducted the local music society and Hermania choir
1921 – 1928 after the end of WWI he moved to Vienna
1928 – 1936 he returned to Slovakia and lived in Bratislava

“Bella's long, stormy and productive life makes it difficult for us to realize that he was busy composing almost 70 years, and that during this time took place in Europe the onset of Romanticism, the emergence of national compositional schools, and neo-romanticism was born and culminated and laid the foundations of the modern of 20th century. The mindset of Bella was formed under the influence of revivalist efforts of Slovak nationalists in the 1860s and in the sign of the Cecilian revival of church music. His craftsmanship, based on the doctrine of Simon Sechter, was already fully reflected in Bella's early work of his study and post-study years, where on the one hand manifests the effort to build the foundations of Slovak national music (Slovenské štvorspevy / Slovak Hymns, piano variations), while on the other hand theoretically and compositionally actively participating in Cecilian reform. He also wrotes the first modern Slovak chamber compositions, designed for home concerts (Dumky for violin and piano; String Quartet in G Minor; String Quintet in D Minor). Contacts with the Prague cultural environment during Bella's stay in Kremnica intensified Bella's interest in chamber music (String Quartet in E Minor; String Quartet in C Minor), but also brought implementation efforts in the field of orchestral work (Concert Overture in E flat Major, symphonic poem Fate and Ideal), Bella's penetration into vocal lyrics (German and Czech lyrics), extensive religious compositions (especially Mass in B Minor for soloists, chorus and orchestra), and his first forays into the opera. Bella's domestic production from 1862 – 1881 was first a conscious effort to implement Slovak national music, and second a testament to the high level of Bella's adoption of current compositional achievement. Bella's activities in Sibiu (Transylvania) were associated particularly with the implementation of local music production and meant progressive distancing from the ideals of the foundations of national music. Bella's Sibiu work in no way is the sign of compositional resignation, but represents another personal developmental phase, which aimed to modernize the language of music in terms of the ideals of neo-romanticism (Sonata in B Minor for Piano, String Quartet in B flat Major, unfinished Symphony in C Minor). Bella also devoted a decade (1880 – 1890) to composing opera Kováč Wieland / Wieland der Schmied / Smith Wieland, representing the true culmination of his compositional efforts, and created dozens of sacred compositions (cantatas, motets, choirs, organ pieces), in which he synthesized his artistic ideas in the field of ecclesiastical composition. This part of Bella's work is still practically unknown, although undoubtedly represents the real peak of Bella's mature work. Bella's return to Slovakia anticipated the premiere of Kováč Wieland / Smith Wieland in the Slovak National Theatre April 28th 1926 (which aroused a new wave of discussions about the design of Slovak opera), but the real return represented Bella's efforts to follow up his early compositional ideals in the area of national music. With a new breath Bella wrote cantata compositions (Svadba Jánošíka / Wedding of Jánošík by Ján Botto, Divný zbojník / Strange Robber by Ondrej Bella), choirs and songs that were his homage to the ideas of youth. Bella's work stayed in the vein of the ever-expanding ideal of universalism. At the beginning he had the need to find a creative basis in Slovak folk songs, but the ideals of strict counterpoint, mediated by Simon Sechter, and neo-romantic artistic ideals, that Bella received from Eduard Reményi, led him to seek his own artistic path, familiarization with current compositional issues and set out for the highest artistic aspirations. The sharp contrast between his designated personal goals and the current local arts and social environment led him to several conflicts or crises, but they always meant the creation of a new synthetic quality. Bella's approach was led by folk songs and local church production to learn the creative ideals of romanticism and neo-romanticism (especially German provenance) and the ideals of Cecilian reform to neo-romantic Lutheran sacred compositions. Since Bella's work affected all of the musical genres of his time, it can be considered foundational to Slovak national music itself.”

 

(GODÁR, Vladimír: Ján Levoslav Bella. In: 100 slovenských skladateľov. Ed. Marián Jurík, Peter Zagar. Bratislava: Národné hudobné centrum, 1998, p. 35 – 36.)