Joseph Brentner. A Catalogue of His Works (Brk)


Chronology of life and work

Johann Joseph Ignaz Brentner was born in the West Bohemian town of Dobřany in the autumn of 1689. He was baptized “Joannes Josephus”, and the same names appear in his death record. However, he preferred the name Joseph: that is the only given name found on the autograph manuscripts of his works, some of the copies, and the collection Horae pomeridianae op. 4 (Brk Coll. 4), while three earlier collections bear the names in the order Joseph Johann Ignaz. The composer’s parents were apparently among the elite of Dobřany. His well-educated father was a member of the city council and was known for struggling for the townsfolk's rights against the monastic establishment and its representatives (Dobřany was the property of the Premonstratensian convent in nearby Chotěšov). He let his sons studied at Jesuits. In 1703, Joseph Brentner became a Latin Congregation member at the Jesuit grammar school in Jindřichův Hradec. A year later, his brother Franz was enrolled in the same confraternity. Brentner's compositions also confirm his education with the Jesuits.

Later, the composer’s fate became connected with Prague, where four collections of his compositions were published in print between 1716 and 1720. Of course, the fact of publication in itself is not proof of a longer stay by the composer in Prague. But the text on the title page of his fourth collection as well as some other sources show that he was working in Malá Strana at the time. In December of 1717 in Prague, Sebastian Erhardt, the “director musicae” for Count Thun, purchased fifteen works by Brentner together with other instrumental compositions (see document). Probably that same year, Brentner composed funeral motets to German texts for the Confraternity at the Jesuit Church of St Nicholas in the Lesser Town of Prague. From Prague he also delivered nine litanies and antiphons for a festive novena to St. Teresa of Ávila newly introduced by Carmelites nuns in Graz in 1718 (Brk Coll. 7, document). These traces of Brentner’s stay in Prague are then supplemented by information from the title page of a preserved fragment of a copy of an aria in the music collection of the monastery in Podolínec (Brk 79), on which the author is described as “a Prague composer and the most virtuosic concertmaster of the ensemble of the Knights of the Cross at the foot of [Charles] Bridge” (“Boemo Pragensi compositore et apud RR. PP. Crucigeros ad pedem pontis cappelae magistro virtuosissimo ibidem”).

From Brentner’s compositions preserved in various monastery collections, it would be tempting to deduce at least some information to add to the composer’s very sketchy biography: a musical journey in the 1720s would fit in perfectly, with stops in Austrian and possibly Silesian or Hungarian monasteries. Unfortunately, the sources do not allow the reaching of more concrete conclusions. At the same time, however, he never cut off his contacts with his birthplace. In the list of members of the Dobřany literary confraternity from the year 1726, he is listed as a “componista”, in 1727 he attended the wedding of his brother there. We have no concrete information about how, if at all, he was involved with the musical life of Dobřany; by that time, the organist there was Franz Albrecht. The composer remained in the town of his birth until the end of his life in 1742, when he drowned on 28 June while on a morning walk. The death record and the daily journal of the Dobřany parish priest report about the unusual circumstances of Brentner’s death, and they also provide several other pieces of information: he died a bachelor (“iuvenis”) and suffered from epilepsy (“hinfallende Krankheit”), but at the same time he had a reputation as an excellent and renowned composer (“praeclarus componista”, “vortrefflicher Komponist”) who had earned recognition from the upper and lower nobility (“in grossen ansehen bey allen Hoch- und nidrigen Standts-Persohnen”).

The works of Joseph Brentner are quite valuable for what they tell us about the local musical life of Prague and the Czech Lands. They are also a useful resource for research on local composing and for studying the reception of the compositional models of the period.