Josef Suk


Like his colleagues Leoš Janáček, Vítězslav Novák and Bohuslav Martinů, Josef Suk always remained connected to the founders of Czech national music: Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák and Zdeněk Fibich. However, the composer developed his own idiom on the basis of traditional tonal language, which made him the most important Czech composer of the dawning modern era at an early stage.

Josef Suk was already composing as a child: at the age of eight, the musically highly gifted composer received his first violin lessons, and at the age of 11 he was admitted to the conservatory in Prague. In his final year of study in 1891/92, Suk attended Antonín Dvořák’s newly established composition class. Dvořák immediately recognised the extraordinary talent of his soon-to-be favourite pupil and gave him intensive support. In 1892, together with fellow students Karel Hoffmann, Oskar Nedbal and Otto Berger (who was succeeded by Hanuš Wihan after his early death), Suk founded the later world-famous Czech String Quartet, with which he played more than 4,000 concerts in 20 European countries as its second violinist. The works of Suk, who thought orchestrally and composed mainly instrumental works, were included in the programme of the renowned Simrock publishing house in Berlin in 1896 on the recommendation of Johannes Brahms. Two years later, Suk married Dvořák’s daughter Otylka. Fate subsequently dealt him heavy blows with the death of his teacher in 1904 and his wife in 1905, after which Suk composed his Asrael Symphony in memory of both. In 1922, Josef Suk was appointed professor of composition in the master class at the Prague conservatory, where his students included Bohuslav Martinů and Jaroslav Ježek. As a violinist, Suk composed little violin music but a surprising amount of piano music. In addition to the [Asrael] Symphony, Suk’s main works include the symphonic triptych [Pohádka léta] (A Summer’s Tale), [Zrání] (Ripening) and [Epilogue]: three symphonic poems in which the composer incorporated his view of life revolving around nature and love mysticism.


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