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Josef Suk

Josef Suk

born on 4/1/1874 in Krecovice, Czechia

died on 29/5/1935 in Benešov, Središnja Ceška, Czechia

Josef Suk (composer)

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Josef Suk (4 January 1874 29 May 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist.

Suk's background

Suk was taught organ, violin, and piano by his father, also known by the name Josef Suk. Though he did not start composing until 1891, he was well-trained in music. He was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz and his theory studies were conducted with several others including composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanu Wihan.[1] All of his training aside, his musical skill was said to be an inheritance.[2] Though continuing his lessons with Wihan another year after his schooling was complete, one of Josef Suk's largest inspirations was one of his teachers, Czech composer Antonín Dvoák.[3]

Because of their heritage and deaths coming in the same year, Suk's works and style were compared closely to Czech composer Otakar Ostril.[4] Known as one of Dvoák's favorite pupils, Suk and Dvoák became very close.[5] This could pertain to Dvoák's respect for Suk, and the same respect for Suk can be recognized in the fact that Suk later married Dvoák's daughter, Otilie. This marked some of Suk's happier times in his life and music.[6] However, the last portion of Suk's life was stricken with tragedy.[7] Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk's mentor, Dvoák, die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk's Asrael Symphony. Suk retired in 1933,[8] although he continued to be a very valuable and inspirational person to his Czech people.[9]

Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostril, was considered to be one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much of this influence coming from Dvoák.[10] Popular composers, such as Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick, recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet.[11] Over time, other well-known Austrian composers, like Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, also began to take notice of Suk.[12] Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. His orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892).[13] His time with the Czech Quartet, though successfully performing concerts up until his retirement,[14] was not always met with approval. Several anti-Dvoák campaigns began to rise, and criticism was pointed at the quartet and Suk, specifically. Zdenk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of playing concerts in the Czech lands during a time of war. These attacks diminished Suk's spirits, but did not hinder his work.[15]

Suk's musical style

Suk's musical style started off with a very heavy emphasis on what he experienced during his time with Dvoák, though this Czech-style influence eventually slowly became more German and Austrian in style. The biggest change of Suk's style came after a "dead end" in his musical lifestyle (music played less of a role in Suk's life outside of his schooling[16]) just before he began the shift of style during 1897-1905, perhaps realizing that his known Dvoák influence would restrain his work.[17] Morbidity was always a large factor in Suk's music. For instance, he wrote his own funeral march in 1889. Ripening, a symphony, was also a story of pain and questioning the value of life. Others of his works represent his happiness, such as the music he set to Julius Zeyer's drama Radúz a Mahulena (which he referenced to his marriage with Otilie). Another of Suk's works, Pohádka ('Fairy Tale'), was drawn from his work with Radúz a Mahulena. The closest Suk came to working with opera is music his wrote for the play Pod jabloní or 'Beneath the Apple Tree'.[18]

The majority of Suk's papers are kept in Prague. There is also a new catalogue of Suk's works that contains more manuscripts than any before it, some of them also containing sketches by Suk.[19]

Suk said of himself: "I do not bow to anyone, except to my own conscience and to our noble Lady Music and yet at the same time I know that thereby I serve my country, and praise the great people from the period of our wakening who taught us to love our country."[20]

Chronological list of compositions

See also: List of compositions by Josef Suk
  • 1888 String Quartet (0) in D minor (Barcarolle in B flat & Andante con moto survive)
  • 1889 Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 2 (rev. 189091)
  • 1890 Ballade in D minor, for string quartet or violin & piano
  • 1890 Ballade in D minor, Op. 3, No. 1, cello & piano (rev. 1898)
  • 1890 Serenade in A, cello & piano, Op. 3, No. 2 (rev. 1898)
  • 1891 Three Songs without Words, piano
  • 1891 Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 1
  • 189192 Dramatic Overture, Op. 4, orchestra
  • 189193 Six Pieces for piano, Op. 7
  • 1892 Fantasy-Polonaise, piano, Op. 5
  • 1892 Serenade for Strings in E flat, Op. 6
  • 1893 Melody for young violinists, for 2 violins
  • 1893 Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 8 (rev. 1915)
  • 1894 A Winter's Tale, Shakespeare Overture for orchestra, Op. 9 (rev. 1926)
  • 1894 Humoresque in C, piano (or 1897)
  • 1895 Album Leaf, piano
  • 1895 Five Moods, Op. 10, piano
  • 189596 Eight Pieces, Op. 12, piano
  • 1896 String Quartet No. 1 in B flat, Op. 11 : Finale Allegro Giocoso (second version; rev. 1915)
  • 1896 String Quartet No. 1 in B flat, Op. 11
  • 1897 Piano Sonatina in G minor, Op. 13 : Andante, included in Four Episodes for piano
  • 1897 Suite for piano, Op. 13 (rev. 1900 as Op. 21)
  • 1897 Piano Sonatina in G minor, Op. 13 (rev. 1900; Minuet arr. string quartet, Op. 21a)
  • 1897 Village Serenade for piano
  • 189798 Raduz & Mahulena: A Fairy Tale Suite for orchestra, Op. 16 (rev. 1912)
  • 189799 Symphony No. 1 in E, Op. 14
  • 1898 Bagatelle, Op. 14, piano (originally the third movement of Symphony No. 1 in E)
  • 1900 Four Pieces for violin & piano, Op. 17
  • 1901 Under the Apple Tree, Op. 20, cantata after Zeyer for mezzo-soprano & orchestra, arr. 191112
  • 1902 Spring, Op. 22a, five pieces for piano
  • 1902 Summer Impressions, Op. 22b, three pieces for piano
  • 1902 Elegy for violin, cello, string quartet, harmonium & harp, Op. 23; also arranged for Piano Trio
  • 1903 Fantasy in G minor, violin & orchestra, Op. 24
  • 1903 Fantastic Scherzo, Op. 25, orchestra
  • 1904 Prague, Op. 26, symphonic poem for orchestra
  • 19056 Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Asrael", Op. 27
  • 1907 About Mother, five pieces for piano, Op. 28
  • 19078 A Summer's Tale, Op. 29, orchestra
  • 1909 Ella-Polka, included in Four Episodes for piano
  • 1909 Things Lived and Dreamed, Op. 30, ten pieces for piano
  • 1909 Spanish Joke, piano
  • 191012 Six Lullabies, Op. 33, piano
  • 1911 String Quartet No. 2, Op. 31
  • 191217 Ripening, Op. 34, symphonic poem for orchestra. with chorus
  • 1914 Meditation on the Saint Wenceslas Chorale, Op. 35a, strings or string-quartet
  • 1917 Bagatelle with Nosegay in Hand, flute violin & piano
  • 1919 Album Leaf, included in Four Episodes for piano
  • 1919 Minuet, violin & piano
  • 191920 Legend of Dead Victors, Commemoration for orchestra, Op. 35b
  • 191920 Toward a New Life, Sokol March, Op. 35c, orchestra
  • 1920 About Friendship, Op. 36, piano
  • 192029 Epilogue, Op. 37, text from Zeyer & Psalms, for soprano, baritone, bass, mixed chorus & orchestra, rev. 193033
  • 1924 About Christmas Day, included in Four Episodes for piano
  • 1932 Beneath Blanik, march arr. Kalas for orchestra
  • 1935 Sousedská, for five violins, double-bass, cymbals, triangle, side-drum & bass-drum


  1. Tyrell, John. "Suk, Josef." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 1, date accessed: September 25, 2012.
  2. Helfert, Vladimir. "Two Losses to Czech Music: Josef Suk and Otakar Ostril." The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 14, No. 42 (April, 1936). 639, JSTOR. Date accessed: September 30, 2012.
  3. Tyrell, 1
  4. Helfert, "Losses." 649
  5. Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  6. Helfer, "Losses." 640
  7. Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 87
  8. Tyrell, Grove. 1
  9. Holland, Bernard. "A String Quartet as Family Affair And Showcase for Czech Masters." New York Times 23 July 2004: E10. Gale World History In Context. 1. Date accessed: October 2, 2012).
  10. Helfert, "Losses." 641
  11. Tyrell, Grove. 1
  12. Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  13. Tyrell, Grove. 1
  14. Tyrell, Grove. 1
  15. Ed. Jana Vojtková. "Josef Suk dopisy o ivot hudebním i lidském." 2005. 1. Date accessed: October 1, 2012.
  16. Tyrell, Grove. 1
  17. Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  18. Tyrell, Grove. 2
  19. John Tyrrell. "Josef Suk: Tematický katalog skladeb/Thematic Catalogue of the Works (JSkat) (review)." Music and Letters 90, no. 3 (2009): 501-503. (date accessed: 30 September 2012).
  20. Beckerman, Michael. "In Search of Czechness in Music." 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Summer, 1986). 63, date accessed: October 2, 2012.


  • ernuák, Gracián (ed.); tdro, Bohumír; Nováek, Zdenko (ed.) (1965). eskoslovenský hudební slovník II. M-, Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství. (Czech)

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