On This Day – January 4

Today we look at a composer who is often over looked, but produced some fantastic works. Son-in-law and student of Antonin Dvorak, he was also a fantastic violinist and formed the Czech Quartet. Josef Suk, born on this day in 1874.

Born in Křečovice, he studied under Antonin Dvorak and Antonin Bennewitz at the Prague Conservatory from 1885 to 1892. He married Dvorak’s eldest daughter, Otilie Dvorakova in 1898, and taught at the Prague Conservatory from 1922, teaching pupils such as Boguslav Martinu and Rudolf Firkusny. He died in Benesov on the 29th of May, 1935.

His early compositions show influence of Dvorak and Brahms, but later in life his harmonic pallet extended to create a more personal and complex style.

One of his most popular pieces is his Serenade for Strings in Eb Major, Op. 6. Composed in 1892, it was Dvorak’s suggestion that he write some lighter and cheerful music. The first complete performance came on the 25th of February, 1895 at the Prague Conservatory. Brahms, a longtime supporter of Dvorak, endorsed the publication of this work and it brought Suk considerable fame.

One of my personal favourite pieces is Suk’s 4 pieces for Violin and Piano. An overlooked piece in the violin repertoire, these 4 pieces are an excellent introduction to 20th Century violin repertoire, still firmly rooted in romanticism but with Suk’s personal chromatic style. This is my favourite movement, the Appassionato.

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