Asrael Symphony

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Portrait of Josef Suk with dedication: "To Dear Miss Otilka Dvořáková", 1894

The Asrael Symphony for large orchestra in C minor (Czech: „Asrael“, Symfonie pro velký orchestr C moll), Op. 27 (1905–1906), was written by Josef Suk in memory of his father-in-law and teacher, Antonín Dvořák (died 1904), and his wife (Dvořák's daughter) Otilie Suková (née Dvořáková) (died 1905).

Background[edit]

Suk began to compose his funeral[1] symphony at the beginning of 1905, about eight months after Dvořák's death. The composition was titled after the Old Testament angel of death Asrael.[2] The work is in five movements; the sketches of three movements were finished less than a half year later. On 6 July 1905, while Suk was in the middle of the work, his wife Otilie died.[3] Although the composition was to be also a celebration of Dvořák's life and work, the desolated composer rejected the optimistic tone of the rest of the work. The complete score was finished on 4 October 1906. The work was dedicated "to the exalted memory of Dvořák and Otilie".[4] Suk dedicated the last two movements to Otilie.

The symphony was premièred on 3 February 1907 at the Prague National Theatre, conducted by Karel Kovařovic. Karel Hoffmann and Jiří Herold, members of the Czech Quartet, attended the premiere as the concertmasters of the orchestra of the National Theatre.[5]

Norman Lebrecht has singled out Václav Talich's 1952 recording of the Asrael Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on Supraphon as No. 19 in his list of the 100 best recordings of the century.[6]

Structure[edit]

The composition is in five movements:

  1. Andante sostenuto
  2. Andante
  3. Vivace
  4. Adagio
  5. Adagio e maestoso

The influence of Dvořák's composing style, apparent in Suk's previous work, is not noticeable in this composition, according to Vysloužil, who writes that Suk develops his musical language rather toward modern polyphonic and harmonic techniques.[7]

The Asrael Symphony represents a significant milestone in the context of Suk's oeuvre. The composer's bright and optimistic character of musical expression shifts to fundamental questions of human existence.[4]

Instrumentation[edit]

The symphony is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in B-flat (A, E-flat), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns (horns V and VI ad lib), 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, harp, and strings.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Album notes (SU 3830-2), p. 10
  2. ^ Clements, Andrew (31 March 2011). "Suk: Asrael — review". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ Dopisy o životě hudebním i lidském, p. 60
  4. ^ a b Album notes (SU 3864-2), p. 10
  5. ^ Dopisy o životě hudebním i lidském, p. 65
  6. ^ Norman Lebrecht, "Masterpieces: 100 Milestones of the Recorded Century" The Life and Death of Classical Music. New York: Anchor Books (2007): 181 - 182
  7. ^ Vysloužil, Hudební slovník pro každého, p. 518

References[edit]

External links[edit]