Josef Suk (violinist)
Josef Suk (8 August 1929 – 7 July 2011) was a Czech violinist, violist, chamber musician and conductor, the grandson of Josef Suk, the composer and violinist, and great-grandson of Antonín Dvořák. In his home country he carried the title of National Artist.
Youth and studies
After finishing high school in 1945 he entered the Prague conservatoire (1945-1951), where his teachers were Jaroslav Kocian, Norbert Kubát and Karel Šnebergr.
The most important of all his teachers was Jaroslav Kocian, who started teaching him privately when Suk was 7 years old. Led by him, Suk mastered the violin art drawing from the spectaculous interpretative art of his teacher, who was specific with his noble technique of tone formation.
During his studies, in 1949, Suk was sent to Paris and Brussels where he represented successfully the young generation of czech violinists.
After leaving the Prague conseravoire, he spent four terms at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (AMU) by the professors Marie Hlouňová and Alexandr Plocek. Unfortunately, before finishing his studies he was suspended for political reasons.
„AMU was rather a military and political school at that time. For example, I protested against being obliged to trench. That was because our fingers suffered – and I wanted to be a musician, not a soldier. That was the reason why I was suspended after four terms and detached to the military division of Košice for punishment. In the last minute I was saved when I got to the Army artist company, where I spent the two years of military service playing the violin.“
„Since the very beginning, when I got my first violin from my father, a binding feeling of big expectations bore on me. I wasn’t sure whether I was able to be up to the wishes and hopes of my parents and my grandfather. The great commitment of filling my family tradition attached all my artist career. Sometimes it might have opened some gates and routes, but on the other hand it meant also an indispensable stress.“ .
1950-1952 he was the primarius of the Prague quartet, 1953-1955 concert master of the dramatic orchestra of the National theatre in Prague, then till 1957 a soloist of the Army artist company.
His first poignant success was a recital in Prague, 6th November 1954. Shortly after that George Szell invited him to the USA to play with the Cleveland orchestra. In 1958 he performed in Germany, Netherlands and Romania, then also in France and Belgium.
In 1960 he was lent the violin by Antonio Stradivari called „Duc de Camposelice“ made in 1710. Its former owner was Váša Příhoda, who donated it to the Czechoslovak state shortly before his death. Suk played also the Stradivari’s instrument called „Libon“ and „The prince of Orange“ by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu. He also used an instrument by Přemysl Špidlen for a long time.
In 1961 he was named the soloist of Czech Philharmonic to go through many its tours and recitals. He cooperated and made many recordings with the world’s best orchestras, conductors and interpreters. He won many prizes for his recordings – Grand Prix du disque for Debussy’s and Janáček’s sonatas, for the trio Dumky by Antonín Dvořák with Jan Panenka and Miloš Sádlo, for the complete collection of Mozart’s violin concerts with the Prague chamber orchestra conducted by Libor Hlaváček, for the Alban Berg’s concert and for the concertos of Bohuslav Martinů.
He was also a violist and he recorded the Sinfonia concertante by Mozart, playing both parts of violin and viola. With the Czech philharmonic, conducted by Dietrich Fischer, he recorded the “Harold en Italie” by Hector Berlioz.
His violin art was characterized by a rotund and rich tone, glass-clear intonation and an idiomatic interpretation. Suk was one of the world’s best interpreters of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. His recordings of Dvořák’s violin concerto are exemplary.
1979-1986 he was a teacher at the music college in Vienna.
Aside from his solo career he focused on chamber music. As a student (1950-1952) he was the primarius of the Prague quartet and in 1951 he founded the Suk trio, named after his grandfather Josef Suk, together with his friends, the pianist Jan Panenka and cellist Josef Chuchro. Suk trio played many concerts both home and abroad and recorded many compositions. By the way, with Jan Panenka he recorded the complete collection of Beethoven’s sonatas and their recording of Shostakovich’s sonata for viola and piano was the very first. As a violist he often cooperated with the Smetana Quartet.
Another remarkable partnership was with the harpsichordist prof. Zuzana Růžičková. They were close friends and within many concerts they made many recordings, for example Bach’s and Händel’s sonatas. They were also dedicated a sonata by Růžičková’s husband, Viktor Kalabis.
Josef Suk also collaborated with Julius Katchen and János Starker when recording Brahms’s trios and sonatas.
In 1974, as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of birth of his grandfather Josef Suk, he founded the Suk Chamber Orchestra. Suk acted as its leader and conductor till 2000.
He held the title of Meritorious Artist and since 1977 the title of National Artist. In 2002 he was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour.
Josef Suk died on 7 July 2011, aged 81, after a long illness and was buried in Prague, the Vyšehrad cemetery. He had been suffering from prostate cancer as well.
Selected discography (violin)
- J.S. Bach: Violin Concertos - Supraphon Records
- Bach: Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin - Lotos
- Beethoven: Concerto for violin in D; Dvořák: Concerto for violin in A minor - BBC Radio Classic
- Bartók: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 - Praga Records
- Berg: Concerto for violin - Supraphon
- Bartók: Concerto for violin No. 1 - Supraphon
- Brahms: Concerto, Op. 77; Concerto, Op. 102 - Praga
- Brahms: Concerto, Op. 77; Concerto, Op. 102 - Praga
- Brahms: Piano Trios and Violin Sonatas with Julius Katchen (piano) and Janos Starker (cello) - Decca Records
- Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73; Concerto in A minor, Op. 102 - Supraphon
- Brahms: Symphony No. 2/Double Concerto - Supraphon
- Chausson: Concerto for violin, piano & String Quartet; Fauré: Sonata No. 2 for Violin & Piano - Supraphon
- Dvořák: Concerto for violin in A minor - Supraphon
- Dvořák: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 - Supraphon
- Dvořák: Quartet Op. 51 / Sextet Op. 48 - Lotos Records
- Dvořák: Quintet in E-flat; Quintet No. 1 - Denon Records
- Dvořák: 'Songs My Great-Grandfather Taught Me' - Toccata Classics (2009)
- Dvořák: Trio No. 1; Trio No. 2 - Denon Records
- Dvořák: Violin Concerto; Romance; Josef Suk: Fantasy - Supraphon
- Dvořák: Works for Violin and Piano - Supraphon
- Janáček: Complete works for Violin, Cello and Piano - Carlton Classics
- Janáček: Sinfonietta, Op. 60; Taras Bulba, rhapsody - Supraphon
- Kodály: Musique de chambre - Praga
- Martinů: Sonata for violin No. 3; Madrigal Stanzas H.297 - Supraphon
- Mendelssohn: Concerto for violin in E minor; Bruch: Concerto for violin in G minor - Supraphon
- Mozart: Quintets - Denon Records
- Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E-flat; Sinfonia concertante in E-flat - Panton Records
- Ravel: Sonatas for Violin and Piano; Sonata for Violin and Cello; Tzigane - Praga
- Schubert: String Quartet No. 1, D.87/String Quintet in C, Op. 163, D.956 Praga
- Suk: Piano Quintets, Opp. 1 & 8 - Lotos
- Suk: Piano Trio; Piano Quartet; Piano Quintet - Supraphon
- Karel Ančerl Golden Edition No. 8. CD Supraphon: Praha 2002. SU 3668-2
- Media related to Josef Suk (violinist) at Wikimedia Commons
- Performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto No. 1 on YouTube
- Extensive recording credits