Josef Suk (composer)

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Josef Suk
Josef Suk(1).jpg
Born(1874-01-04)4 January 1874
Died29 May 1935(1935-05-29) (aged 61)
  • Violinist
  • Composer

Josef Suk (4 January 1874 – 29 May 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist. He studied under Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter he married.[1]


From a young age, Josef Suk (born in Křečovice, Bohemia) was deeply involved and well trained in music. He learned organ, violin, and piano from his father, Josef Suk Sr., and was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz. His theory studies were conducted with several other composers including Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan.[2] Despite extensive musical training, his musical skill was often said to be largely inherited.[3] Though he continued his lessons with Wihan another year after the completion of his schooling, Suk's greatest inspiration came from another of his teachers, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.[4]

Known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils, Suk also became personally close to his mentor.[5] Underlying this was Dvořák's respect for Suk, reflected in Suk's 1898 marriage to Dvořák's daughter, Otilie, marking some of the happiest times in the composer's life and music.[6] However, the last portion of Suk's life was punctuated with tragedy.[7] Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk's mentor Dvořák die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk's Asrael Symphony.

Josef Suk
Medal record
Art competitions
Representing  Czechoslovakia
Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1932 Los Angeles Music

Owing to a shared heritage—and the coincidence of their dying within a few months of one another—Suk has been closely compared, in works and style, to fellow Czech composer Otakar Ostrčil.[8] Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, is considered one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much shared influence among the three coming in turn from Dvořák.[9] Eminent German figures such as composer Johannes Brahms and critic Eduard Hanslick recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet.[4] Over time, well known Austrian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg also began to take notice of Suk and his work.[5]

Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. Orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892).[4] His time with the Czech Quartet, though performing successful concerts until his retirement,[4] was not always met with public approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns came into prominence; criticism not only being directed at the quartet, but towards Suk specifically. The leftist critic Zdeněk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of inappropriately playing concerts in the Czech lands during World War I. While these attacks diminished Suk's spirits, they did not hinder his work.[10]

Private life[edit]

Suk married Dvorak's daughter, Otýlie, in 1898. They had one child, a son, also named Josef, in 1898. Otýlie died of heart failure aged 27 in 1905, a year after her father. Josef Suk Jr. in turn was father of the acclaimed violinist Josef Suk, who died in 2011.[11] Suk retired in 1933,[4] although he continued to be a valuable and inspirational public figure to the Czechs.[12]

Suk died on 29 May 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic); he was buried in the cemetery of St Luke's Church, Křečovice.[citation needed]

Musical style[edit]

Memorial plaque

Suk's musical style started off with a heavy influence from his mentor, Dvořák. The biggest change of Suk's style came after he reached a "dead end" in his early musical style (music played less of a role in Suk's life outside of his schooling[4]), just before he began a stylistic shift during 1897–1905, perhaps realizing that the strong influence of Dvořák would limit his work.[5] Morbidity was always a large factor in Suk's music. For instance, he wrote his own funeral march in 1889 and it appears significantly also in a major work, the "funeral symphony" Asrael, Op. 27. Ripening, a symphonic poem, was also a story of pain and questioning the value of life. Other works, however – such as the music he set to Julius Zeyer's drama Radúz a Mahulena – display his happiness, which he credited 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 opera is in his incidental music to the play Pod jabloní (Beneath the Apple Tree).[13]

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.[14]

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."[15]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Josef Suk". Olympedia. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  2. ^ Tyrell, John. "Suk, Josef." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Page 1, date accessed: 25 September 2012.
  3. ^ Helfert, Vladimir. "Two Losses to Czech Music: Josef Suk and Otakar Ostrčil." The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 14, No. 42 (April 1936). Page 639, JSTOR. Date accessed: 30 September 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Tyrell, Grove. Page 1
  5. ^ a b c Novak, "Non-Obstinate." Page 86
  6. ^ Helfer, "Losses." Page 640
  7. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." Page 87
  8. ^ Helfert, "Losses." Page 649
  9. ^ Helfert, Page "Losses." 641
  10. ^ Ed. Jana Vojtěšková. "Josef Suk – dopisy o životě hudebním i lidském." (tr. "Josef Suk – letters about musical and human life") 2005. Prague : Bärenreiter Page 1.
  11. ^ Alena Němcová. "Suk, Josef (ii)." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 7 July 2015.
  12. ^ Holland, Bernard. "A String Quartet as Family Affair And Showcase for Czech Masters." New York Times Page 23 July 2004: E10. Gale World History in Context. 1. Date accessed: 2 October 2012).
  13. ^ Tyrell, Grove. Page 2
  14. ^ John Tyrrell. "Josef Suk: Tematický katalog skladeb (tr. Thematic catalog of compositions) (JSkat) (review)." Oxford University Press: Music and Letters 90, no. 3 (2009): 501–503.
  15. ^ Beckerman, Michael. "In Search of Czechness in Music." 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Summer, 1986). Page 63, date accessed: 2 October 2012. JSTOR 746749


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