Josef Suk (composer)

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Josef Suk
Olympic medal record
Competitor for  Czechoslovakia
Art competitions
Silver medal – second place 1932 Los Angeles Music

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


Josef Suk was well-trained in music. He was taught organ, violin, and piano by his father, Josef Suk senior, and he was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz. 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 Hanuš Wihan.[1] All of his training aside, his musical skill was said to be an inheritance.[2] Though he continued 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 Dvořák.[3]

Because of their heritage and the coincidence of their deaths coming in the same year, Suk's works and style were compared closely to Czech composer Otakar Ostrčil.[4] Known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils, Suk became very close to Dvořák .[5] Underlying this was Dvořák's respect for Suk, and the same respect can be recognized in the fact that Suk later married Dvořák's daughter, Otilie. This connection 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, Dvořák, die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk's Asrael Symphony. Suk retired in 1933,[3] although he continued to be a very valuable and inspirational person to the Czechs.[8]

Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, was considered to be one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much of this influence coming from Dvořák.[9] Popular composers, such as Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick, recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet.[3] Over time, other well-known Austrian composers, like Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, also began to take notice of Suk.[10] 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).[3] His time with the Czech Quartet, though successfully performing concerts up until his retirement,[3] was not always met with approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns began to rise, and criticism was pointed at the quartet and Suk, specifically. Zdeněk 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.[11]

Suk was the grandfather of violinist Josef Suk.[12]

Musical style[edit]

Performed by Musopen String Quartet

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Suk's musical style started off with a very heavy emphasis on what he experienced during his time with Dvořák. 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[3]) just before he began the shift of style during 1897–1905, perhaps realizing that his known Dvořák influence would restrain his work.[13] 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 his major work, funeral symphony Asrael. 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'.[14]

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.[15]

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."[16]

Chronological list of compositions[edit]

Memorial plaque
  • 1888 String Quartet (0) in D minor (Barcarolle in B flat & Andante con moto survive)
  • 1889 Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 2 (rev. 1890–91)
  • 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
  • 1891–92 Dramatic Overture, Op. 4, orchestra
  • 1891–93 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
  • 1895–96 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
  • 1897–98 Raduz & Mahulena: A Fairy Tale Suite for orchestra, Op. 16 (rev. 1912)
  • 1897–99 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. 1911–12
  • 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
  • 1905–6 Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Asrael", Op. 27
  • 1907 About Mother, five pieces for piano, Op. 28
  • 1907–8 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
  • 1910–12 Six Lullabies, Op. 33, piano
  • 1911 String Quartet No. 2, Op. 31
  • 1912–17 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
  • 1919–20 Legend of Dead Victors, Commemoration for orchestra, Op. 35b
  • 1919–20 Toward a New Life, Sokol March, Op. 35c, orchestra
  • 1920 About Friendship, Op. 36, piano
  • 1920–29 Epilogue, Op. 37, text from Zeyer & Psalms, for soprano, baritone, bass, mixed chorus & orchestra, rev. 1930–33
  • 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 Ostrčil." The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 14, No. 42 (April, 1936). 639, JSTOR. Date accessed: September 30, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Tyrell, Grove. 1
  4. ^ Helfert, "Losses." 649
  5. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  6. ^ Helfer, "Losses." 640
  7. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 87
  8. ^ 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).
  9. ^ Helfert, "Losses." 641
  10. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  11. ^ Ed. Jana Vojtěšková. "Josef Suk — dopisy o životě hudebním i lidském." 2005. 1. Date accessed: October 1, 2012.
  12. ^ Alena Němcová. "Suk, Josef (ii)." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 7 Jul. 2015. <>.
  13. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  14. ^ Tyrell, Grove. 2
  15. ^ 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).
  16. ^ Beckerman, Michael. "In Search of Czechness in Music." 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Summer, 1986). 63, date accessed: October 2, 2012.


  • Černušák, Gracián (ed.); Štědroň, Bohumír; Nováček, Zdenko (ed.) (1965). Československý hudební slovník II. M-Ž (in Czech). Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství. p. 641.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)

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