Josef Suk

Czech composer, pedagogue and violinist (4th of January 1874, Křečovice – 29th of May 1935, Benešov, near Prague)

Josef Suk was born in Křečovice in the Czech Republic where his father, Josef Suk, a teacher and choir conductor, taught him piano, violin and organ. Later, he took lessons of violin, musical theory and chamber music at the Conservatoire of Prague from 1885 to 1891. His formation as a musician was completed by lessons of chamber music with cellist Hanus Wihan and of composition with Antonín Dvořák. He married the daughter of the composer of the Symphony of the New World in 1898. In 1891, he was a founding member and second violin of the Wihan Quartet, whose fame would come the following under the name Czech Quartet, gaining the admiration of Johannes Brahms. He would leave the formation only two years before his death, after more than 4,000 concerts. He taught composition at the Conservatoire of Prague from 1922 and also conducted a class of interpretation. He handled the direction of the institution from 1924 to 1926 and from 1933 to 1935, and counted the composer Bohuslav Martinů among his students.

His dynamic and vigorous style, influenced by Beethoven and Dvořák, radically changed after the death of his stepfather in 1904 and the one of his wife in 1905, and it became mystical and philosophical. The funeral symphony Asraël is an homage both for his elder and for his wife, and clearly illustrates the melancholic and religious turn his writing took, gladly polytonal and at the edge of atonality. He is considered, alongside Janáček, as one of the fathers of modern Czech music.

Six landmark dates in the life of Josef Suk
 1891: graduated from the Conservatoire of Prague
 1893: first Viennese concert of the Czech Quartet with the presence of Brahms
 1896: Simrock published the Serenade opus 6 on Brahms's recommendation
 1913: became a permanent member of the Cezch Academy of Sciences
 1922: became a composition teaching at the Conservatoire of Prague
 1933: was given the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Brno  

Six pieces by Josef Suk

1892: Serenade for strings opus 6   

1896: Strings quartet opus 11   

1902: Letni dojmy ("Summer impressions") opus 22b, for piano   

1906: Symphony No. 2 "Asraël" opus 27   

1917: Zráni, symphonic poem, opus 34   

1933: Epilogue opus 37, for soprano, baritone, bass, 2 choirs and orchestra

Radio France musical documentation biography, March 2014