Josef Suk (composer)

From New World Encyclopedia

Memorial plaque of Joseph Suk in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Josef Suk (January 4, 1874 – May 29, 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist who achieved great fame as a leader in the musical art of composing extended harmonies. In creating extended harmonies with more complex tonal movements leading towards atonal sounds, Suk balanced the concepts of freedom and responsibility, a freedom from traditional tonal structures with a responsibility in the use of chromatic polyphony and dissonance. His choices of the type of harmonies that he used could color and predispose a listener and musician in their thoughts on atonal music. Such choices become the foundation of a musical maturity and personal responsibility.


Josef Suk was born in Křečovice. He studied at the Prague Conservatory from 1885 to 1892, where he was a pupil of Antonín Dvořák (he married Dvořák's daughter in 1898). He formed the Czech Quartet with three of his fellow students—Suk played second violin with them for most of his life. From 1922 he taught at the Prague Conservatory where his pupils included Bohuslav Martinů and Rudolf Firkušný. He later became the rector of the conservatory. He died in Benešov.

Works of Josef Suk

Memorial of Josef Suk in small park in front of the Elementary Art School in Benešov, Czechoslovakia.

Suk's early works show the influence of Antonin Dvořák and Johannes Brahms, while later pieces use more extended harmonies to create a more personal and complex style. These extended harmonies were based on chromatic polyphony with a direction towards rejecting any key framework for the freedom of atonal music. This concentration on dissonance created music which always showed a tension due to the absence of any musical relaxation. Arnold Schoenberg referred to atonal music as not corresponding to the nature of tone; Suk explored this deviation very pointedly. Unlike many of his countrymen, Suk made little use of Czech folk music. His best known works are probably the youthful Serenade for Strings (1892) and the symphony, Asrael (1906), a work written in response to the deaths of his wife and Dvořák. Other pieces include the Fairy Tale Suite (1900), the cycle of piano works Things Lived and Dreamed (1909), and the trilogy of symphonic poems A Summer's Tale (1909), The Ripening (1917) and Epilog (1929, for chorus and orchestra).

He won a silver medal at the Art competitions at the Olympic Games during the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California with his work Into a New Life.

Suk was the grandfather of the violinist Josef Suk.


Josef Suk lived at a time of great impressionism and symbolism in music, painting, and poetry. His works became a bridge between a harmonious order in the nationalism of nineteenth-century music and the atonality of the twentieth century. Suk tried to express the emotions of an age of musical diversity during this period preceding World War I, and his experimentation with music without a key helped to support composers such as Arnold Schoenberg's point of departure from a harmonious order to a musical emancipation.

List of compositions

1888 String Quartet (0) d: Barcarolle Bb and Andante con moto survive
1889 op2 rev1890-1891 Piano Trio c
1890 Ballade d, for string quartet or violin and piano
1890 op3/1 rev1898 Ballade d, cello and piano
1890 op3/2 rev1898 Serenade A, cello and piano
1891 Three Songs without Words, piano
1891 op1 Piano Quartet a
1891-1892 op4 Dramatic Overture a, orchestra
1891-1893 op7 Six Pieces for piano
1892 op5 Fantasy-Polonaise, piano
1892 op6 Serenade for Strings Eb
1893 Melody for young violinists, for 2 violins
1893 op8 rev1915 Piano Quintet g
1894 op9 rev1926 A Winter's Tale, Shakespeare Overture for orchestra
1894 or 1897? Humoresque C, piano
1895 Album Leaf, piano
1895 op10 Five Moods, piano
1895-1896 op12 Eight Pieces, piano
1896 op11 rev1915 String Quartet 1 Bb: Finale Allegro Giocoso (second version)
1896 op11 String Quartet 1 Bb
1897 op13 Piano Sonatina g: Andante, included in Four Episodes for piano
1897 op13 rev1900 op21 Suite for piano
1897 op13 rev1900 op21a Piano Sonatina g: Minuet arr string quartet
1897 Village Serenade for piano
1897-1898 op16 rev1912 Raduz and Mahulena: A Fairy Tale Suite for orchestra
1897-1899 op14 Symphony 1 E
1898 op14 Bagatelle (originally the third movement of Symphony 1 E), piano
1900 op17 Four Pieces for violin and piano
1901 op20 arr1911-2 Under the Apple Tree, cantata after Zeyer for mezzo-soprano and orchestra
1902 op22a Spring, five pieces for piano
1902 op22b Summer Impressions, three pieces for piano
1902 op23 Elegy for violin, cello, string quartet, harmonium harp; also arranged for Piano Trio
1903 op24 Fantasy g, violin and orchestra
1903 op25 Fantastic Scherzo, orchestra
1904 op26 Prague, symphonic poem for orchestra
1905-1906 op27 Symphony 2 c, Asrael
1907 op28 About Mother, five pieces for piano
1907-1908 op29 A Summer's Tale, orchestra
1909 Ella-Polka, included in Four Episodes for piano
1909 op30 Things Lived and Dreamed, ten pieces for piano
1909 Spanish Joke, piano
1910-1912 op33 Six Lullabies, piano
1911 op31 String Quartet 2
1912-1917 op34 Ripening, symphonic poem for orchestra
1914 op35a Meditation on the Saint Wenceslas Chorale, strings or string-quartet
1917 Bagatelle with Nosegay in Hand, flute violin and piano
1919 Album Leaf, included in Four Episodes for piano
1919 Minuet, violin and piano
1919-1920 op35b Legend of Dead Victors, Commemoration for orchestra
1919-1920 op35c Toward a New Life, Sokol March, orchestra
1920 op36 About Friendship, piano
1920-1929 op37 rev 1930-33 Epilogue, text from Zeyer and Psalms, for soprano, baritone, bass, mixed chous and orchestra
1924 About Christmas Day, included in Four Episodes for piano
1932 Beneath Blanik, march arr Kalas for orchestra
1935 Sousedska, for five violins, double-bass, cymbals, triangle, side-drum and bass-drum

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Berkovec, Jire. Josef Suk. Praha, Supraphon, 1969. OCLC 60700
  • Dvorak, Antonin, Leos Janacek, Josef Suk, and Dresdner Klaviertrio. Trio e-Moll 'Dumky' fur Violoncello und Klavier [i.e. Violine, Violoncello und Klavier] Nr. 4. Holzgerlingen, Germany: Hanssler Classic, 2005. OCLC 70189099
  • Yeomans, David. Piano music of the Czech romantics: a performer's guide. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0253218454


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