Josef Suk (4 January 1874 – 29 May 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist. He studied under Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter he married.
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 senior, 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. Despite extensive musical training, his musical skill was often said to be largely inherited. 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.
Known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils, Suk also became personally close to his mentor. 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. However, the last portion of Suk's life was punctuated with tragedy. 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.
Because of 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. 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. Eminent German figures such as composer Johannes Brahms and critic Eduard Hanslick recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet. Over time, well known Austrian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg also began to take notice of Suk and his work.
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). His time with the Czech Quartet, though performing successful concerts until his retirement, 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. Suk retired in 1933, although he continued to be a valuable and inspirational public figure to the Czechs.
Josef Suk died on May 29, 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia. He is the grandfather of famed Czech violinist Josef Suk.
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), just before he began a stylistic shift during 1897–1905, perhaps realizing that the strong influence of Dvořák would limit his work. 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).
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.
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."
Chronological list of compositions
- 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