In this edition of Czechs in History, Nick Carey takes a look at the life of composer Josef Suk.
There are few people outside the Czech Republic, other than avid lovers of classical music, who will have heard the name Josef Suk. Few people would believe that during his lifetime he was considered to be one of the leading, if not the foremost, composer of his generation, and still is today by musicologists. A child prodigy, his international career began early and came to an end before the First World War. After the death of his wife, who was incidentally the daughter of his friend and teacher, composer Antonin Dvorak, he led a very private life. This tragic incident would remain with him and in his music for the rest of his days, as he pondered the philosophy of life and death.
Josef Suk was born in the village of Krecovice in Eastern Bohemia, on January 4th 1874, the son a local teacher and musician. Suk himself began to play musical instruments whilst a child, and from early on, says Jarmila Gabrielova, associate professor of musicology at Charles University, it was clear that he had an exceptional talent for music:
While in the Bohemian Quartet, Josef Suk did not have a great deal of time for composition, but his early pieces showed a romantic quality that was very popular. Jarmila Gabrielova:
Josef Suk spent his last years in even greater isolation, spending time in his home town of Krecovice, and teaching at the conservatory. His death, on May 29th 1935, of a suspected heart attack, at the age of 61, came as a surprise to his friends and admirers.
Josef Suk is little known nowadays, other than to musical experts and those with a great interest in classical music. According to Jarmila Gabrielova, however, Josef Suk's reputation during his lifetime may well once again be on the rise, despite the complexity of some of his music:
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