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Meditation on an old Czech hymn 'St Wenceslas', Op 35a


Josef Suk was Dvořák’s composition student and son-in-law, and in his role of second violinist in the Bohemian Quartet was a chief exponent of Dvořák’s chamber music. Suk’s Meditation on an old Czech hymn ‘St Wenceslas’, Op 35a, is based on a hymn whose text reads:

Saint Wenceslas, liege of Bohemia,
Our prince, pray for us to God, the Holy Spirit!
Christe eleison.
You are heir to Bohemia, forget not your people,
Let us not perish, nor our progeny, Saint Wenceslas!
Christe eleison.

The origins of this hymn, which is known as the Svatý Václave, can be traced back to the twelfth century, and it remains popular to this day. Indeed, Dvořák references it in his Hussite Overture of 1883. Suk’s Meditation was composed in 1914, around the outbreak of war. An associate of the composer had seen confidential documents indicating that the Bohemian Quartet would be forced to open their concerts with the Austrian anthem, and this piece was intended to provide something that resounded with the Czech nationalist spirit. Just two days after its completion the work was premiered on 27 September 1914 at the Rudolfinum, on the eve of the Feast of St Wenceslas. Suk was evidently eager to have his new piece performed as soon as he could, writing out the parts himself. A work that is both heartfelt and nostalgic, it would have pulled at the heartstrings of its intended audience.

from notes by Rosalind Ventris © 2018


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Track 9 on CDH55002 [6'08] Archive Service
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