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Suk seemed born for success; it’s not clear why his artistic nature was quite so melancholy. He came from a highly musical family. His father was also named Josef Suk and the name continued down the generations (the late great violinist Josef Suk was the composer’s grandson). Suk the composer, born in Křečovice, Bohemia, in 1874, enjoyed a strong grounding in both violin and organ as well as composing. He formed the Czech String Quartet with three fellow students at the Prague Conservatory and remained its second violinist for much of his life. Later he taught at Conservatory—his pupils included Bohuslav Martinů and Rudolf Firkušný—and ultimately became the institution’s head twice, 1924-26 and 1933-35.
Tragedy had struck him in earnest, however, when his wife Otylka, who was Dvořák’s daughter, died in 1905, the year after her father. Suk translated the effects of this double devastation into his ‘Asrael’ Symphony, arguably his greatest work. Yet, true to his dark side, he had started work on it before this appalling series of events took place.
Even the Serenade is not wholly sunny, however much the youthful Suk tried to follow his mentor’s advice. The shadows seep up through its extended, inspired, songlike melodies—a vivid characteristic of Czech folk music, often poised on the fine line between laughter and tears. Unlike Dvořák’s Serenade, the work only has four movements, but its similarities to its predecessor are clear at once in the relaxed yet wistful nature of the first movement. This is followed by a lively yet gentle dance movement full of strongly Czech rhythms, an achingly lyrical adagio and a finale that is probably as optimistic as the composer ever let himself become.
from notes by Jessica Duchen © 2020
|Vaughan Williams, Suk & Dvořák: Tallis Fantasia & String Serenades|
Opulent Czech string serenades from Antonín Dvořák and Josef Suk (the latter in many respects a tribute to the earlier work by his father-in-law) alongside Ralph Vaughan Williams's famous Tudor-inspired fantasia.» More