Josef Suk was born in 1874. He was immersed in music from a young age and his father was his first teacher of piano, organ, and violin. At the age of 11, he entered the Prague Conservatory. While he received his degree in 1891, Suk studied at the conservatory until 1892. Antonín Dvořák had become a professor at the conservatory and Suk stayed an additional year to study with him.
Dvořák and Suk had a close relationship. In 1898, Suk married Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie. In 1902, their son was born. This was a very happy time in Suk’s life. Unfortunately, in 1904 Dvořák passed away and 14 months later in 1905, Otilie passed away as well. Both the happy times in his life and the passing of his mentor and his wife had large impacts on the style of music he composed.
Suk was a composer, a teacher, and a performer, it was the latter two that were his main income over the years. He and his fellow students formed the Czech Quartet in 1893. He was their second violinist for 40 years, retiring in 1933.
In 1922, Suk became a professor in composition at the Prague Conservatory. He was appointed the head of the conservatory from 1924 to 1926 and again from 1933 until 1935.
Suk died in 1935 and is the grandfather of famed violinist Josef Suk. We will hear one of Suk’s compositions on November 16, 2017 when the Škampa Quartet play Meditation on the Old Behemian Chorale “St. Wenceslas” at our Toronto concert.
Bedřich passed away in 1884 but he kept working until close to the end of his life. He returned to Prague in 1861 when a new home for Czech opera was being built. Passed over for the position of conductor at the new theatre, he focussed on composing for opera competitions.
It is interesting to note that his command of the Czech language was not all that strong even though he was focusing on opera. Due to the politics when Bedřich was young, he was raised speaking, reading, and writing primarily German. So he studied the Czech language and focussed on writing and speaking it to obtain a better fluency. By 1864 Bedřich had developed a solid handle on the language – enough to become the music critic at a main Czech language newspaper.
By this point, Bedřich and Bettina had a second daughter. Bedřich had also made an attempt to be the Director of the Prague Conservatory. He was passed over for the position. He continued to compose and to conduct. And in 1866 two of he most famous operas were both presented at the Provisional Theatre. In January The Brandenburgers played to great success. In May a two act version of The Bartered Bride was presented. Due to the threat of invasion, it was poorly attended and the full three act version was performed finally in 1870 and well received.
In September of 1866, Bedřich was appointed principal conductor of the Provisional Theatre – the position he had hoped for back in 1861 when he had returned to Prague. Over the next several years, he brought more and more works from Czech composers to the Provisional Theatre.
There was much controversy generated with Bedřich being in this position over the next few years. He had much opposition and they made themselves known. In 1872 a petition was brought forward calling for his resignation. Support for Bedřich from the theatre and from well-known and respect musicians like Dvorak, ensured his reappointment in 1873 as Artistic Director with a change in title and an increase in responsibility.
In the summer of 1874, Bedřich fell ill. Among other things, his hearing started to fail. By the fall of 1874, he resigned his position. Over the next several years he continued to compose and to make public appearances. In 1876, he moved his family to the home of his eldest daughter in Jabkenice where he could compose undisturbed. His health continued to decline and signs of possible dementia started to emerge. He was still composing and making public appearances in the fall of 1883 but his outbursts worried his friends and family. In the spring of 1884, he was no longer coherent and his family was having difficulty caring for him at home. In April 1884 Bedřich was moved to an asylum in Prague and he passed away in May of that year.