Category Archives: Composers

Josef Suk, composer

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.

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Bedřich Smetana, part four

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.

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Bedřich Smetana, part three

We ended last time with a difficult number of years in Bedřich’s life.  Three of his four daughters died between 1854 and 1856, and Kateřina had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Professionally things were good but Bedřich was unhappy with how his career was progressing (or rather not progressing) in Prague.

In the fall of 1856, Bedřich decided to relocate to Sweden and he set out on his own for Gothenburg.  In the summer of 1857, he returned to Prague where Kateřina was very unwell.  That summer Bedřich’s father passed away. Bedřich returned to Gothenburg in the fall, this time with Kateřina and their daughter Žofie.

Kateřina’s health continued to worsen and in early 1859 she passed away while travelling back to Prague. Bedřich left Žofie in the care of his mother-in-law and spent time with Lizst in Weimer and then with his brother Karel. While visiting Karel, Bedřich met Barbora (Bettina) Ferdinandiová, Karel’s sister-in-law. He fell in love, proposed, and returned to Gothenburg an engaged man.  Bedřich and Bettina married in the summer of 1860.

Bettina was 16 years younger than Bedřich.  And in the fall of 1861, Bedřich became a father again to another daughter, Zdeňka.  While Bedřich and Bettina had returned to Gothenburg after their marriage, things had been changing in Prague.  In 1861, Bedřich decided to return to Prague.  Before returning, he once again tried to tour and establish his reputation as a pianist. And once again was unsuccessful.

Next week we will look at Bedřich’s final years in Prague.

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Bedřich Smetana, part two

When we left Bedřich last week it was the fall of 1843 and he was on his way to Prague to pursue a career in music.

While at school in Plzeň, he had reconnected with Kateřina Kolářová and her family.  Kateřina’s mother introduced him to the head of the Prague Music Institute, where Kateřina was studying.  By January of 1844, Bedřich was a pupil of Josef Proksch, the head of the music institute, and had a position as a music teacher for the family of Count Thun.

For three years he studied and taught.  In 1847, Bedřich decided to try to establish himself as a concert pianist.  He resigned from teaching the children of Count Thun, recommending Kateřina to take on the position.  And he left to tour Western Bohemia.  The tour was not a success and Bedřich cut it short and returned to Prague.  He taught private students and worked on his compositions.

In 1848, Bedřich contacted Liszt for the first time.  Bedřich asked Liszt to accept a dedication of Bedřich’s latest piano piece and to help him find a publisher.  Liszt accepted.  Bedřich had also asked for some financial assistance to start a school which Liszt did not do.  Bedřich was able to start his Piano Institue anyway and it gained popularity.  In 1849, the school was relocated to the home of Kateřina’s parents and Liszt made regular visits.

With some financial security and stability now established, Bedřich and Kateřina were able to get married in 1849.  As girls seem to be dominant in the Smetana family tree, Bedřich and Kateřina had four daughters between 1851 and 1855.

While his professional career was fairly stable, the next few years were difficult personally.  In 1854 his second oldest daughter died of tuberculosis.  1855 saw the death of his eldest daughter from scarlet fever. And while their fourth daughter was born shortly after their eldest daughter’s death, she too only survived briefly, dying in the summer of 1856.  At this point, Kateřina had also been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  All in all, a difficult several years.

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Bedřich Smetana, part one

Bedřich Smetana was born Friedrich Smetana in 1824.  His father was František Smetana and his mother, Barbora Lynková.  Barbora was František’s third wife.  Bedřich was František’s first son.  Bedřich had 5 older stepsisters and eventually had another 6 surviving siblings.

František was a brewer by trade and in 1823 became the brewer to Count Waldstein in Litomyšl.  Bedřich was introduced to music by his father.  František had a love of music and played in a string quartet.  Bedřich learned both the piano and the violin.

While František did speak Czech, at the time Bedřich was growing up and living in the area of Litomyšl, the primary language was German.  Bedřich attended school locally initially. After the family moved to a farm in the south-eastern region of Bohemia, there were no suitable schools near by and, at the age of 15, Bedřich was sent to Prague to attend the Academic Grammar School.  While Bedřich had wanted to go to Prague, he quickly found the school not to his liking.  He skipped classes in favour of music concerts and he played with a string quartet.

Initially František resisted Bedřich desire to pursue music as a career.  It was fine as a hobby but not as a profession.  Bedřich had been playing since the age of 6 and had been composing short pieces in his youth.  But František wanted Bedřich to finish his formal schooling.  Learning that his son was not attending classes, František got Bedřich out of Prague and back home.  Bedřich continued his formal schooling at the Premonstratensian School in Plzeň, where his older cousin was a teacher.  During this time he continued to play the piano at local social events and he continued to compose.  By the time his formal schooling was finished, his father agreed that he should pursue a career in music.  However, his father, now long retired, was unable to help him financially.  In the fall of 1843, Bedřich left for Prague once again to see what would happen.

And we will look at what happened in our blog post next week!

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Mothers

As we approach Mother’s Day here in Canada, here is a link to some of our previous posts about Mothers of Composers!

https://mtochambermusic.wordpress.com/category/composers/mothers-of-composers/

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Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Leopold Dvořák was born in 1841 to František and Anna Dvořák.  František was an innkeeper, butcher, and professional zither player.  Antonín was their eldest child and showed an aptitude for music at a young age.  At the age of six, he was learning to play the violin.  He went on to study the organ and piano as well as music theory.

In his late teens, Dvořák lived in Prague and studied at the Organ School.  After graduating second in his class, he applied for an organist position but was unsuccessful in securing the job.  He remained in Prague and performed with the orchestras there during his twenties.  At this time, he also started composing and was teaching on the side to supplement his income.

He married Anna Čermáková in 1873.  Shortly after his marriage, Dvořák became the organist at St. Vojtěch Church in Prague.

In 1874, he won the Austrian State Prize for composition.  This prize was intended to give some additional financial support to composers in need.  Dvořák applied again in 1877 and was once again awarded the prize.  Brahms was on both juries that awarded the prize and he was much impressed by the talent and volume of Dvořák compositions.  So much so that Brahms recommended Dvořák to his own publisher, Simrock.  After the successful publication of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets, Simrock commissioned him for a series of dance pieces, published as the Slavonic Dances.  This helped launch his international career.

Tonight the Prazak Quartet will bring us one of Dvořák’s better known chamber music pieces.  Join us to hear Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American”.  http://music-toronto.com/quartets/prazak.htm

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Samuel Feinberg

March 23, 2017 brings Marc-André Hamelin to our stage once again.  He will be playing a selection of piano sonatas including works by Beethoven, Haydn, Scriabin, and Chopin.  The evening will also include two sonatas by Samuel Feinberg.

Feinberg was a Russian composer and pianist.  Born in 1890, he was raised in Moscow and studied at the Moscow Conservatory.  He graduated in 1911 and started performing as a solo pianist.  However, WWI was soon upon us and he was sent to fight for Russia.  He became ill, was discharged, and spent a long period of time recovering in Moscow.

He became a faculty member at the Moscow Conservatory in 1922.  With his piano career revived, he performed in Russia and toured parts of Europe in the 1920s.  However, by the 1930s, under Stalin’s rule, Feinberg, a Jew, was no longer allowed to leave the country with the exception of two brief trips (1936 and 1938) to be a competition jury member.  This time period also meant a return to a more conservative composition style for Feinberg.  He felt it unwise to publish some of his progressive works written in the 1920s.  For example, his Seventh Sonata was written in 1924/25 but not in print until the 1970s.

In 1951, he became ill and by 1956 he had stopped performing in public.  He continued to compose and to play up until his death and made a number of recordings, especially when he could no longer perform in public.  Feinberg was a respected member of the faculty at the Moscow Conservatory until his death in 1962 at the age of 72.

Marc-André Hamelin will perform Feinberg’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 2 and Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 1 at his Toronto recital on March 23rdhttp://music-toronto.com/piano/Hamelin.htm

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Franz Asplmayr

Franz Asplmayr was born in 1728 and lived to be 58 years old.  Born in Linz, Austria, he studied violin with his father initially and was mainly self-taught in composition.  He was a prolific composer of ballets, symphonies, chamber music.  Influenced by composers of the Mannheim School, Asplmayer combined techniques with the developing Viennese style.  During his life time he met both Haydn (in 1760) and Mozart (in the 1780s).

He moved to Vienna in the late 1740s.  In 1759 he started serving in the Imperial court.  He started as a secretary and violinist and eventually took over the duties of Christoph Willibald Gluck, the ballet composer for the Kärntnertortheater.  When this position finished, Asplmayr composed for Jean Georges Noverre’s ballet troupe.

We will be treated to one of his quartets with the Eybler Quartet on February 16, 2017 in Toronto.  Join us to hear Quartet in D Major, Op.2 No.2 by Franz Asplmayr.

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Jonathan Berger

Jonathan Berger is an American composer born in New York in 1954.  He obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts and a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Composition from Stanford University.  He currently holds the position of Denning Family Provostial Professorship in Music at Stanford University in California.

The founding co-director of Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA, now the Stanford Arts Institute) and founding director of Yale University’s Center for Studies in Music Technology, Berger composes for a wide variety of styles – opera, chamber, orchestral, vocal, to name a few.  His work has been performed world-wide and he has been commissioned by several music foundations and ensembles over the years.

Along with composing and teaching, Berger is a researcher in areas related to music, science, and technology with over 60 publications.

Read more about Berger and his works on his website at http://jonathanberger.net/bio/.  You can listen to some of his pieces on his site as well.  This link will take you directly to his music page – http://jonathanberger.net/all-music/

Join us with the St. Lawrence String Quartet on January 26th to hear his piece “Swallow”, written in 2014 for the SLSQ.  http://music-toronto.com/quartets/STLQ.htm

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