Josef Suk (composer)

Josef Suk

Josef Suk (4 January 1874 – 29 May 1935) was a Bohemian composer and violinist. He studied under Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter he married.

Medal record
Art competitions
Representing  Czechoslovakia
Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1932 Los Angeles Music


Josef Suk, early 1900s

From a young age, Josef Suk (born in Křečovice, Bohemia) was deeply involved and well-trained in music. He learned organ, violin, and piano from his father, Josef Suk Sr., and was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz. His theory studies were conducted with several other composers including Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan.[1] Despite extensive musical training, his musical skill was often said to be largely inherited.[2] Though he continued his lessons with Wihan another year after the completion of his schooling, Suk's greatest inspiration came from another of his teachers, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.[3]

Known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils, Suk also became personally close to his mentor.[4] Underlying this was Dvořák's respect for Suk, reflected in Suk's 1898 marriage to Dvořák's daughter, Otilie, marking some of the happiest times in the composer's life and music.[5] However, the last portion of Suk's life was punctuated with tragedy.[6] Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk's mentor Dvořák die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk's Asrael Symphony.

Because of a shared heritage—and the coincidence of their dying within a few months of one another—Suk has been closely compared, in works and style, to fellow Czech composer Otakar Ostrčil.[7] Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, is considered one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much shared influence among the three coming in turn from Dvořák.[8] Eminent German figures such as composer Johannes Brahms and critic Eduard Hanslick recognized Suk's work during his time with the Czech Quartet.[3] Over time, well known Austrian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg also began to take notice of Suk and his work.[4]

Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. Orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6 (1892).[3] His time with the Czech Quartet, though performing successful concerts until his retirement,[3] was not always met with public approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns came into prominence; criticism not only being directed at the quartet, but towards Suk specifically. The leftist critic Zdeněk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of inappropriately playing concerts in the Czech lands during World War I. While these attacks diminished Suk's spirits, they did not hinder his work.[9]

Suk retired in 1933,[3] although he continued to be a valuable and inspirational public figure to the Czechs.[10] He died on May 29, 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia.

Suk was the grandfather of the Czech violinist Josef Suk.[11]

Musical styleEdit

Suk's musical style started off with a heavy influence from his mentor, Dvořák. The biggest change of Suk's style came after he reached a "dead end" in his early musical style (music played less of a role in Suk's life outside of his schooling[3]), just before he began a stylistic shift during 1897–1905, perhaps realizing that the strong influence of Dvořák would limit his work.[4] Morbidity was always a large factor in Suk's music. For instance, he wrote his own funeral march in 1889 and it appears significantly also in a major work, the "funeral symphony" Asrael, Op. 27. Ripening, a symphonic poem, was also a story of pain and questioning the value of life. Other works, however – such as the music he set to Julius Zeyer's drama Radúz a Mahulena – display his happiness, which he credited to his marriage with Otilie. Another of Suk's works, Pohádka (Fairy Tale), was drawn from his work with Radúz a Mahulena. The closest Suk came to opera is in his incidental music to the play Pod jabloní (Beneath the Apple Tree).[12]

The majority of Suk's papers are kept in Prague. There is also a new catalogue of Suk's works that contains more manuscripts than any before it, some of them also containing sketches by Suk.[13]

Suk said of himself: "I do not bow to anyone, except to my own conscience and to our noble Lady Music… and yet at the same time I know that thereby I serve my country, and praise the great people from the period of our wakening who taught us to love our country."[14]


Memorial plaque



  1. ^ Tyrell, John. "Suk, Josef." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 1, date accessed: September 25, 2012.
  2. ^ Helfert, Vladimir. "Two Losses to Czech Music: Josef Suk and Otakar Ostrčil." The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 14, No. 42 (April, 1936). 639, JSTOR. Date accessed: September 30, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Tyrell, Grove. 1
  4. ^ a b c Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 86
  5. ^ Helfer, "Losses." 640
  6. ^ Novak, "Non-Obstinate." 87
  7. ^ Helfert, "Losses." 649
  8. ^ Helfert, "Losses." 641
  9. ^ Ed. Jana Vojtěšková. "Josef Suk – dopisy o životě hudebním i lidském." 2005. 1.
  10. ^ Holland, Bernard. "A String Quartet as Family Affair And Showcase for Czech Masters." New York Times 23 July 2004: E10. Gale World History in Context. 1. Date accessed: October 2, 2012).
  11. ^ Alena Němcová. "Suk, Josef (ii)." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 7 Jul. 2015. <>.
  12. ^ Tyrell, Grove. 2
  13. ^ John Tyrrell. "Josef Suk: Tematický katalog skladeb/Thematic Catalogue of the Works (JSkat) (review)." Music and Letters 90, no. 3 (2009): 501–503.
  14. ^ Beckerman, Michael. "In Search of Czechness in Music." 19th-Century Music, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Summer, 1986). 63, date accessed: October 2, 2012. JSTOR 746749


  • Černušák, Gracián (ed.) (1965). Československý hudební slovník II. M-Ž (in Czech). Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství. p. 641.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • The Games of the Xth Olympiad Los Angeles 1932 (PDF). Xth Olympiade Committee of the Games of Los Angeles, U.S.A. 1932. 1933. pp. 748–765. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-04-10.
  • Wagner, Juergen. "Olympic Art Competition 1932". Olympic Games Museum. Archived from the original on 2008-05-01.
  • Kramer, Bernhard (May 2004). "In Search of the Lost Champions of the Olympic Art Contests" (PDF). Journal of Olympic History. 12 (2): 29–34. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2008-04-10.
  • Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Josef Suk". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved 2016-05-29.

External linksEdit