Josef Suk (1874–1935)

Composer, violinist and teacher, leading representative of Czech musical modernism. The two musicians were very close, both as colleagues and friends. In 1891–1892 Suk was Dvořák’s pupil at the Prague Conservatoire and Dvořák also invited him to stay at his summer residence in Vysoká, where Suk prepared piano scores of the Master’s works. It was here that young Suk also had the opportunity to meet up with Dvořák’s daughter Otilka, who later became his wife. The marriage took place on Antonín Dvořák’s and Anna Čermaková’s 25th wedding anniversary, 17 November 1898. Suk and Otilie Dvořákova had a son, Josef, born 1901, later father of the violinist Josef Suk. Dvořák had a clear influence on his pupil’s compositional style during the first phase of the latter’s musical development, for instance, in his Serenade in E flat major and his incidental music for Zeyer’s fairy tale Radúz and Mahulena. Suk’s later characteristic style is markedly different. Fundamental to its transformation was the most tragic period in Suk’s life (1904–1905), during which his cherished Master suddenly passed away and, after him, also his wife Otilie, who died of heart failure at the age of twenty-seven. The sensitive Suk never entirely recovered from these terrible blows and the intensity of his grief is best expressed in his mourning symphony Asrael, a musical commemoration of Dvořák and Otilka, in whose thematic fabric he cites the central theme from Dvořák’s Requiem.