SUK / DVORAK: Serenades for Strings
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Josef Suk (1874 - 1935)
Serenade For Strings in E Flat Major, Op. 6
Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1940)
Serenade For Strings in E Major, Op. 22
The Czech composer and violinist Josef Suk, Dvorak's favouritepupil and later his son-in-law, was the son of a village organist and schoolmaster atKrecovice. He was born in 1874 and at the age of eleven entered the Prague Conservatory,where he studied the violin with the director Antonin Bennewitz and theory with JosefFoerster. His chamber music teacher was the cellist Hanus Wihan, for whom Dvorak wrotehis famous Cello Concerto and who trained the distinguished Czech Quartet, in which Sukplayed second violin until his retirement in 1933 and the consequent disbandment of thequartet. In addition to his activities as a performer Suk distinguished himself as acomposer and as a teacher of composition at the Prague Conservatory, exercising a stronginfluence over a whole generation of Czech composers.
Suk's Serenade in E FlatMajor, Op. 6, was written in 1892, a year after his graduation from theConservatory, and on the recommendation of Brahms was published by Simrock in 1896,immediately establishing him as a composer of importance. In four movements the Serenadeopens with a movement of charm and lyrical appeal, tinged with occasional sadness and verymuch in the classical tradition. This is followed by a more overtly cheerful Allegro and aslow movement of greater intensity of feeling. The mood changes at once with the energy ofthe final movement that brings to an end a work of remarkable achievement, composed as itwas by an eighteen-year-old, then embarking on an additional year of instruction at theConservatory.
Dvorak's own background offered less opportunity, though hisachievement must seem the greater. He was born in a village in Bohemia, where his fatherowned an inn and worked as a butcher. The village band provided early musical interest andtraining of a kind, before, through the help of relatives, Dvorak could be sent away toschool, and finally to the Prague Organ School, at that time a poor relation of theConservatory. He spent the first part of his professional life as an orchestral player,principal violinist in the orchestra of the Czech Provisional Theatre, where he worked fora time under Smetana. He was eventually able to devote himself more fully to compositionand was greatly assisted by the encouragement of Brahms, both by the award of scholarshipsand the necessary recommendation to publishers.
Dvorak's career won him an international reputation. Hisvisits to England and the resulting choral compositions won him friends in that countryand in 1892 he was invited to New York to establish a National Conservatory, in pursuanceof the sponsor's aim to cultivate a national American school of composition. At home hehad, after Smetana, been largely instrumental in creating a form of Czech music thattranscended national boundaries, music that was thoroughly Bohemian in its melodicinspiration and yet firmly within the German classical tradition exemplified by Brahms.
The E major Serenade
for string orchestra was written in the first two weeks of May in the year 1873 andperformed in Prague on 10th December 1876. It is scored only for strings and has for manyyears formed a major item in the string orchestra repertoire. The first movement openswith music of delicate charm, breathing something of the spirit of a Schubert quartet,particularly in the middle section of this ternary movement. This is followed by a waltz,with a more restless trio. The scherzo starts with a melody of great liveliness, followedby a second theme of more romantic pretensions and a further melody of considerablebeauty, before an extended passage leads back again to the opening melodies. A Larghettoof great tenderness and yearning, recalling in outline the trio of the second movementleads to the finale in which there are references both to the Larghetto and to the firstmovement. This brings, in conclusion, still more of the spirit of Bohemia, with which thewhole Serenade is instilled.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of theSlovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestralarge enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its namedrawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestraworks in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordingsby the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's BrandenburgConcertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel,Vivaldi and Telemann.
The Czech conductor and composer Jaroslav Kr(e)cek was born insouthern Bohemia in 1939 and studied composition and conducting at the PragueConservatory. In 1962 he moved to Pilsen as a conductor and radio producer and in 1967returned to Prague to work as a recording supervisor for Supraphon. In the capital hefounded the Chorea Bohemica ensemble and in 1975 the chamber orchestra Musica Bohemica. InCzechoslovakia he is well known for his arrangements of Bohemian folk music, while hiselectro-acoustic opera Raab was awarded first prize at the International Composer'sCompetition in Geneva. He is the artistic leader of Capella Istropolitana.