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Saint Paul SundayFeatured Artist

The Ames Piano Quartet

  The Ames Piano Quartet
  The Ames Piano Quartet

The Ames Piano Quartet:
Mahlon Darlington, violin
Jonathan Sturm, viola
George Work, cellist
William David, pianist

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Josef Suk
The piano quartet heard November 7 on Saint Paul Sunday was the first official work - Opus 1 - of one of the most gifted Czech composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the composer who, even in his own lifetime, was hailed as the successor to the great Antonín Dvorák. Josef Suk was born in Krecovice in 1874 and entered the Prague Conservatory in 1885 to study violin and composition, and his piano quartet was a piece written as his examination composition in 1891. He stayed on at the conservatory for a further year in order to study chamber music and composition with Dvorák, who had joined the faculty in early 1891. In fact, Suk had been allowed to go ahead with his composition while all the other students worked on developing a musical theme set by Dvorák - and when Dvorák first heard the slow middle movement, he walked up to Suk, kissed him, and said, "chlapik!" (fine fellow!). Suk soon became Dvorák's favorite pupil and in 1898 married Dvorák's daughter Otilie, with whom he had a very happy family life.

Despite his clear ability and avid quartet playing (he appeared in more than 4,000 concerts with the Czech Quartet over the course of 40 years), Suk composed relatively little chamber music. He is instead best known for his orchestral works, including the famous "Asrael" symphonic poem cycle begun after the death of Antonín Dvorák in 1905. His own wife Otilie died shortly thereafter. The losses were shattering to Suk and influenced his music ever after. The four segments of the cycle - Asrael, A Summer's Tale, The Ripening, and Epilogue - were written over the course of nearly 30 years and are considered some of his finest and most eloquent works, reflecting his own inner struggles and rivaling Mahler in their structural form and emotional energy.

Despite his association with Dvorák, Suk was not influenced by Czech folk music or literature and instead developed a highly individual approach, full of self-quotation and personal symbolism which reflected his rich inner life and imagination. His early compositions, such as the Opus 1 piano quartet, were written in a sensuous Romantic style, and much of his most loved works (his Serenade for Strings, a number of songs and the beautiful incidental music for Raduz and Mahulena, for example) come from this early period. In later life his style became more complex, even bordering on atonality. Suk taught advanced composition at the Prague Conservatory from 1922 and trained more than 35 composers, including Bohuslav Martinu. Josef Suk died near Prague in 1935. A grandson, also named Josef Suk [] (b. 1929) is an acclaimed violinist.


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