Josef Suk (1874–1935): Elegy for piano trio, Op. 23 (1902)

It became obvious very early on that Josef Suk was a a brilliant violinist. He studied under Dvořák (and then became his son-in-law) and was one of the Bohemian Quartet’s founder members he became famous as an extraordinarily talented performer touring Europe from 1891 until 1933 as their second violinist. He wasn’t a particularly prolific composer  but that which he did leave behind is of very good quality his earlier works are very influenced by Dvořák and Czech folk music but from 1904 when Dvořák died and followed in 1905 by his wife’s death older his music grew darker and darker moving in the direction of something that might stand alongside the works of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. 

His Elegy for piano trio, Op. 23 dates from 1902  and was written as a memorial to the Bohemian writer, dramatist, and poet Julius Zeyer (1841–1901) for some of whose plays Suk had composed scores. The work you can hear below is somewhat different from the original. It was originally planned that the Elegy be part of a series of tableaux vivants written for a memorial soirée in Zeyer’s honour but its quality is such that treating it as mere ephemera would be to do music lovers a disservice. Suk was urged to rescore it from its original configuration of violin, cello, string quartet, harp and harmonium to the more manageable arrangement for violin, cello and piano that is its present form.

Its theme comes from Zeyer’s ‘Vyšehrad’ an epic poem set in antiquity at the ancient fortress of Vyšehrad in Prague. It’s a funeral lament1 It starts by presenting a song which we hear first from the violin which is then joined by the cello the piano accompaniment is somewhat subdued. This adagio is followed by Elegy’s brief second section in which the piano creates a sombre mood. The final section echoes the meditative atmosphere of the first movement and concludes with a coda that echoes the second section’s material bringing us gently to the piece’s conclusion. Enjoy :-)

mfi

Josef Suk (1874–1935): Elegy for piano trio, Op. 23 (1902)

Performers: Sitkovetsky Trio

Notes:

  1. The fact that it’s a lament explains the original scoring for violin, cello, string quartet, harp and harmonium which was the configuration adopted by Romantic composers to represent ‘antiquity’ – mfi.

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