“A manly, finished, powerful work, highly intellectually distinctive in its material, assured in its layout and form, confident in its mastery of the symphonic apparatus” – that is how a period critic described the Symphony No. 1 in E Major by Josef Suk. The Czech Philharmonic will be performing the work of the barely twenty-five-year-old composer under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, and this will remind us of not only the young Suk’s maturity, but also, indirectly, the music to the fairy tale Radúz and Mahulena performed at last year’s festival. The two works were composed at the same time, and there is no denying the musical features they have in common.
This year, the Dvořák Prague Festival is devoting increased attention to the music of Josef Suk not only because he was Dvořák’s son-in-law, but also because Suk was a direct successor to his father-in-law’s compositional legacy. Dvořák was the first composer to create the canon of the Czech Romantic symphony, and Suk followed him in this, adding to that canon a certain emotional tremulousness, existential uncertainty, and decadent sorrow of the fin de siècle. One can hardly miss the Mahlerian echoes in Suk’s symphonic music. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major with the superb pianist Martin Kasík shows us the image of music ninety-five years older than Suk’s symphony, which still stood firmly on the foundations erected by Beethoven, but which also took part in starting the process of calling those foundations into question.