Josef Suk began composing his funeral symphony Asrael while grieving over the death of his father-in-law Antonín Dvořák, then as he was working on the piece, Suk’s wife, Dvořák’s daughter Otilka, died as well. To this great work full of immense human suffering he gave the name of the Islamic and Hebrew angel of death. Gustav Mahler is, as it were, the unspoken godfather of Asrael.
Suk’s symphonic masterpiece is both intoxicating and philosophical; it does not drive listeners to despair, but instead exhorts them to contemplate the inexorable nature of fate and to meditate on the eternal. Asrael is a symphony in which Suk recasts great personal sorrow into a masterpiece, a true milestone of Czech symphonic music, and a work worthy of standing alongside the world’s greatest compositions of the early twentieth century.
The conductor Jakub Hrůša and the Czech Philharmonic will perform Asrael using the critical edition published in 2018 by Bärenreiter, which is based on not only Suk’s manuscript, but also corrections made later at the initiative of Václav Talich. On the first part of the programme will be the Violin Concerto in D Major by Ludwig van Beethoven with the outstanding violinist Jan Mráček playing the solo part.