Josef Suk: 4 Pieces for Violin & Piano
Composed in the spring of 1900, Josef Suk’s 4 Pieces for Violin and Piano (Op.17) was dedicated to fellow violinist Karel Hoffmann. This small suite of music shows the breadth of Suk’s penmanship and showcases his technical writing when it comes to the violin.
Piece I – Quasi ballata
The opening, somewhat impressionistic, first piece embraces textures and timbres to create really colourful phrases. The tight relationship between the violin and piano is put to the test in this opening movement as Suk quickly turns the movement very Romantic in style during the central section. The cross-melodies entangle as the piece comes to its big climax. Suk writes in an incredibly high range of the violin here, which is exciting, but also technically demanding for the performer.
Piece II – Appassionato
Hints to his Bohemian roots rears its head in the energetic second piece. Littered with cross-rhythms and memorable melodies, the movement makes quick changes between fast and technical passages to overtly Romantic and lyrical sections. The rich timbre of the violin is utilised during these sections, with the changes between heavy and light bowing being shown. A reprise of the opening material brings this piece to a close.
Piece III – Un poco triste
The serious opening lays the theme down and showcases the violin’s mid-range. The closeness between the violin and piano is important to note in this piece, as it signifies the coming together for the pair. Suk’s lyricism sings out in this movement, and his evident influence from Dvořák – his teacher and confidant – is laid for all to see. The music then moves into a light Polka section, which mixes the serious tone of the opening section with the faster Polka.
Piece IV – Burleska
Resembling a perpetuum mobile framework, the truly devilish final is quick, technical high-intensity. Suk’s technical demand here is obvious, but his change into a pastiche of the Classical style is a really interesting curveball, and something that is unexpected. The march-like style of this section is accentuated with pizzicato and tremolandi by the violin. The explosive opening resumes and the truly exhilarating piece comes to its thrilling end.
Josef Suk’s 4 Pieces for Violin and Piano encapsulates a range of different styles, techniques and characters to create a really comprehensive set of pieces for the violin. From the Impressionistic opening piece to the technically-challenging finale, this is a sophisticated and wide-ranging suite for any advanced violinist.
Ⓒ Alex Burns