SHARP #2: Reflecting on a Christmas Hymn in Spring
By: Ashley Jones
This week the Arkansas Symphony performed Meditation on the Old Bohemian Chorale "Saint Wenceslas” by Czech composer Josef Suk. After hearing this important work one is left to wonder…
Who was Josef Suk?
"I do not bow to anyone, except to my own conscience and to our noble Lady Music… and yet at the same time I know that thereby I serve my country, and praise the great people from the period of our wakening who taught us to love our country."
Born in 1874, Josef Suk was a Czech composer. Suk had a strong musical background, and was taught organ, violin, and piano by his father, Josef Suk, Senior. He continued his studies under several noted composers of his era. One of his closest inspirations was fellow Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Suk was one of the most celebrated composers in Czech Modernism. Known for having a sense of morbidity in his work, he wrote his own funeral march in 1889. Suk wrote his meditation on Saint Wenceslas in 1914. Suk retired in 1933, but remained important to the Czech musical tradition.
Who was Saint Wenceslas?
Born circa 907, Wenceslas was the son of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia from the Přemyslid dynasty. Though never actually a king (as stated in the popular hymn), he was posthumously given regal title by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. Saint Wenceslas’s popularity blossomed in the Middle Ages through a series of biographies that were written about his moral and heroic deeds. According to legend, Wenceslas would leave his noble home every night and give generously to the church, widows, orphans, prisoners, and others in need. He was named a martyr and saint shortly after his death.
The hymn "Svatý Václave" (Saint Wenceslas) or "Saint Wenceslas Chorale" is one of the oldest known Czech songs in history. Its roots can be traced to the 12th century, and was considered as a possible choice for the national anthem of the Czechoslovak state.
And now what?
To share your reflections on Saint Wenceslas, Josef Suk, or any of the other pieces performed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, respond to this blog post or, as always, you can join the conversation by attending one of the scheduled SHARP events.