Vítezslav Novák (1870-1949)
Slovak Suite, Op. 32 (1903)
- At Church
- Children’s Scene
- The Lovers
- The Ball
- The Night
Vítezslav Novák, considered by many to be the father of modern Czech music, lacked inspiration until, in 1896, he crossed the border into neighbouring Moravia, now part of the Slovak Republic. Not only was he motivated by the Slovak songs and folk tunes, he also fell in love with the Moravian countryside and landscape.
The Slovak Suite of 1903 consists of five movements depicting the country newly discovered by the composer, and the listener gains far more by imagining the scenes as Novák himself would have seen them, while listening to his music.
The long opening movement At Church captures the air of a country church, and features magnificent use of the organ. For most of the movement, the music is of heavenly strings and harp, but it reaches a climax with a clever depiction of church bells (despite the fact that the small orchestra for which Novák scored the piece does not include any percussion) and a solo on the organ.
The middle three movements are shorter, and portray the countryside in a manner more similar to that of Grieg than of Novák’s fellow countryman and teacher, Dvorák. The Children’s Scene begins with a playful tune, but this contrasts with the lullaby of the middle section. The Lovers is apparently the most popular movement in the Czech Republic, and features a more tender melody which, in the reverse of the previous movement, is contrasted with a frolicsome central section.
The Ball tells of a village festival, and in that respect is similar to the scene in the village beside Smetana’s Vltava. This movement takes folk rhythms and dances as its inspiration. At one stage the melody is played on a solo violin, and the village dance then becomes faster and more and more intense as it goes on towards its finale, which just hints at the theme from At Church.
The final movement The Night is more similar to the opening movement in both length and style, and sees the welcome return of the organ. The rippling harp represents cool moonlight reflecting in pools of water, and two main themes are repeated several times with sight variation, one theme mystical and representing the half-light, the other reminding us of the church and the other movements. At one stage, The Lovers‘ theme is reprised. The orchestration becomes richer and more dramatic as the work reaches its climax, and we are left with only memories of the Moravian landscape.