Slovak Suite

Vítezslav Novák (1870-1949)
Slovak Suite, Op. 32 (1903)

  1. At Church
  2. Children’s Scene
  3. The Lovers
  4. The Ball
  5. 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.

14 responses to “Slovak Suite”

  1. ken hamer

    Thank you for introducing me to an unknown (to me) composer’s work. I have just listned to Vitezslav Novak’s Slovak Suite on UKs CLASSIC FM for the first time. My family and I love it and will be searching for his works on CD in the very near future!! Thanks again for such an informative precise.

  2. Jamie

    I too have just discovered “At Church” on the Classic fm’s “Smooth Classics” CD and think that it deserves a much wider broadcast! Too often on these “relax” CDs we get the obligatory Barber “Adagio” , Gymnopedie and “The Swan” – it’s good to hear other great music that we can relax to.

  3. Tom Cunliffe

    Thank you for the background notes to this CD which I have just purchased. What a wonderful piece of music it is

  4. Catherine Taylor

    I heard the first movement of this piece on Classic FM this morning. Absolutely incredible…this is a “must have”.

  5. Gary Gouldson

    Heard ‘At Church’ on Classic FM whilst falling asleep… simply wonderful. Bought the full album the next day…

  6. Alison Alleyne

    I would liko buy Vitezslav Novak ‘Slovacka Suita Part 1 In Church’ for a friend who also heard it on Classic FM and loved it. Could you let me know where I can purchase the CD for the whole album. Thanks

  7. Jonathan

    The recording with Libor Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra seems generally unavailable at the moment. Amazon and Play both have it for sale in their market places for around £30, which is quite steep. Amazon have it as MP3 download for £7.49.ák-Orchestral-Works-Vítzslav/dp/B000002SR4

    An alternative is a recording by the Czech PO that sells for around £15:
    It’s paired with Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
    I haven’t heard this recording, though.

  8. Jules

    Was this music used in the television adaptation of the Alan Clark Diaries?

  9. Jonathan Rawle

    Now there’s a challenge, Jules! I can’t find a listing of the music used in the series. There is only one clip on Youtube, and the music here is Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody:

    English music would seemingly be a better fit given the subject matter, but who knows what selection of music they chose. Maybe we’ll have to wait for the launch of the “BritBox” streaming service to find out!

  10. Brian White

    Again something one hears through the great Classic FM and John Suchet and it’s a great score that’s been “hidden away” just waiting for someone like me to get hooked on! Had to have it on my phone and play this relaxing music quite a bit!

  11. R. V. Datmir

    The Slovak Suite is something of a favourite in the form, especially for Novak’s masterful use of timbre to create a phantom choir in the church segment. At least that is how I THINK it works.

  12. Richard Pohl

    Thanks for an intriguing article on Novák’s music! We are now recording his complete songs and we cannot believe that most of them were never recorded before. Such a vast oeuvre full of true gems in all genres!

  13. Antonin Pachl

    Moravia is NOT part of Slovakia. In Moravia is an region called Slovacko ..south east Czech Republic and this is where Novak got his tunes from.

  14. Jonathan Rawle

    That’s presumably why the work is often referred to as the “Moravian-Slovak Suite”. It appears “Slovak Suite” is something of a misnomer and the music was actually inspired by Slovacko in what is now the Czech Republic.

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