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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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The 20th-century history of Slovak music has been intertwined with that of the former Czechoslovakia, though Slovak composers have not been as prominent as those of the Czech lands. Following the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the foundation of the Slovak National Theatre in 1919 initiated Slovak opera, while the teaching influence of Novák (see the Czech Republic) encouraged Slovak composers; he himself was influenced by the music of the Tatras Mountains. The early works of Alexander Moyes (1906-1984) included the influences of jazz and Constructivism, but he then turned to the influence of Slovak folk music, with its vital rhythms. This period includes the symphonic suite Down the Váh (1935), a set of five symphonic poems following the course of the river in the manner of Smetana's Vltava. His later music was influenced by Stravinsky, and again included jazz elements. His output includes nine symphonies, a flute concerto, a piano concerto, and the Wind Quintet (1933). The contribution of Ján Cikker (1911-1989) was mainly in the field of opera; his earlier operas incorporate folk and nationalist elements, but the later, highly expressive works adopt an atonal and free 12-tone harmonic idiom. Juro Jánošík (completed with final revisions 1955) is based on the story of the Slovak Robin Hood, the 18th-century outlaw of the title, to a libretto by Štefan Hoza that adds a love interest and ends with the gallows. Beg Bajazid (1955) pits the Turks against the Slovaks, with a folk-like story of a boy captured by the Turks, growing into manhood as a Turk, and returning to his native land and reverting to its values. Mr.Scrooge (1957-1959, revised as Evening, Night and Morning, 1963) was based on Dickens. His later operas moved away from the nationalist themes, and tackled powerful literary sources. Vzkriesenie (Resurrection, 1962) is drawn from Tolstoy's last novel, Hra láske a smrti (The Play of Love and Death, 1969) is based on a novel by the French writer Romain Rolland, and Shakespeare was set in Coriolanus (1972). The Sentence: Earthquake in Chile, first performed 1979) is based on Kleist, while his last opera, Zo života hmyzu (From the Life of Insects, first performed 1987), used The Insect Play by the Capek brothers as its source. His concert music includes the first Slovak piano concerto, the Concertino (1942) for piano and orchestra, two popular symphonic dances (Dupák, 1950, and Verbunk, 1951), and the Slovak Suite (1953) for orchestra. The most important Slovak composer of this generation is Eugen Su chon (born 1908), who is again best known for his operas.

Slovak Music Information Centre:

Slovensky Hudobny Fond

Medena 29, CS-81102



tel: +42 7 331380

fax: +42 7 333569





born 25th September 1908 at Pezinok


Eugen Suchon is the best known Slovak composer, whose music commended itself to both the Nazi and to Communist regimes. His earlier music is unashamedly Romantic, sometimes with modal inflections, and includes the cycle Noc carodejnic (The Night of the Witches, 1927) for orchestra, the Serenáda (1932) for wind quintet, arranged for string orchestra in 1933, and the programmatic Burleska (1933) for violin and orchestra, to which Suchon added material in 1948 to create a short violin concerto Fantázia a burleska. In the Baladická suita (Ballad Suite, 1934) for orchestra (also version for piano) the image of the ballad is not prominent; instead a large Romantic orchestra, with the addition of side-drum, creates what amounts to a tone-poem, elegiac in the second of four movements, tuneful and colourful but not especially memorable.

Suchon also produced a number of vocal works reflecting the Slovak countryside, including the cycle O hrách ( About the Mountains, 1934-1942) for male voice choir, and the grand Žalm zeme Podkarpatskej ( Psalm of the sub-Carpathian Lands, 1938) for tenor, chorus and orchestra, whose twin themes of the beauty of the countryside and the repression of the people appealed to the later Communist regime. This nationalist element culminated in the opera Krútnava ( The Whirlpool, 1941-1949, revision 1952), to a libretto by Štefan Hoza from a novel by M.Urban. The title refers to a psychological state rather than a physical phenomenon, and the story of jealousy and murder combines social comment with a folk tradition. It is set in the early 1920s in the Slovak mountains, and its central character is Katrena, who develops from a shy wife to a decisive independent personality, illustrating the considerable repression of women in this period. The music (especially the choruses) include folk-like songs and dances, and two actual folk-songs. Metamorfózy (1953) for orchestra are a set of variations on original themes, lushly Romantic, in an idiom that in all intents and purposes looks back to Novák, well-wrought, pleasant, with moments of grander triumph and lyrical atmosphere, but too unidiomatic to be of real interest. These works had used extended harmonies drawn from folk music (including chords of 11ths and 13ths), and in his next opera Suchon extended his harmonic idiom with the use of 12-note rows within a wider harmonic cast, and preferring modal inflections. The national historic grand opera Svätopluk (1959) is set in the 9th century, and in spite of the use of 12-tone techniques has a traditional harmonic feel. The second act has some very atmospheric writing for both protagonists and chorus, and exceptionally powerful dramatic sections with echoes of J anácek. Although the first and third acts are less memorable, this is worth investigating for those interested in more unusual nationalistic operatic repertoire. Unfortunately, given Suchon's evident sense of psychological drama and vocal writing, no other operas have appeared. Since the song cycle Ad astra (1961) for soprano and small orchestra or piano, he has embraced a chord structure system ranging from the diatonic to 12-note, leading to writing in multiple modes. He has also used sets of different pieces as part of a larger structure: Kaleidoskop (1968), for example, embraces a piano concerto and an organ and percussion work among its components.

Suchon taught at the Bratislava Academy from 1933, the Bratislava High School from 1950, and at Bratislava University (1959-1974). He was President of the Czechoslovak Composer Organization from 1973.


works include:

- Prielom Symphony; Sinfonietta Rustica

- clarinet concertino; Nocturne for cello and orch.; Ballad for horn and orch.; Rapsodická suita for piano and orch.; Fantázia a burleska and Sonatina for violin and orch.; Symfonická fantázia na BACH for organ, strings and percussion; Kaleidoskop for piano, organ, strings and percussion

- Due pezzi concertanti for clarinet and piano; violin sonata;Počme macabre for violin and piano; string quartet; piano quartet; Serenáda for wind quintet (also string arrangement)

- Malá suita s passacagliou (Little Suite with Passacaglia, also orchestrated),Obrázky zo Slovenska (Pictures from Slovakia) and Toccata for piano

- Baladická suita, Metamorfózy and Noc carodejnic; Six Compositions for strings

- song cycles including Ad astra and Nox et solitudo for soprano and small orch. or piano; Slovenské l'udové piesne (Slovak Folksongs) for tenor, chorus and small orch.;Žalm zeme Podkarpatskej for tenor, chorus and orch.; O horách and Slovenská piesen for male voice choir; other vocal works

- ballet Angelika

- operas Krútnava and Svätopluk


recommended works:

opera Krútnava (The Whirlpool, 1941-1949, revision 1952)

opera Svätopluk (1959)


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