Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949) was a Czech post-romantic composer. Born in a small Bohemian town, he moved to Prague in his teens to study at the conservatory, where he had the good fortune of having Antonín Dvořák as a teacher for some time.
In the late 1890s, Novák began to explore the folk scenario of Moravia and Slovakia, back then considered culturally backward in comparison to the lively Czech capital. He also developed an interest in musical impressionism, though he always denied having heard anything by Debussy. Whether that was true or not, his steps into bitonality and parallel harmony were certainly brave considering a musical frame tied to the Wagnerian and Brahmsian aesthetics.
This is mostly evident in the tone poem O věčné touze (Of the Eternal Longing, op. 33, completed 1905). Aspects of this approach are present in V Tatrách (In the Tatras, op. 26, 1902), though here there are clear folk influences combined with a more monumental vision.
After the Prague premiere of Salome in 1906, Novák became very much influenced by the music of Richard Strauss, whose music would remain an inspiration for the rest of his life. In the early 1910s though, a series of negative responses from the audience caused him to sink into depression. He tried to regain the favor of the public with two operas about Czech historical subjects, both met with mixed reviews.
The Czechoslovak independence in 1918 sparked several patriotic compositions, a pattern that would present itself once more after World War II, with, among others, the Májová symfonie (May Symphony, op. 73, dedicated to Stalin as liberator of the Czechs and premiered after the war in 1945).
Here’s a link to the Official Institute promoting the works and legacy of Vítězslav Novák.
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