ARTICLE | JANUARY 07, 2021
Otilie Suková (1878-1905) was the daughter of Antonín Dvořák and the wife of Josef Suk. A gifted musician, she played the piano and wrote several compositions of her own, inspired by her musical surroundings. Discover more about her in this article by
Viviane Goregen’s Pianistiche Miniaturen von Komponistinnen (Ars Produktion 2019) is a collection of works for the piano written by female composers. It was listening to this CD that I first came across two beautiful works – Humoreska and Ukolébavka – by Otilie Suková. As part of my Masters studies, I had to transcribe a piece for the classical guitar and I remembered these two works and began researching the music and the composer. Usually, any information about any female composers is more difficult to find than male composers but I was surprised when I couldn’t find a record of Suková either in the International Encyclopaedia of Women Composers or on Donne’s Big List. Though faced with a bit of a challenge, I was also extremely excited to find out more about this forgotten composer. Obtaining her scores provided an excellent starting point with a preface written by Eva Prchalová. From this, and various online resources and conversations with musicologists, I was able to discover more about Suková’s life and begin work on reimagining her piano works for the guitar, excited at the prospect of championing ‘new’ works by a hidden composer and bringing her to new audiences.
Otilie Suková was born in 1878 in Bohemia and was the daughter of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) and his wife Anna Čermáková; she was the eldest of the couples six children to survive to adulthood (their first three children died). Suková began her music studies with Jindřich Kàan z Albestů, a friend of her fathers and professor of piano studies at the Prague Conservatory and later took piano classes with Adele Margulies, professor of piano at the National Conservatory of Music of American in New York. Suková did not become a professional musician, but despite this, was immersed in music throughout her life; her father was one the most celebrated composers of the nineteenth century and arguably the most famous composer from Bohemia and her husband – one of her father’s students – was also a composer and was the violinist of the Bohemian Quartet, Josef Suk (1874-1935). In a letter printed in Zlatá Praha in 1909, Suk writes about Suková’s compositions:
Once, after my return from travelling, [Otilie] confessed to me that even she had composed several “little pieces for piano”. Initially, she felt embarrassed to play them for me but when I finally persuaded her to play, it caused her great joy when, during her second play through, I stood up with a pencil in my hand and wrote down everything just as I had heard her play it. She clapped her hands and laughed a great deal when I advised her on something and she was very surprised it had not occurred to her.
(Zlatá Praha, vol. XXVII, no. 6, p 71-72.)
There is a collection of works published by Bärenreiter (2018) that includes her only (that we know of) four compositions: Humoreska, Ukolébavka, Pepča na koníčku and Drahému tatíčkovi.
Unfortunately, Suková’s talents as a composer (and, possibly, a performer) could not be developed as she died suddenly from a heart condition in 1905, aged 27.