About this Recording
8.223325 - NOVAK: Pan, Op 43

Vitezslav Novak (1870

Vitězslav Novák (1870-1949)

Pan, a symphonic poem in five movements, Op. 43


Vitězslav Novák was born in 1870, the son of a doctor. His father died when his eldest son was twelve, leaving him with some responsibility for the support of his mother and his younger brothers and sisters. In spite of an earlier induced dislike of music, at the Gymnasium in the south Bohemian town of Jindrichuv Hradec (Neuhaus), where the family settled, Novák overcame this, under the guidance of an inspiring teacher, to become a good pianist and to start composing music of his own. His tendency was towards programme music, much influenced by Mendelssohn, and later by Schumann and Grieg. He studied law at Prague University on a scholarship, concentrating at the same time largely on musical studies at the Conservatory. He suffered harsh criticism there from his harmony teacher, Knittl, and this was only overcome to some extent by his attendance at master classes in composition given by Dvorák. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1892 with his Violin Sonata and continued piano studies for four more years, while continuing to attend courses at the University until 1895, when he left without taking a degree.


The connection with Dvorák proved profitable, allowing Novák a further scholarship and grant from a Conservatory fund, and an introduction to important publishers. He found something of an individual voice when he visited in 1896 the Moravian district of Valachia, where he was deeply influenced by the folk-music he heard. He pursued his growing interest in this native form of art in tours of Slovakia and Moravia, when he collected folk-music, attempting by analysis to extract its essence. The climax of his career came in 1910 with the extended piano composition Pan, later orchestrated, and Boure, The Storm, the latter written for the 50th anniversary of the Brno orchestra.


In 1909 Novák became professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory and further honours followed, coupled with considerable popularity. His later music, which included a series of operas and a later return to orchestral composition, was less in accord with the spirit of the time, now influenced by the new music of Vienna. He remained, however, an important figure in moulding a new generation of Slovak composers at the Conservatory, where he retained his position, and of leading composers from Moravia, Bohemia and elsewhere.


The symphonic poem Pan, originally written for piano, is in five movements. It opens with a Prologue, an evocation of the spirit of the ancientgod, delicately conjured up in a telling use of the orchestra, in which the piccolo and then the flute suggest the shepherd pipes, rather as if Debussy had been born and bred in the same country and studied with Dvorák, never venturing to Paris. The rarefied air of the mountains is suggested in the opening of the motivically related second movement, leading to music of greater majesty, but ending as it began. The third movement, Sea, marked with some originality Allegro spumante, suits the music to the direction, a romantic picture, again united to what has gone before by its thematic material. The next movement opens in the stillness of the forest, recalling the first bars of the whole work. Pan ends in fernale caprice, impetuous in its opening, then briefly and sweetly pleasing, moving forward to a swirling tarantelle, tantalisingly introduced by the woodwind, but bringing moments of respite and nostalgic reminiscences of what has passed. The movement brings to aserene and tranquil end a work of notable thematic unity, a sensuous evocation of nature.


The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra


The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vadav Talich (1949-1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pešek. Zdenék Košler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvořák.


During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings indude works by Glière, Spohr, Respighi, Rubinstein, Bax, Suchon and Miaskovsky and have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.


Zdenĕk Bílek


Zdenĕk Bílek graduated from the Brno Conservatory and the College of Music and Drama where he studied under Vadav Talich. In 1953 he was appointed assistant conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic, a post he held until 1969 when he was appointed principal conductor of the Zlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Between 1975 and 1981 he was artistic director of the Košice State Opera and is currently a lecturer in conducting at the Bratislava Conservatory. Zdenĕk Bílek specialises in the orchestral works of Dvořák, Janáček, Suk, Martinů and Novák.

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