Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek


While in purely quantitative terms Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek (1791–1825) left behind a legacy of relatively few works, he definitely ranks among composers of the highest order. Born into a family of Eastern Bohemian cantors, he obtained education in Prague and in Vienna where, from 1813 up to his untimely death, he was active as a piano player, musical tutor, conductor and leading protagonist of the historic first concert performances. Towards the end of his life he held the post of first organist at the imperial court.

Voříšek’s principal merit is seen primodially in his lyrical piano works, and in his sole symphony. But also his virtuoso pieces built on lighter themes have proved to be of a lasting quality, demonstrating his obvious tendency towards a demanding artistic goal for whose attainment the composer unfortunately did not have sufficient time: namely, that of the piano concerto.

Symphony in D major

1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante
3. Scherzo. Allegro ma non troppo
4. Allegro con brio

The Symphony in D major (January 1823) represents one of the most significant links between Viennese classicism and Czech romanticism. Its outer movements are conceived in the sonata form structured with Mozartean brevity and precision; the sharply profiled themes, though, with their attacking determination, are rather closer to Beethoven. The second movement presents an interesting parallel in mood to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which originated at the same period. In place of the habitual ländler, the fantastic Scherzo introduces in its middle part a moving lyrical tune whose styling prefigures the way in which Smetana later depicted the Czech countryside in his symphonic poem. From the Fields and Groves of Bohemia. Compactness and a maximum degree of compositional elaboration, combined with the deeply emotive tone of the cantabile sections, simple yet dignified, as well as the final imbued with hope – these are the features by which Voříšek’s symphony foreshadows many a work of later Czech symphonism.

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The two concert pieces for piano and orchestra are rooted in the atmosphere of the boom of virtuoso music experienced in Vienna in the early 19th century, with the variations and rondo representing the most frequent forms.

Variations de Bravoure for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 14
Introduction et Rondeau Brillant for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22

The Variations, Op. 14 are dedicated to Nanette Řeháček, a wellknown Viennese piano player and a niece of the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh. This piece bears the typical attributes of the period fashion: a sweet theme, virtuoso setting, and a polonaise reminiscence in the final variation. Despite its considerable technical demands, the piece was obviously very popular, a fact that is evident from editions of its piano and quartet arrangements. An example of supreme artistic maturity, the Rondeau, Op. 22 draws its dramatic effect from unusual, even eccentric, contrasts of mood (e.g. the relationship between the introduction and the main theme), from a robust and logical movement structuring, and from experienced, colourful instrumentation. On the whole, the piece has the appearance of a concerto grosso finale.

Olga Zuckerová