The new album, made by Jan Bartoš in collaboration with the
conductor Jakub Hrůša and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, contains
Vítězslav Novák‘s Piano Concerto in E minor, the piano cycle At Dusk, Op.
13 and Toman and the Wood Nymph – Symphonic poem for large orchestra, Op.
40. We talked with Jan Bartoš about this new release.
What was your prime impulse for exploring Vítězslav
Novák’s Piano Concerto and why did you decide to include the work on the new
When, five years ago, I was studying the Piano Concerto in G minor by Antonín
Dvořák, I ascertained that Vítězslav Novák, a renowned student of his,
wrote a piano concerto too. Later on, I found out that, even though
Novák’s work had been performed in Prague, it was neglected. And when
I first played it for myself, I resolved to learn the piece. Following several
performances at concerts and positive responses, Supraphon and I agreed that
Novák’s concerto certainly deserved to be recorded.
Why do you think that there are so few Czech piano concertos dating
from the periods of Romanticism and Modernism?
There are only three concertos from the Romantic era – Dvořák’s,
Novák’s and Karel Kovařovic’s – yet many more have survived from the
era of Czech Modernism. Bohuslav Martinů alone wrote five piano concertos,
Leoš Janáček composed the Concertino and the Capriccio, and intriguing
concertos were conceived by Viktor Ullmann, Jaroslav Ježek, Pavel Bořkovec,
Viktor Kalabis, Radim Drejsl, Petr Eben, Miloslav Ištvan, Jan Kapr and many
others. Pianists have plenty to choose from.
What makes Novák’s concerto difficult to perform?
The concerto is atypical due to the long piano solos alternating with expansive
purely orchestral passages. Maintaining it as an integral whole, building the
long phrases and large arch is really challenging. On the other hand, it is
remarkable that, as regards natural piano stylisation, the young Novák was far
more dexterous than his teacher Dvořák was in his Piano Concerto in
Vítězslav Novák was reputedly not satisfied with his piano
concerto. Is it true?
Yes, it is, but we should perceive it within a wider context. Novák was not
satisfied with many of his works, notwithstanding that the audience responded to
them keenly. He was generally highly self-critical, revising a number of his
works. It is also important to understand why Novák disliked his piano
concerto. Noteworthy in this connection is the fact that when Dvořák in his
letters to Janáček complained that some of his conservatory student refused to
write in the national style, “rather looking about the world”, it was Novák
in particular whom he bore in mind. Novák admired Schumann and Brahms, as well
as Grieg and Liszt – and the first two movements of his concerto clearly
reveal such influences. Nevertheless, Dvořák was obstinate and did not leave
his student alone. And since Novák immensely respected Dvořák, he ultimately
yielded to his pressure and wrote the third movement of the concerto in the
Czech furiant style. Yet he would soon regret his decision and refused to
perform the concerto. Only two decades later, in 1915, would he acquiesce to its
being premiered, by the Czech Philharmonic.
What led you to include Novák’s cycle At Dusk on the new
Vítězslav Novák wrote many intimate lyrical pieces for the piano. The cycle
is the last work dating from Novák’s first, let us say, Romantic, period,
while also ushering in his next creative phase, in which he embraced
Moravian/Slovak folk music. Contrariwise, the two Serenades evoke the melancholy
atmosphere in Prague at the end of the 19th century. Although ranking among the
least-known Novák cycles, I personally deem it one of the most engrossing of
What about Novák’s inspiration by J. S.
Vítězslav Novák was indisputably the most learned major Czech composer,
possessing a profound knowledge of the arts. A voracious reader, all his works
reflect literary inspiration. His famous composition Pan, for instance, drew
upon Knut Hamsun’s eponymous novel. Machar was his contemporary and Novák
felt a very close affinity to his subjective dark lyricism. Yet it is not
programme music, Novák merely absorbed stimuli. One of the quotations reads:
„I like staring into the fireplace, with the glowing charcoal silently
blazing, like an aureate flaming mixture, and I feel melancholy, contemplative,
like when looking at the sky at dusk“. We should not forget that
Novák’s greatest models were Schumann and Brahms, who too had a penchant for
applying German verse as mottos for their compositions.
What does working with Jakub Hrůša mean to you?
I was really delighted to have the opportunity to work with Jakub. I admire
his artistic and personal qualities, but I also highly esteem how he has been
promoting Czech music abroad, with his concert programmes encompassing both
music by famous and lesser-known composers, in many cases of which it requires
great courage. Who a few years ago could even have conceived the Berliner
Philharmoniker performing Miloslav Kabeláč’s The Mystery of Time? When
I contacted Jakub, he was focusing on Novák, conducting his symphonic poems at
concerts at home and abroad alike. So he responded to the idea of a joint
project with enthusiasm.
What was recording with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra like? And
can you sum up your hitherto collaboration with them?
My very first appearance with the orchestra was two years ago, when we performed
Novák’s Piano Concerto. I think they comprehend the music very well,
immediately connecting with its nature. Besides playing Novák’s piece, last
year the orchestra and I performed together Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano
Concerto No. 1 at a concert opening the Leoš Janáček International Music
Festival in Ostrava. It too was a pleasant experience.
Do you plan to perform the piano compositions featured on the new
album at concerts in the upcoming season?
I definitely intend to perform Novák’s works in this and the following
seasons alike. My love of his music remains undiminished with the release of our
Which performances, either in the Czech Republic or beyond, do you
look forward to giving in the new season?
I look forward to my first collaboration with the extraordinary pianist
Miroslav Sekera, a friend of mine. Moreover, I look forward to the Beethoven
recital I am scheduled to give at the Lípa Musica international festival, and
the performance of Janáček’s complete piano works at the Janáček Brno
Have you given aby thought to your next album?
If a musician’s career is to make any sense, he/she must think well in
advance, including when it comes to recording projects. Over the next few years,
I will definitely devote to the composers whose works have long been maturing
in my mind and heart – Smetana, Suk, Brahms and Schönberg.