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A duo of superb performers from Brno – violinist František Novotný and pianist Igor Ardašev. They chose three composers with names beginning with an “S”: alongside famous Robert Schumann, they will present his equally talented wife Clara. Third will be Richard Strauss’s virtuosic Violin Sonata written when he fell in love with his future wife.
Three Romances, Op. 22, for violin and piano
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121
— Intermission —
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18
František Novotný violin
Igor Ardašev piano
After graduating from the Brno Conservatory and the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, František Novotný continued to study the violin with the renowned virtuosos and teachers Zakhar Bron and Viktor Tretyakov. He has received laureate titles, first and special prizes at more than 20 competitions, including Concertino Praga, the P. I. Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Prague Spring, Premio Paganini in Genoa and the Tokyo International Music Competition. Furthermore, he has won the RAI – Radiotelevisione Italiana Award and the Henryk Wieniawski Medal.
František Novotný has been continuously extending his repertoire, which currently encompasses over 70 pieces for violin and orchestra. He has performed with feted philharmonic and symphony orchestras at major concert venues in Europe (Grosses Festspielhaus in Salzburg, Herkulessaal in Munich, etc.), Japan (Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Suntory Hall) and the USA (Carnegie Hall). Besides staples of the global repertoire, he has focused on lesser-known or unknown works of Bernstein, Korngold, Barber, Copland, Rózsa, Berg, Jan Novák and others. He has made the first Czech recordings of concertos by the Romantic Russian composers Arensky and Taneyev. Novotný has collaborated with Czech and foreign labels. Highly acclaimed are his albums featuring Dvořák’s and Brahms’s violin concertos (conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek) and a unique 2-CD set containing Ernest Bloch’s complete works for violin. He has regularly collaborated with radio and television companies.
František Novotný taught at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno and the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, as well as at masterclasses in the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Japan and the USA. In 2009, he was named a university professor. František Novotný has sat on the juries of the Prague Spring International Music Competition, Ernst & Szymanowski and Carl Flesch International Violin Competitions, Balys Dvarionas Competition for Young Pianists and Violinists, G. P. Telemann and Jenő Hubay Violin Competitions, etc. He has co-founded a new international violin competition, which is scheduled to launch in September 2022 in Bratislava, under the patronage of the Slovak President.
Igor Ardašev has brought international fame to Czech piano art for decades. A philosophically oriented virtuoso, he has given independent recitals, as well as concerts in a duo with his wife, Renata Ardaševová-Lichnovská, within which they play piano four hands or two pianos. He has also performed with prominent Czech and international orchestras (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Philharmonia, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, etc.).
Igor Ardašev studied at the Brno Conservatory and the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (under the tutelage of Inessa Janíčková). From 1989 to 1992, he further honed his skills with Paul Badura-Skoda in Austria and Rudolf Serkin in the USA. In the 1980s and 1990s, he garnered numerous prestigious accolades, including the laureate titles at the P. I. Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the Prague Spring International Music Competition, the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels and the Concours International Marguerite Long Jacques Thibaud in Paris. Moreover, he came first at the 1990 Maria Callas International Grand Prix in Athens.
Igor Ardašev has been invited to appear at international festivals (Prague Spring, Janáček May, Festspiele Europäische Wochen Passau, Musikfestival Schloss Moritzburg, Rudolf Firkušný Festival, Concentus Moraviae, etc.). He has also devoted to chamber music, regularly collaborating with František Novotný. Highly acclaimed is the album featuring the complete Beethoven sonatas he has made with the violinist Ivan Ženatý. His discography includes recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Janáček’s Jealousy (with Rudolf Firkušný), Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and Smetana’s My Country arranged for piano (with Renata Ardaševová), and works by Liszt, Martinů, Ježek, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky and Beethoven.
Since 2012, he has taught at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts. In 2019, he received the City of Brno Prize for outstanding achievements in music.
Clara Schumann was a prominent musical figure of the 19th century. Even today she would serve as an example of extraordinary emancipation. She was the daughter of the renowned teacher Friedrich Wieck, an overbearing father who planned her life to the minute and terrorized her in childhood with daily lessons in piano, violin, singing, music theory, harmony and counterpoint. At the age of 11 she went on her first concert tour to Paris, where she performed on piano with Paganini (at that time there was a cholera epidemic and few people came to the concert; the similarity with the current Covid-19 situation is purely coincidental). Despite her father’s fierce opposition, she became the life partner of the composer Robert Schumann and had a fairly happy marriage with him before his mental illness fully erupted. She outlived him by 40 years, which she devoted to her concert career and to nurturing the legacy of her husband’s work. She also earned the living for a large family that Schumann himself could not provide for as the mother of 8 children, some of whom died at a young age. In 1849, Clara Schumann bravely crossed the front line of the besieged Dresden to rescue her children from there. As a piano virtuoso, she performed at 1,400 concerts throughout Europe, playing by heart, which was far from common at the time. She was a mentor and friend of the young Johannes Brahms, whom she encouraged and promoted as a performer, and of the violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom she often gave concerts. She was also a gifted composer, although at that time women were not favored in this profession. She is the author of the sad statement, “women are not born to compose”. As a performer she was an enthusiastic promoter of Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Brahms, but she did not play Liszt and hated Wagner (“Tristan und Isolde was the most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life.”).
During her lifetime, Clara Schumann composed about 40 opuses of her own. They are mostly scored for piano and chamber music ensembles and piano. Her works were often created in order to enrich the programs of her upcoming tours. The year 1853 was particularly fruitful in this respect, when she managed to compose 16 pieces, including Three Romances for violin and piano, Op. 22. They are dedicated to the outstanding violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom she had a long-standing friendship and with whom she closely collaborated (together they performed a total of 238 concerts in Germany and Britain). Three Romances were published by Breitkopf in Leipzig in 1855. On contemporary stages we can also hear a version of this piece for oboe and piano (in 2015 it was performed by the oboist Marc Lachat, a Prague Spring Festival winner, at a concert of the Czech Chamber Music Society) as well as an arrangement for clarinet and piano or for viola and piano. This noble Romantic music demonstrates its universality in the best sense of the word. Listening to it, however, one cannot help but feel that one is listening to the music of Robert Schumann. Well, God knows what it was like at the Schumanns’ home back then...
Robert Schumann’s chamber pieces are relatively few in number compared to his piano works and songs (until 1839 he composed exclusively for piano). In addition to three string quartets, a piano quintet and several piano trios, he wrote only several compositions for a string or a wind instrument, mostly with piano accompaniment. A true Romantic, Schumann lived in a century of virtuosos, to which he made a significant contribution himself both as a pianist and as a composer. His three sonatas for violin and piano (of which the last one remained unfinished and consists of only two movements) seem to be unpretentious, but demand considerable virtuosity. They were composed in a very short period of time – the first two violin sonatas, in A minor and D minor, were written in 1851, while the unfinished third one dates from 1852. There must have been a reason for such a creative explosion for Schumann, who was never particularly fond of the violin, and that was his friendship with the outstanding violinists – Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, conductor and concertmaster from Düsseldorf; Joseph Joachim, with whom Schumann later consulted his Violin Concerto; and above all Ferdinand David, the concert master of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and a teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory.
Schumann had a deep connection with the city of Leipzig. His Violin Sonata No. 2, op. 121 is dedicated to David because of what David had written in one of his surviving letters to Schumann: “I am uncommonly fond of your Fantasiestücke for piano and clarinet; why don’t you write something for violin and piano? There is such a lack of good new pieces, and I can think of no one who could do it better than you.” Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 105 was premiered by David and Schumann’s wife Clara. Schumann wrote the second violin sonata specifically for David – he did so at a miraculous pace, between 26 October and 2 November 1851. As in his other works, he encoded the dedicatee’s name in the score: in the opening and in the first movement, there is a motif consisting of the four-note sequence DA(vid) F(erdinan)D. Wasielewski recalled another circumstance of the sonata’s inception: after the publication of the A minor Sonata, Schumann allegedly made the following comment: “I didn’t like the first violin sonata, so I wrote a second, which I hope turned out better.” However, it is not possible to compare the two works in quality; they differ above all in character and scope.
The second sonata is based on a wide-ranging plan and is so expressive in every respect that it is hard to believe that Schumann’s creative powers were waning at that time. The second movement retains the lyrical character of Schumann’s scherzo movements in 6/8 time with two different rhythms and expressively contrasting sequences in the trio – which greatly influenced the young Brahms. The third movement comprises a series of variations on a theme derived from the Lutheran chorale Aus tiefer Not schreiʼ ich zu Dir, reverting back to sonata form only at the beginning and at the end of this movement. In all movements of the sonata, an extraordinary role is played by the piano and contrary to the custom of the time is given a great deal of space. Although the sonata is dedicated to David, it was actually premiered by Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann in a concert on 29 October 1853. Together with Märchenbildern, Op. 113 (Fairy Tale Pictures), the sonata is one of the last major works composed by Schumann.
Richard Strauss, a leading representative of late German Romanticism, composed his first composition at the age of four. From the age of 6 he attended rehearsals with the Munich Court Orchestra, in which his father Franz played the first horn. From the age of 8 he learned to play the violin, and at 12 he began studying composition. He studied at the Ludwigsgymnasium and the University of Munich, but dropped out and went to Berlin, where he devoted himself fully to music. At the age of 19 he wrote Horn Concerto No. 1 for his father, which became the repertoire staple of this instrument.
At the age of 21 Strauss began his conducting career as assistant to Hans von Bülow at the Meiningen Court Orchestra, but he soon became primary conductor and was able to work with Brahms, among others. He worked in Meiningen until 1886, when he went on a study trip to Italy (reflected in his symphonic suite Aus Italien, Op. 16). Upon his return he joined the Bavarian Court Opera in Munich. However, he was not very happy in his new position. As a third conductor he conducted mostly second-rate operas and ballets, which he did not enjoy, and then he was required to step in to conduct performance for operas which he had never rehearsed. However, it was during this time that he met the love of his life, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, with whom he fell in love. She was a voice student at the Munich Musikschule and became his private pupil. They got married later, in 1894. Strauss’s amorous feelings and passion can be heard in the violin sonata that the then 24-year-old composer wrote at this time.
The premiere of Violin Sonata in E flat major took place on 3 October 1888 in Munich with Robert Heckmann at the violin and Julius Buths at the piano. The nearly 30-minute sonata is in three movements and follows standard sonata form. The piano part in this piece is featured in a Schumann-like manner. The first movement passes from a rather melancholic opening to an emphatic ending; the second movement is unique in that the violin part is presented as an improvisation. The final movement is introduced by the piano in an andante, followed by a virtuosic allegro with an explosive, thrilling ending. Strauss’s Violin Sonata was completed just before Don Juan, a brilliant symphonic poem, a true whirlwind of passion and emotion, Strauss’s first real triumph (1888). In a few short years he became a world-renowned composer of opera and symphonic music.