He belongs to the generation of the so called Czech modernism that lived and worked, for the most part, in the first half of the 20th century, and that drew on the tradition of the 19th-century Czech music.
In Novák’s case, these characteristics were significantly supplemented by his inclination towards Moravian and Slovak folklore and French Impressionism. At first, he attended law and philosophy lectures at Charles University, and only later did he start studying composition, together with Josef Suk, under Antonín Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory.
Thanks to Johannes Brahms some of Novák’s compositions were published by the German editor Simrock. He contributed to all musical forms, having composed symphonic poems, e.g. In the Tatra Mountains (V Tatrách), Eternal Longing (O věčné touze), Toman and the Nymph of the Woods (Toman a lesní panna); symphonies, e.g. the Autumn Symphony (Podzimní symfonie), the May Symphony (Májová symfonie); operas The Imp of Zvíkov (Zvíkovský rarášek), The Lantern (Lucerna), Grandfather’s Legacy (Dědův odkaz), and others; cantatas; piano pieces (Pan, a poem for piano); songs; choral works; and other chamber music. In some of his compositions a strong patriotic accent is emphasized: the South-Bohemian Suite (Jihočeská suita), St Wenceslas Triptych (Svatováclavský triptych), etc.
He was an excellent and highly regarded pedagogue, a legendary figure that enjoyed the reputation of a very demanding tutor at the Prague Conservatory where he worked between the years 1919 and 1939. Apart from that he also gave private lessons. He educated a number of composers of the post-war generation (Václav Trojan, Miloš Sokola, Ilja Hurník, Václav Dobiáš, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Otakar Jeremiáš, and many more), and contributed substantially to the continuous development of the 20th-cetnury Czech music.
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