Jan Václav Voříšek, a Hungarian composer, organist and
pianist, is generally regarded as one of the lesser rank composers of the early
19th century, overshadowed by the titans, Beethoven and Schubert.
However, in recent years Voříšek's music has drawn more attention, in
particular his works for piano, and he has garnered more respect as a composer
of some merit.
Voříšek was born in Vamberk, Bohemia on May 11, 1791. His
father, a talented musician himself, was the local schoolmaster, choirmaster
and organist. Under the tutelage of his father, Voříšek and his siblings
received their first lessons in music. Voříšek excelled quickly, and by the age
of seven was playing organ at a local church. His skills on the piano
progressed rapidly as well, and Voříšek's father began touring his prodigious
son throughout Bohemia when he was nine years of age. Voříšek's talents
eventually brought him to the attention of Countess Rozina
Kolowrat-Libstejinsky, who became his patron and sent him to Prague in 1802 for
further study. There he studied piano and composition with Václav Tomásek, and
his first extant compositions date from this period.
In 1810, Voříšek began attending the University of Prague
where he studied philosophy and later law. Despite building a reputation as a
skillful pianist, he found it difficult to find sustainable work as a musician.
Thus, in 1813, he left Prague for Vienna. He continued his law studies
alongside his work and studies as a musician and composer. A great admirer of
Beethoven, Voříšek met the great master, who was impressed with the young man's
music and encouraged him to keep composing. He also met Franz Schubert and the
two became good friends.
Voříšek completed his law studies in 1821. Continuing to
face difficulty in supporting himself wholly by music, he took a position as
barrister to the Court Military Privy Councilor. Yet, his fortunes soon changed
when he was appointed organist at the Vienna Court the following year. During
this time, he was composing a great deal. His music shared traits of both
Beethoven, whom he greatly admired, and of his friend
Schubert. He produced his one and only symphony in 1821, the Symphony in D
major—the first major Czech contribution to the symphonic literature. Along
with his piano works, Violin Sonata and Mass in B-flat major, it is among his
most well-known compositions.
Tragically, Voříšek's life and career were cut short when he
succumbed to tuberculosis in 1825 at the age of thirty-four. He was buried at
the Währing cemetery where he would be soon joined by both his idol, Beethoven,
and his friend, Schubert.
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