Jan Václav VoÅ™í­šek

Jan Vaclav VoÅ™í­šek was a Bohemian composer, generally thought to be of minor rank. Recent attention to his works, however -- especially his piano works -- suggests that his artistic standing may deserve to be upgraded. His music exuded more of a Viennese flavor than a Bohemian one.

VoÅ™í­šek was born in 1791 into a religious, musical family: his brother (who would become a priest) and two sisters all exhibited significant musical abilities early on. The children were taught by their stern father, a talented organist and choirmaster. Jan Václav began playing organ at a local church at age 7 and soon developed into an accomplished pianist, touring the country as a child prodigy, playing both solo and concerto repertory.

A wealthy Countess, Rozina Kolowrat-Libstejnsky, was so impressed with the youth that she acted as his patron, sending him in 1802 to Prague for study at a Jesuit-run school, where he served as organist and produced his first surviving compositions, a collection of organ pieces. In about 1804 VoÅ™í­šek began studying piano with Václav Tomásek, who would also instruct him in harmony and composition.

VoÅ™í­šek entered the University of Prague in 1810, but despite his choice of study there -- philosophy, mathematics, and finally, law -- he fashioned a reputation for his pianism and produced a small body of compositions, including a set of German Dances for piano (1812). In 1814, VoÅ™í­šek , living in Vienna to continue studies in law, met with Beethoven, a composer for whom he had lifelong admiration. The elder master was impressed with some of VoÅ™í­šek's Rhapsodies for piano, Op. 1, and encouraged him in composition. Around this time, too, Vorí­sek was almost certainly studying with Hummel, probably until the latter's departure from Vienna in 1816.

By the early 1820s VoÅ™í­šek was not only turning out imaginative piano music, but worthwhile orchestral and chamber works as well. His 1823 Symphony in D exuded a spirit and dynamism redolent of Beethoven, and his Violin Sonata (1819) was of similar character. During this period, VoÅ™í­šek was active in giving regular concerts, appearing both as pianist and violinist. In 1823, he secured the post of organist at the Vienna Court. He even established his own series of concerts, where he played violin in the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and other notable composers of the day. VoÅ™í­šek , aged just 34, died in November 1825 of tuberculosis.