Getting to know Stjepan Šulek with WKMT.
Great composer, violinist and conductor.
Stjepan Šulek was born in Zagreb (Croatia) in 1914. He was a violinist, music teacher, composer and conductor. Upon graduating he joined the Zagreb String Quartet (Croatia’s oldest chamber ensemble, formed in 1919) as a violinist. Three years later, he formed the Maček-Šulek-Janigro Trio which he played with until 1945. He didn’t stop there and wanted to do more as a composer. He began composing and teaching at the Zagreb Conservatorium. In his teaching career, Šulek was a distinguished professor of musical composition and mentor of many leading Croatian composers. his students including Milko Kelemen, Stanko Horvat, Krešimir Šipuš, Sandro Zaninović, Pavle Dešpalj, Dubravko Detoni, Igor Kuljerić etc.
He was particularly prolific in the field of orchestral composition, including eight symphonies, Epitaf and Runke. He remained a melodic composer, often looking back to previous eras, including Baroque music.
As for piano, he wrote three piano sonatas as well as three piano concertos and a couple of minor pieces such as three preludes. Very often, Croatian pianists find a place for Šulek’s piano works in their repertoire.
His works were played on a national and international level beginning in 1945 in Europe, South America, and the United States. He launched a successful conducting career in building up an international reputation for the Chamber Orchestra of the Zagreb (now Croatian) Radio and Television. From 1958–64 he was the principal conductor of both the chamber and symphony orchestras of Zagreb. He also undertook numerous European tours with these orchestras.
With his performing, teaching, and composing, Šulek exerted a dominant force on Croatian music. That he is little known or played in the West is no judgment on the quality of his compositions.
Šulek was one of the most individual, creative talents in classical music during the mid-20th century, and any history of that period of music that neglects him is incomplete. Šulek died in Zagreb in 1986 but his work certainly lives.