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VORÍŠEK, Jan Hugo (1791–1825)



  • Biljana Urban, piano

Jan Hugo Voríšek, the ‘prodigy from Prague’, arrived in Vienna at the age of 22 and almost immediately earned the approval and admiration of Beethoven. His works foreshadow Schubert, Chopin and Schumann but he was so individualistic a composer that he resists easy categorisation either as a Classicist or a Romantic. This third and last volume of his complete piano works is devoted to the Twelve Rhapsodies, Op. 1, which extend the form of the scherzo in a lyrical vein reminiscent of Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79.


12 Rhapsodies, Op. 1 (1818) (01:15:13 )
No. 1 in C-Sharp Minor: Allegro (00:07:27)
No. 2 in E Major: Allegro (00:05:55)
No. 3 in A Minor: Allegro con brio (00:08:14)
No. 4 in F Major: Vivace (00:05:36)
No. 5 in F Minor: Allegro (00:04:19)
No. 6 in A-Flat Major: Allegretto ma agitato (00:07:01)
No. 7 in D Minor: Allegro furioso (00:05:41)
No. 8 in D Major: Veloce, ardito (00:04:28)
No. 9 in G Minor: Allegro appassionato (00:05:58)
No. 10 in C Major: Allegro risvegliato (00:06:22)
No. 11 in B Minor: Allegro brioso (00:07:41)
No. 12 in E-Flat Major: Allegro tempestoso (00:06:34)
Total Time: 01:15:16

The Artist

Biljana Urban comes from a family with a rich musical tradition. Her Czech-born grandfather, Jan Urban (1875–1952), was a composer and conductor. Biljana Urban received her Ph.D. in Music (Piano Performance) summa cum laude from the Academy of Music in Zagreb, and has an international career, appearing in such venues as the Fresno Concert Hall, California, and taking part in international music festivals. As a chamber musician she has performed with soloists of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Monnaie Orchestra, Brussels, and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Her recitals have been broadcast by radio and television companies in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia and the United States. The first album of Vorišek’s Complete Works for Piano was classed among the best albums of 2014 by Culture Catch.

The Composer

Like many before him, Jan Václav (Hugo) Voříšek, an exceptionally talented pianist and promising young composer, left his native Bohemia for Vienna in 1813 to further his musical ambitions. Under the patronage of Countess Rozina Kolowratz-Libstejnsky, owner of the Vamberk estate where he was born, Voříšek had already begun to establish his reputation in Prague as a pianist while studying philosophy, aesthetics, mathematics and later law at the Charles University. His failure to complete his studies in Prague was due to no lack of ability but rather the increasingly prominent part music was beginning to play in his life.

One of the most influential figures in Voříšek’s development as an artist was his teacher, the pianist and composer Tomášek, who was so impressed with his pupil’s abilities that he taught him free-of-charge from around 1804. Under Tomášek’s guidance Voříšek made rapid progress as a pianist but little attention was paid in his lessons to theoretical matters. Voříšek later recorded that instruction ceased when he reached the seventh chord and his extant notebooks appear to bear this out. Nonetheless, Tomášek’s own works as well as those of Bach and the great Viennese masters taught him a great deal about the craft of composition and Voříšek’s first works, some German dances and a funeral march, appeared in print as early as 1812. He also composed and had performed the cantata Gefühle des Dankes as a farewell to one of his teachers.

Although Voříšek’s move to Vienna in the autumn of 1813 was ostensibly to further his education in law, he threw himself into the musical life of the city. He quickly established a reputation as an exceptional pianist and, like his rivals, Moscheles and Hummel, he was particularly admired for his brilliant extempore playing. Voříšek appeared regularly in the concerts of the newly established Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and indeed had performed Hummel’s Rondo brillant in A, Op. 56, at their very first concert in December 1815. He was appointed assistant conductor of the Gesellschaft’s orchestral concerts in1818 and the following year he was named a principal conductor and member of the advisory council. Among his many other musical activities in Vienna was regular participation in Kiesewetter’s Historische Hauskonzerte which gave Voříšek extensive experience of performing older works from which he also learned a great deal about compositional technique.

Although Voříšek was enjoying considerable success in Vienna as a pianist he returned to his legal studies and finally completed his degree. In May 1822 he was appointed a clerk in the maritime division of the Imperial War Department and later that year applied successfully for the position of Second Court Organist. He was appointed on 10 January 1823 and promptly resigned from his post in the War Department. On the death of the First Organist later that year Voříšek succeeded to the position which he held until his death from tuberculosis on 19 January 1825.


“Each piece is a unique entity and refuses to be locked into a formal straitjacket rhythmically, harmonically, or melodically. If the melodic content does not melt you with its beauty, as Chopin often does, the ideas are arresting and unexpected enough to keep you attentive. Each rhapsody is a gem… We are thankful to Biljana Urban for giving us an alternative to Radoslav Kvapil’s three-disc survey.” – American Record Guide

“The music presented on this disc is a wonderful mix of the classical and early romantic styles prevalent in the day. …the real highlight of the set must be the F Major Rhapsody, which is full of youthful exuberance, with the main theme being employed in the second movement Scherzo of his more popular B flat minor Sonata Op. 20 of 1820. An enjoyable collection of pieces.” – MusicWeb International