Suk (grandfather of the great violinist of the same name who flourished in the last half of the twentieth century) was Dvorák's favorite student. By marrying Dvorák's daughter Otylka, Suk became the composer's son-in-law. Suk was a highly accomplished and serious-minded composer who wrote in a late Romantic vein. Suk's musical output is divided by an abrupt change that took place when both his beloved teacher and his wife died within about a year's time.
Summer Tale is one of a great tetralogy of orchestral compositions that represent Suk's working out the emotions and thoughts raised by the double tragedy in his life. The first was the Asrael Symphony (1905-1906), named after the legendary angel of death. Summer Tale, Ripening (1912-1917), and Epilogue (1920-1929) are the rest. Asrael comes to terms with death. Summer Tale represents the healing power of nature. Ripening holds life and regeneration triumphant, and Epilogue is a kind of reflection on the whole cycle, tempered through the passage of time.
The work is for a very large orchestra and is a composition of a scale approaching that of Mahler's First Symphony, a virtual symphony of tone poems nearly 50 minutes long. It even has a movement that is analogous to the lightly scored "Blumine" movement that Mahler cut from his work.
The first movement, "Voice of light and consolation," begins with a rising theme on violins that is taken to represent Nature's promise of healing. Another important motive is a rhythmic figure borrowed from his previous work of grief, the piano suite About Mother, Op. 28, where it appears in the movement "About Mother's Heart." It clearly represents a heartbeat.
"Noon" is an atmospheric portrait. Violins illustrate air shimmering in the heat, while the dragging tempo of a march-like tune suggests the lethargy induced by the day's warmth. The middle movement, the rather strange "Intermezzo -- Blind musicians" is the lightly scored one, using only reduced strings, two harps, and two English horns. It is a sad movement, the blind musicians endlessly playing the same tune for coins.
The fourth movement is a grotesque scherzo called "In the Power of Phantoms." The work is much like similar parts of Asrael. The finale, "Night," is a peaceful nocturne, only lightly disturbed at times by memories. Healing has occurred; the work ends with a lush, affirmative coda.