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‘Journeys through Music’ Lecture Series ─ Into Eastern Europe (Speaker: Dennis Wu)

Venue Date & Time Price
Lecture Hall, Hong Kong Space Museum
21.05.2014 - 16.07.2014 (Every Wed, 7:30pm), 8 lectures in total, except 4 June$50

About the Lectures

(Conducted in Cantonese)


The land of natural landscape, rustic life and complicated history, Eastern Europe has nurtured some of the most energetic musicians ever in music history.  They are remembered as they tell the world musical culture of their lands, with enormous influence to Central European musical tradition.  After a successful run of German composer lectures, Dennis Wu returns with vivid introductions to the lives of eight Eastern European composers and historical contexts that shape these composers to write in a style so recognisable and unique among classical music repertoire.


21 May   Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

How ‘Eastern European’ is Haydn?  A predominantly Austrian composer, Haydn was born in a village near Austria-Hungary border, grew up in a city with Austrians, Hungarians and Croats, and spent nearly three decades in the Esterházy family, the richest and most influential among Hungarian nobility.  To compare, Eisenstadt, where the famous Schloss Esterházy still stands today, is some 350 kilometres southeast to Prague.  Why did Haydn stay with a Hungarian nobility for that long?  What did he do?  And what did other composers do around Europe in the 18th century?  This lecture gives us a good background on why Eastern European composers matter in the next century.


28 May   Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

In 1830, Chopin reluctantly left Warsaw for Vienna, looking for some better musical opportunities there.  He could never return to his country again.  ‘I curse the moment of my departure.’  The idea of going back frequently caught him, but he never materialised such a trip.  The only thing he could do is to remember his homeland in stylised music that would be understood by Viennese and Parisian.  Torn between ideas and people, he is an icon of intimacy and personal connections of the Romantic regime.


11 June   Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884)

‘Prague did not wish to acknowledge me, so I left it,’  Smetana headed to the Swedish town of Göteburg for good.  But he would return to Prague in his forties.  The first thing he did, besides establishing his musical stature with conducting concerts and playing recitals, was to learn Czech and do exercises on Czech grammar.  He would be the composer with awakening influence on the Czech musicians to come.


18 June   Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)

Dvořák wrote five symphonies.  Or nine?  Dvořák’s work catalogue is unhelpfully chaotic.  One reason is that he had lost quite a lot of early works, the works written when he was considered ‘too provincial’.  Consider his unsophisticated rural background, it might be right to say so.  But his musical talent makes him possible to bring new lights into sophisticated German forms, paving his way to international renown.  With Dvořák, the word ‘international’ finally means most of Europe and the vast country across the Atlantic, the United States.


25 June   Leoš Janáček (1854–1928)

One of the most creative and probably eccentric composers in the late 19th century, Janáček’s fame came late.  After half a century of his life, he was finally made known as a composer by the opera Jenůfa, a grim modern work of a complex family.  His lifelong devotion to Kamila Stösslová, who has neither accepted or rejected his love to her, was puzzling, if not fascinating.  Now we remember his operas, his lovers and his puzzling music, which is even more well-known nowadays after being made instrumental of Haruki Murakami’s super-popular fiction 1Q84.  The novel and the composer share the same sense of suspense.


2 July      Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937)

One of four composers of Young Poland movement, Szymanowski seek a way to define musically the land of Poland.  Turning away from early, light Chopinesque writings and heavy Germanic works, he tried to carve a way that would not only resolve to write music with folk elements.  As a result he has created a unique world of sound, often considered mysterious and impressionistic.  Is that the direction of music is heading at the fin-de-siècle?  Wandered in the forest like Mélisande, Szymanowski has had some of the most heart-wrenching music ever written.


9 July      Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959)

Seldom in history we find a composer who may have such a world view of Martinů: he grew up in a church tower.  Before skyscrappers dotting the skylines, church towers were often the highest points of towns and cities.  Stepping between the old world and the new, however, Martinů would find it shocked to live in New York.   Shock was double edged. It was in America he produced the symphonies which claimed him to fame, and it was also in America which made him fell in a mysterious circumstance which shadowed him the whole life.


16 July    Béla Bartók (1881–1945)

Today we remember Bartók as a composer of very sophisticated and innovative music, sometimes with rustic energy and power.  However, Bartók is also an ardent collector of peasant folk songs, which made him the corner stone of modern ethnomusicology.  In Bartók’s view, folk songs were not the exotic additives of music to make it sell better; they were the breathing stories of how people live remotely in the lands that were not fully known.  It was a hard task quite difficult to imagine, even to this day.  Together with his innovative music, it is not hard to comprehend why Bartók may be considered the most important musician of the century.

About the Speakers


Dennis Wu is an active music critic, composer and a specialist on a wide range of projects and productions.  He is a radio producer, having produced and hosted numerous radio programmes on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Radio 4, and a frequent speaker in pre-concert talks, meet-the-artist panels and music criticism seminars.  His writings are widely published on newspapers and magazines, including monthly articles on Hifi Review.  He maintains an active online persona, mainly via his website www.denniswu.com.



Tickets available from 14 April onwards at all URBTIX outlets, on Internet and by Telephone Credit Card Booking.


Half-price tickets available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and the minder, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients (Limited tickets for full-time students and CSSA recipients available on a first-come-first-served basis).


Group Booking Discount

10% off for each purchase of 4-9 standard tickets; 15% off for 10-19 standard tickets; 20% off for 20 or more standard tickets.


Programme Length

Running time of each lecture is about 1 hour 30 minutes.



Programme Enquiries: 2268 7321

Ticketing Enquiries: 3761 6661

Telephone Credit Card Booking: 2111 5999

Internet Booking: www.urbtix.hk


The contents of this programme do not represent the views of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.  The presenter reserves the right to substitute speaker and change the programme should unavoidable circumstances make it necessary.


Patrons can enjoy only one of the above discount schemes for each purchase.  Please inform the box office staff at the time of purchase.


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