He was born in Kamenice nad Lipou. He studied music at the conservatory in Prague, and attending Antonin Dvorak's masterclasses where his fellow students included Josef Suk. From 1909 to 1920, Novák taught at the Prague Conservatory himself, and this occupied him to a greater degree than composing. He subsequently gave masterclasses, and composed somewhat more until his death. He died in Skutec.
Novák's music remained in a late-Romantic style until his death. His work shows some influence from the Moravian and Slovakian folk music which he began to collect and study in the late 1890s. His works include a number of tone poems, among them Pan (1910, originally for piano, later orchestrated) and the cantata The Storm (1910). He also composed several operas.