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Bohuslav Martinů

Bohuslav Martinů

(1890 - 1959)

Bohuslav Martinů (December 8, 1890 - August 28, 1959) was born in a small Czech village. He studied briefly at the Prague Conservatory before he flunked out. No one ever called him a great student. He managed to become not only the greatest Czech composer of his generation, but a major international figure, known especially for his concerti and chamber music. His work tends to command attention from its opening bars. Its rhythmically vital and singing style recalls both Antonín Dvořák and Igor Stravinsky.

Martinů began as a follower of Claude Debussy, a rather eccentric choice in the Prague of that time – the major figures having been Dvořák and Richard Strauss. The works, culminating in the ballet Istar, are good, but not terribly individual or memorable. From about 1918 through the 1920s, Martin worked hard to discover his true artistic self.

He moved to Paris and became part of the avant-garde there. He experimented with jazz, a Bartókian rhapsodic style, and neoclassic fun-and-games in the manner of Les Six. The work is witty, highly musical, but again not individual. Occasionally, however, the "real" Martin peeks out. Significantly, it comes when he deals with Czech culture or with chamber music. The early choral Czech Rhapsody, the Three Czech Dances for two pianos, and the Duo No. 1 for violin and cello hint at works written twenty years later.

He comes more and more under the influence of Stravinsky, but unlike many others becomes less like Stravinsky and more Czech. Perhaps he saw the relation of Russian folk music to Stravinsky's highly sophisticated and knowing musical approach and figured out his artistic salvation. Whatever, Czech folk influences become subject to a neoclassical musical view. At this point, we get such works as the Suites for string orchestra, Inventions for orchestra, the first cello concerto, the concerto for string quartet and orchestra, the second piano concerto, the concertino for piano trio and orchestra, and the opera Miracle of Our Lady. The period culminates in the late 1930s with such powerful works as the opera Julietta, the cantata Bouquet of Flowers, Tre Ricercari, and the relentless Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano, and timpani.

During World War II, Martinů fled to the United States. His work opened up emotionally, without losing its considerable craft. He became a major twentieth-century symphonist, writing four works in this genre during the war (he ended up with six). In this period, the work sings like it never did before or since. Outstanding works include the Symphony No. 4, Violin Concerto No. 2, Cello Concerto No. 2, Field Mass, Memorial to Lidice, the piano quartet, Violin Sonata No. 3, and the trio for flute, cello, and piano.

The postwar period renewed his interest in vocal music. It includes such pieces as The Prophecy of Isaiah and The Epic of Gilgamesh and culminates in his opera on Kazantzakis's The Greek Passion. The two major orchestral works of this last phase are his sixth symphony and Three Frescoes of Piero della Francesca. ~ Steve Schwartz

Recommended Recordings

Concertos

Sheet Music for this Piece
Claves CD50-9018
Oboe Concerto w/ Krommer, Fiala & Kalliwoda/Claves CD50-9018
Ingo Goritzki (oboe), Wojciech Rajski/Polish Chamber Philharmonic
Oboe Concerto w/ Sydor & Yano/Cedille Records CDR90000079
Alex Klein (oboe), Paul Freeman/Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Cello Concertos #1 & 2/Supraphon 33C37-7868
Angelica May (cello), Václav Neumann /Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Piano Concertos #1-5 & Concertino/Supraphon 111313-2
Emil Leichner (piano)/Jirí Belohlávek/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Concerto Grosso/Supraphon 110381-2
Josef Ruzicka & Jaroslav Saroun (pianos), Jirí Belohlávek/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Violin Concertos #1 & 2/Supraphon 110702-2
Josef Suk (violin), Václav Neumann /Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Core Repertoire - Start Here! Double Concerto for 2 String Orchestras, Piano & Timpani

Sheet Music for this Piece
Double Concerto/Supraphon 103393-2
Charles Mackerras/Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Double Concerto/Virgin VC791099-2
Richard Hickox/City of London Sinfonia

Frescos of Piero della Francesca

Sheet Music for this Piece
Frescos of Piero della Francesca/Supraphon 103393-2
Charles Mackerras/Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra

Symphonies

Sheet Music for this Piece
Symphonies #1-6/Supraphon 110382-2
Václav Neumann/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphonies #1 & 2/RCA 60154-2-RC
Claus Peter Flor/Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Symphonies #1 & 2/BIS CD-362
Neeme Järvi/Bamburg Symphony Orchestra
Symphonies #3 & 6 "Fantasies symphoniques"/Supraphon 110718-2
Václav Neumann/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphonies #3 & 4/Chandos CHAN8915
Jirí Belohlávek/Prague Symphony Orchestra
Symphonies #5 & 6 "Fantasies symphoniques"/BIS CD-402
Neeme Järvi/Bamburg Symphony Orchestra
Trumpet