Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)


Martinu was born into a Czech village, the son of the village bell-ringer/watchman. From his youngest days, he spent time among the bells, high above the town in the watchtower. As a young boy, he was introduced to the violin and bounced between several music schools as an adolescent. He had always some interest in composition but generally lacked the funds for tuition and manuscript paper to study the craft. However, through he generosity of his townsmen, Martinu found himself sent off to the Conservatory in Prague to study composition. Martinu did not adjust to his studies very well and he was fialing several classes when he left the Cponservatory to continue his studies by himself. Eventually, Martinu learned to be a master of composition. His Czech Rhapsody for solo, chorus, and orchestra was given a performance by the Czech Philharmonic, (in which he played second violin) in 1919 and was favorably received.

From Prague, Martinu found himself drawn to Paris to continue his studies with Albert Roussel. During this time, Martinu continued to compose vast amounts of music: orchestral suites, operas, ballets and chamber music. But with the outbreak of the Second World War, Martinu’s time in Paris came to an end and he narrowly escaped to America. Even during these very trying times Martinu continued not only to compose daily, but also succeeded in writing music that is full of strength, vitality, hope, and joy.

Following in the footsteps of another great Czech composer, Dvorak, Martinu did his best to to establish himself in the New World. In America, Martinu honed in his skills as a symphonist, if you will, writing a total of six symphonies in his career. After the war, he was able to return to Europe after spending time working at Tangelwood, Princeton and Curtis. He settled in Nice and later Switzerland where he died of cancer in 1959.

Martinu’s music has a distinctive sound; the harmonies and melodies take on a combination of modern and romantic ideals. I have had some experience playing a short set of Variations on a Slovakian theme for Cello and Piano. As a student cellist, it was unlike anything I had ever played. For example, the opening theme doesn’t have a time signature, it only says rubato. The measures are divided into segments of two or three beats each; but the total number of beats for each measure varies between seven, eight and nine beats. The remaining variations are filled with syncopations, haunting melodies and several changes of time signature within each movement. While the key signature remains constant throughout without any sharps or flats, the key modulates several times. For a student musician, it was an entirely new genre of music.

Martinu’s string quartets were written over a period of nearly twenty years. On this album, the Martinu Quartet has recorded his Fourth (1937), Fifth (1938), and Seventh (1947) quartets. In the Fourth, Martinu’s work has been described as “Drawing on Czech and Moravian sources of inspiration, absorbed in a musical language.” This quartet as well as the Fifth was lost and forgotten for nearly twenty years, only to be rediscovered in the late 1950s. Martinu’s Seventh and last quartet represents a further development of Martinu’s style, which now tended toward greater classical simplifications. It specifically has been seen as drawing from the works of Franz Joseph Haydn.

While you may disagree, I personally find his work to be fascinatingly beautiful and with any luck, I’ll get a hold of some of his non-chamber pieces to add to our here Masterfade.

Martinů: String Quartets Nos. 4, 5 and 7 -- The Martinu Quartet

3 Comments:

At March 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

File size is 0 bites. Can you reupload via rapidshare? Thanks.

 
At March 15, 2006, Anonymous dc said...

I'm not very familiar with Martinu, so I'm excited to give this listen. Thanks!

 
At December 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Martinů was NOT born into a Czech village, but into a Czech TOWN named Polička.

 

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