About Bohuslav Martinů
Bohuslav Martinů was born in Polička near the Bohemian-Moravian border on 8 December 1890. His musical talent was recognized and nurtured early. At the age of seven, he took his first violin lessons and only a little later started his first composition attempts.
At the age of fifteen, Martinů gave his first concert in his home town. When he entered the Prague Conservatoire in 1906, he had already written numerous chamber music works, which, unfortunately, are missing. In Prague, Martinů studied violin and organ, but was expelled from the conservatoire for ’incorrigible inattentiveness’ in 1910. In 1912 he did his violin teacher’s diploma and one year later joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
During this time he devoted much of his time to composition; by the end of World War I he had produced about 120 works of different genres. It was particularly the music of French impressionism that strongly influenced Martinů’s compositional œuvre, but Czech folk music always remained a major source of inspiration to him as well.
In 1923 Martinů went to Paris where he took composition lessons with Albert Roussel. During his two years’ studies with Roussel, Martinů developed his own individual style. Among Martinů’s first full-scale works are Half-Time for orchestra, String Quartet No. 2 and the orchestral work La Bagarre. The outstanding features of these compositions which gradually made him well-known on an international level as well, are in particular polytonal harmonies, a polyphonic style of composition and rhythmic vitality.
From the late 1920s, Martinů’s works were becoming more and more influenced by jazz music, as can be seen in compositions such as the Sextet for piano and wind instruments, Jazz Suite, the pasticcio La Revue de Cuisine, or the ballet Echec au roi. The most experimental compositions by Martinů, containing strong dissonances and avoiding tonal references, were created in 1929 (Fantaisie for two pianos, String Quartet No. 3). This phase passed quickly, however, for in the early 1930s Martinů entered a neo-classical period, which was accompanied by his rediscovery of traditional formal principles (Cello Concerto No. 1, Serenade for chamber orchestra).
When the German army occupied France in 1940, Martinů saw himself forced to emigrate to the United States. There, in 1941, he wrote his Symphony No. 1 upon commission from Koussevitzky and, until 1946, five other symphonies as well as numerous concertos and chamber music works. He lived at different places in the USA, but his heart remained in Czechoslovakia, as the composition of numerous songs based on Czech texts shows. After the war Martinů was invited to become professor at the Prague Conservatoire, but the reformation of the government, at Stalin’s behest, under a communist regime made his return impossible. It was not before 1953 that he returned to Europe. For two years he lived in Nice where he wrote two of his most important works (the oratorio Gilgamesh and the dramatic score Greek passion), then in Rome and finally in Switzerland. He died in Liestal near Basel on 28 August 1959.