Bohuslav Martinu  (1890-1959)

Double concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani  

Poco Allegro

Bohuslav Martinu was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia in 1890, the son of a shoemaker. His life was to prove turbulent from the beginning. As a student he was expelled from the Prague Conservatory. He continued his studies in Paris with Alfred Roussel. Nevertheless he longed to return to his homeland and in 1938 determined to come out of exile and return to Czechoslovakia. The Munich agreement and subsequent annexation of Czechoslovakia by Hitler put an end to that dream. The Double Concerto was written as a reflection on and protest against these events. The violent start of the fist movement portrays vividly the shocking effect that this treatment to his homeland had on Martinu. The final 3 chords of the last movement ring out like the shots of a firing squad. "Everything which I have done, thought or which I have fought, has become meaningless" wrote Martinu, "another, more valuable quality has become important to me - the ability to express oneself freely". This powerful and noble belief was to cost Martinu his personal safety. Blacklisted by Nazis, a second performance of the Double Concerto in France by the Basle Chamber Orchestra (whose conductor Paul Sacher had commissioned the work) had to be cancelled and Martinu and his wife had to flee. Abandoning all his is belongings, including most of Martinu's manuscripts; they were often to forced to sleep in railway stations during their flight. They crossed the Pyrenees on foot and finally left for the United States by ship from Lisbon. One of the few scores in his possessions was the Double Concerto. On seeing it the great conductor Sergei Koussevitzky immediately took an interest in Martinu. It was he who commissioned Martinu's first symphony. Martinu returned to Europe in 1950's and died in Basle of stomach cancer in 1958.

Reaction to the Double Concerto's premiere was immediate. During rehearsals for the premiere, the musicians rioted, proclaiming the work was too difficult to play. Paul Sacher laid down his baton and announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a masterpiece. Let us continue rehearsing."

Following the premiere, Arthur Honegger, the composer, rhetorically asked for an explanation of the effect created by the work. "Is it the melody, the rhythm, the technique, the dissonances, the tonality, the lack of tonality? No," he concluded, "it is none of these individually, it is a combination of all of them. This new music has a direct and extraordinary effect."

copyright Lygia O'Riordan