Angèle Dubeau, O.C., C.Q., O.M., C.A.L.Q., DFA
One of the most prominent violin virtuosos of her generation, Angèle Dubeau has led an exceptional career for over 40 years in the great concert halls of [...]
Bohuslav Martinu was born in Policka, a town located on the border of Bohemia and Moravia. The work of one of the most important Czech composers of his generation remained deeply influenced by his country’s tradition and folklore. But the discovery of the music of Debussy and also his studies with Albert Roussel gave Martin?’s compositions a more Eastern and even French flavour in his so called “Parisian” period.
From 1923 to 1940, he lived mostly in Paris, visiting Prague on a regular basis until 1938 to have his most recent works interpreted. In spite of his precarious status as a Czech patriot and a pre-war refugee, Martin? managed to have his work edited and played in concert and on the radio. The Sonata for flute, violin and piano, written especially for the Marcel Moyse Trio, was created by the dedicators on the Radio-Paris airwaves, on July 1st, 1937.
Both his friendship with the famous flautist and difficult economical circumstances contributed to the creation of the Sonata and the Concerto for flute, violin and orchestra, written a few months earlier. When in Paris, Martin? liked to work in the morning and then go for long walks in the afternoon, stopping in little cafés and secondhand bookstores. This is probably where he got his inspiration for the Promenades for flute, violin and harpsichord (or piano) in 1939; these four baroque miniatures have a very definite French charm.
The rise of fascism in the young Czechoslovakian republic along with the war made it inevitable for Martin? to cut permanently his bonds with his country. Then came his exile to the United States, where he resided from 1941 to 1953. His setting in New York was not easy, but he was welcomed by most American musical milieux, which allowed him to make his place rapidly. The composer’s reputation had preceeded him several years, owing mostly to Serge Koussevitzki, who had conducted his works in Boston ever since 1927. This period, therefore, is characterized by a constant flow of commissions for both symphonic and chamber music.
Martin? always had a preference for chamber music, with a production of approximately 90 compositions. He particularly liked composing for different trio formations, producing 15 works for the genre. The Madrigal-Sonata for flute, violin and piano was composed after Martinú spent a few months in the country, getting inspiration from bird singing. It is full of charm and can be looked upon as a true conversation à trois. It was created in 1942 for the twentieth anniversary of the American League of Composers.
The following year, Martin? composed Five Madrigal Stanzas for violin and piano, again revealing his fascination with ancient forms — the English Madrigal of the Renaissance in particular —, and recreating in a purely instrumental work the free direction of super- imposed voices found in the older models.
The Five Madrigal Stanzas are the result of the composer’s encounter with Albert Einstein; the work is dedicated to the famous physician, who played it with Robert Casadesus, a frequent chamber-music partner. The dedication explains why the piano part is much more developped than the violin part — an unusual occurence in the music of a composer who didn’t otherwise worry about the level of technical difficulty of his work.
The Sonata for flute and piano, dated 1945, is one of the most beautiful pieces of his repertoire, written, as was the Madrigal-Sonata, during a summer vacation Martin? spent in Cape Cod. The luminosity of the sky, the sounds of nature and the particular song of a regional bird, all inspired the sweet and simple melody. A certain melancholy mixed with lively rythms are the characteristics of that sonata, dedicated to Georges Laurent, flute solo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Martin? had very definite points of view on contemporary music and on some composers’ desire to innovate. “I believe,” he once said, “that contemporary music is more threatened by its own efforts to justify itself through analysis and explanations — as though it feared not seeming ‘modern’ or ‘actual’ enough […] Technique follows from the work, not the contrary. Music is not a matter of calculation. The creative impulse is like the will to live, to feel oneself alive. In a complicated world full of social changes and political chaos, it is more important than ever not to lose sight of our artistic purpose.” Moreover, he expressed the relation between the composer and the public this way: “When an artist conceives a work with the intention that it despleases, he shouldn’t be surprised if [such an attitude] doesn’t please. In writing ‘for tomorrow,’ he wishes nevertheless to be praised today. When the artist isolates himself, the public also isolates itself.”
© Viviane Émond
Translation: Marie-Josée Cauchon