MARTINU: Chamber Music

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Bohuslav Martinů(1890-1959)

Chamber Music from The1994 Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Piano Quartet No. 1

Quartet for oboe,violin, cello and piano

Sonata No.1 for violaand piano

String Quintet for twoviolins, two violas and cello

The Czech composerBohuslav Martinů was born in 1890 at Polička in Bohemia in abell-tower, where his father, a shoe-maker by trade, was employed as watchman.

In his childhood he learned the violin from a local tailor and made a localreputation for himself, giving his first public concert in his home-town in1905. At the same time he concentrated attention on composition, althoughwithout proper tuition and lacking even the necessary manuscript-paper for thepurpose. In 1906 he became a violin student at the Prague Conservatory, butfour years later, after relegation for one year to the Organ School, he wasexpelled. His principal interest, in fact, continued to centre on composition,and he pursued this aim during the war, which he spent as a teacher in Polička.

In 1918 he joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist and hisballet Istar, completed in 1922, was performed in 1924. There had been abrief period of instruction in composition from Josef Suk at the Conservatory,soon abandoned, and in 1923, assisted by a scholarship, he moved to Paris tobecome a pupil of Albert Roussel.

In the following yearsMartinů's music began to gain a hearing, particularly through Talich inCzechoslovakia, Paul Sacher and Ernest Ansermet in Switzerland, Henry Wood inEngland, Munch in France and Koussevitzky in the United States. By 1931 he hadestablished himself well enough to marry a young dressmaker. CharlotteQuennehen, although he never earned enough to allow even reasonable comfort.

The first performance of his Concerto Grosso planned by Talich in 1938was postponed with the invasion of Czechoslovakia that year and in June 1940 heand his wife hurriedly fled from Paris, four days before the Germany armiesmarched into the city. With considerable difficulty they made their way toPortugal and thence to Bermuda, reaching New York at the end of March 1941. Inthe United States Martinů eventually received commissions from theKoussevitzky Foundation, for which he wrote his First Symphony. This wasfollowed by further symphonies and concertos, including a violin concertocommissioned by Mischa Elman, while in 1943 his Memorial Stanzas, dedicatedto Albert Einstein, were played by the famous scientist with the pianist RobertCasadesus. After the war he planned to return to Prague, where he had beenoffered the position of professor of composition at the Conservatory, but wasprevented from doing so by the accession to power of the Communist Party. In1948 he became professor of composition at Princeton University, returning toEurope in 1953. He lived in Nice unti11955, when he moved to Philadelphia toteach at the Curtis Institute and the following year returned to Europe toteach at the American Academy in Rome. He spent his final years in Switzerland,where he died of cancer in 1959.

Martinů was anenormously prolific composer, who seemed often enough careless of the fate ofwhat he had written. He tended to avoid revision of his work and in consequencethe vast quantity of music he wrote is of uneven quality and varying style,although he came, in the 1930s, to make increasing use of Czech thematicmaterial and to be identified with his native country, from which he remainedan exile.

Martinů wrote hisPiano Quartet No. 1 in 1942, after his arrival in the UnitedStates. The first movement, marked Poco allegro, opens with acharacteristic figure that is to undergo further development as the germ fromwhich the music grows, further motor energy provided by the inherent element ofsyncopation and in the delicate piano passage-work. A heartfelt Adagio follows,opened by the poignant sound of the strings, an air of melancholy alwaysimplied in the descending melodic contours. The piano makes a much laterappearance, lightening the mood, although melancholy finally predominates. Thepiano leads gently into the final Allegretto poco moderato, withmaterial that suggests Appalachia, and it is this that brings the work to anend, after intervening episodes.

Martinů wrote hisQuartet for oboe, violin, cello and piano in 1947. Again opening motifsassume importance, as the first movement develops in almost classical texturesof clarity. The piano opens the following movement, marked Adagio, withgrandiose chords, diminishing, as the other instruments appear in all theirinitial delicacy. This leads to a final Poco allegro that provides anelement of caprice in its passing suggestions of popular song in its thematicmaterial.

Martinů's ViolaSonata was written in 1955, at a time when the composer, after two years inNice, had decided to return to America, now to teach at the Curtis Institute.

Finding life in the United States increasingly uncongenial, he moved in thefollowing year to Rome to teach at the American Academy, where employment wasnow offered. The first movement of this useful addition to viola repertoire ischaracterized by syncopation of rhythm, while allowing the viola a lyrical melodic line. The Allegronon troppo proves lively enough at first in a movement that offers momentsof tranquillity and even of the histrionic in its varied course.

The String Quintet,scored, like Mozart's string quintets, for two violas rather thanSchubert's two cellos, was composed in 1927 and is a work of much greatertension, with harmonies and rhythms that suggest Bartok. The work was awardedthe Coolidge Prize. The vigorous and occasionally strident first movement isfollowed by a melancholy Largo in distinct contrast of mood, as melodiclines are interwoven and dissonances resolve, finally ascending to the heights,before the hushed conclusion. The Allegretto starts cheerfully enough,its opening theme giving way to more lyrical material, the two elementsproviding contrast in a satisfying finale.

The AustralianFestival of Chamber Music

Tropical NorthQueensland may, at first, appear to be an atypical location for an arts eventof international stature, yet the city of Townsville has annually, since 1991,hosted Australia's foremost music festival, The Australian Festival of ChamberMusic. The festival has featured the world's pre-eminent soloists, chambermusicians and pedagogues in a series of concerts and masterclasses, for themost talented young musicians from the South Pacific region, each July.

The festival wasestablished in 1990 by Ray Golding, Vice-Chancellor of James Cook Universityand Chairman of the festival's Board, and Theodore Kuchar, the festival'sArtistic Director. Today, the festival exists largely through the financialsupport of its principal sponsor, James Cook University of North Queensland.

With a series of some seventy events during the first five years, withapproximately 40,000 attending most festival performances have been broadcastby Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Classic FM, with subsequentre-broadcasts in the United States and New Zealand.

The festival hasunquestionably, through the enthusiasm of the national and international media,earned its place among the elite of the international festival circuit. DavidDenton, in the October, 1995 issue of London's "The Strad", reported:

"Into the periodcur
Disc: 1
String Quintet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cel
1 Poco allegro
2 Adagio
3 Allegretto poco moderato-Poco allegro-Allegro-Anda
4 Moderato poco allegro
5 Adagio-Andante poco moderato-Poco allegro
6 Poco andante-Moderato-Tempo I-Poco meno
7 Allegro non troppo-Poco meno-Allegro-Poco meno-Poc
8 Allegro con brio
9 Largo
10 Allegretto
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