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Bohuslav Martinů

(*8.12. 1890 Polička +28.8.1959 Liestal near Basle)

Czech composer

B. Martinů was born in the tower of St James' church in Polička as the son of cobbler and sentinel Ferdinand Martinů and his wife Karolina. In 1906 he began studying violin at the Prague Conservatoire, from which he is "expelled for irreparable negligence" on 4 June 1910. In 1912 he started writing the piano cycle Loutky (Puppets,1912-23), his first "proper" work. In 1920 in the autumn became permanent member of the Czech Philharmonic, placed on the 3rd desk of the 2nd violins. In 1923 he goes to Paris in October to study composition with Albert Roussel and he lives in Paris until 1940 as a free-lance composer, usually spending the summer months in Polička. In the summer 1924 Martinů wrote the orchestral rondo Half-Time in Polička, his first mature work. One year later he wrote his String Quartet No. 2, a work, which gave him international recognition. In 1926 he was introduced to Charlotte Quennehen, who would become his wife. He writes La Bagarre for large orchestra. In 1927 among others, he completed his first opera Voják a tanečnice (The Soldier and the Dancer) and the jazz ballet Kuchyňská revue (Kitchen Revue). He made the acquaintance of Dr Miloš Šafránek, later the composer's assistant and biographer founding of Ecole de Paris, whose members included Martinů, Mihalovici, Beck and Harsányi, later also Tansman and Cherepnin. In1931 he married Charlotte Quennehen. In 1932 Martinů completed his evening ballet Špalíček and also his String Sextet, which wins 1st Prize from the Elisabeth Sprague-Coolidge Foundation in Washington. During 1934-36 among others, he wrote the opera cycle Hry o Marii (The Miracles of Mary, 1934), the radio operas Hlas lesa (Voice of the Woods) and Komedie na mostě (Comedy on the Bridge,1935), and especially the opera Julietta aneb snář (Julietta or the Dream Book, completed in January 1937). In 1937 he met the composer Vítězslava Kaprálová, later to become his pupil and lover. He writes the cantata Kytice (Bouquet) and Concerto grosso for chamber orchestra. One year later Julietta was premiered in March in the National Theatre in Prague. It was a year of a series of supreme works, among them Tre ricercari for chamber orchestra, Concertino for piano and orchestra, String Quartet No. 5. On the day of the Munich Agreement (29. 9.) he finished a commission for Paul Sacher - Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani. In 1939 Martinů is also working on his cantata Field Mass for Czech volunteers in France. In 1940-41 he emigrated to the USA via the South of France, Spain and Portugal. Most of his manuscripts remain in France; he takes only 4 scores with him. While on the move he writes Sinfonietta giocosa for piano and small orchestra. He settles in New York and works written this year include Concerto da camera for violin and chamber orchestra: On December 14th was premiered his Concerto grosso, performed by Sergei Kussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and he enjoys tremendous success. In 1942-43 he writes Symphony No. 1 and he adds a new symphony to his repertoire with each year (until 1946). In the summer teaches composition at a summer course in the Berkshire Music Centre he later teaches at the Mannes School of Music in New York and at Princeton University (from 1948). In 1943 he wrote his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Concerto No. 2 for violin and orchestra for Misha Elman, and the orchestral work Památník Lidicím (Memorial to Lidice). In 1944 he began an affair with Rosalie Barstow, which lasts until 1954. From 1946 he teaches again at the Berkshire Music School. On 17 July suffers a serious injury, the consequences of which (severe hearing difficulties, giddiness and headaches) would plague him for the rest of his life. He writes Toccata e due canzoni for Paul Sacher and his Basle Chamber Orchestra. In 1948 he completes his Piano Concerto No. 3 and abandons the idea to return to Czechoslovakia. During the summer he visited Europe (France and Switzerland). He was appointed professor of composition at Princeton University (New Jersey) in September where he stays until 1951. In this year he began work on his Fantaisies symphoniques (Symphony No. 6), completed in 1953. He received the prize for the production of Comedy on the Bridge (1935) at the Mannes School of Music. In 1952 he acquired American citizenship but leaves the USA the following year and settles with Charlotte in Nice, from this time lives primarily in France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1954 he meets Nikos Kazantzakis, begins work on the opera Řecké pašije (Greek Passion). In 1955 he creates a number of exquisite works: the oratorio Epos o Gilgamešovi (The Epic of Gilgamesh), Concerto for oboe and small orchestra, the orchestral frescoes Piero della Francesca. Charles Munch premiered the Fantaisies symphoniques in Boston and New York with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; for this work Martinů received the annual prize awarded by the New York Music Critics' Circle. In this year he returned to the USA for the last time for a few months at the end of the year In 1956 he wrote Inkantace (Incantations - Piano Concerto No. 4), he was awarded another grant from the Guggenheim Foundation for the opera the Greek Passion, the first version of which is completed in January of the following year. In 1957-58 - Paul and Maya Sacher invited Martinů once more to Schönenberg near Basle; he and Charlotte settled there permanently from September onwards. Martinů wrote his Piano Concerto No. 5. In 1958 he wrote the orchestral work Paraboly (Parables), the opera Ariadne and began the second version of the Greek Passion. In 1959 perhaps sensing his approaching death, he frantically produced one work after another: he finished the second version of the Greek Passion, particularly the Nonet, Czech Madrigals for five solo voices, Chamber Music No. 1 and the cantatas Mikeš of the Mountains and Prorok Izaiáš (the Prophecy of Isaiah). He died on 28 August in a cantonal hospital in Liestal near Basle and was buried in Schönenberg. His remains were transferred to his native Polička in 1979