|About this Recording
8.553916 - MARTINU: Chamber Music
The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was born in 1890 at Polička in Bohemia in a bell-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 local reputation for himself, giving his first public concert in his home-town in 1905. At the same time he concentrated attention on composition, although without proper tuition and lacking even the necessary manuscript-paper for the purpose. In 1906 he became a violin student at the Prague Conservatory, but four years later, after relegation for one year to the Organ School, he was expelled. 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 his ballet Istar, completed in 1922, was performed in 1924. There had been a brief period of instruction in composition from Josef Suk at the Conservatory, soon abandoned, and in 1923, assisted by a scholarship, he moved to Paris to become a pupil of Albert Roussel.
In the following years Martinů's music began to gain a hearing, particularly through Talich in Czechoslovakia, Paul Sacher and Ernest Ansermet in Switzerland, Henry Wood in England, Munch in France and Koussevitzky in the United States. By 1931 he had established himself well enough to marry a young dressmaker. Charlotte Quennehen, although he never earned enough to allow even reasonable comfort. The first performance of his Concerto Grosso planned by Talich in 1938 was postponed with the invasion of Czechoslovakia that year and in June 1940 he and his wife hurriedly fled from Paris, four days before the Germany armies marched into the city. With considerable difficulty they made their way to Portugal and thence to Bermuda, reaching New York at the end of March 1941. In the United States Martinů eventually received commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, for which he wrote his First Symphony. This was followed by further symphonies and concertos, including a violin concerto commissioned by Mischa Elman, while in 1943 his Memorial Stanzas, dedicated to Albert Einstein, were played by the famous scientist with the pianist Robert Casadesus. After the war he planned to return to Prague, where he had been offered the position of professor of composition at the Conservatory, but was prevented from doing so by the accession to power of the Communist Party. In 1948 he became professor of composition at Princeton University, returning to Europe in 1953. He lived in Nice unti11955, when he moved to Philadelphia to teach at the Curtis Institute and the following year returned to Europe to teach at the American Academy in Rome. He spent his final years in Switzerland, where he died of cancer in 1959.
Martinů was an enormously prolific composer, who seemed often enough careless of the fate of what he had written. He tended to avoid revision of his work and in consequence the 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 thematic material and to be identified with his native country, from which he remained an exile.
Martinů wrote his Piano Quartet No. 1 in 1942, after his arrival in the United States. The first movement, marked Poco allegro, opens with a characteristic figure that is to undergo further development as the germ from which the music grows, further motor energy provided by the inherent element of syncopation and in the delicate piano passage-work. A heartfelt Adagio follows, opened by the poignant sound of the strings, an air of melancholy always implied in the descending melodic contours. The piano makes a much later appearance, lightening the mood, although melancholy finally predominates. The piano leads gently into the final Allegretto poco moderato, with material that suggests Appalachia, and it is this that brings the work to an end, after intervening episodes.
Martinů wrote his Quartet for oboe, violin, cello and piano in 1947. Again opening motifs assume importance, as the first movement develops in almost classical textures of clarity. The piano opens the following movement, marked Adagio, with grandiose chords, diminishing, as the other instruments appear in all their initial delicacy. This leads to a final Poco allegro that provides an element of caprice in its passing suggestions of popular song in its thematic material.
Martinů's Viola Sonata was written in 1955, at a time when the composer, after two years in Nice, had decided to return to America, now to teach at the Curtis Institute. Finding life in the United States increasingly uncongenial, he moved in the following year to Rome to teach at the American Academy, where employment was now offered. The first movement of this useful addition to viola repertoire is characterized by syncopation of rhythm, while allowing the viola a lyrical melodic line. The Allegro non troppo proves lively enough at first in a movement that offers moments of tranquillity and even of the histrionic in its varied course.
The String Quintet, scored, like Mozart's string quintets, for two violas rather than Schubert's two cellos, was composed in 1927 and is a work of much greater tension, with harmonies and rhythms that suggest Bartók. The work was awarded the Coolidge Prize. The vigorous and occasionally strident first movement is followed by a melancholy Largo in distinct contrast of mood, as melodic lines 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 elements providing contrast in a satisfying finale.
The Australian Festival of Chamber Music
Tropical North Queensland may, at first, appear to be an atypical location for an arts event of international stature, yet the city of Townsville has annually, since 1991, hosted Australia's foremost music festival, The Australian Festival of Chamber Music. The festival has featured the world's pre-eminent soloists, chamber musicians and pedagogues in a series of concerts and masterclasses, for the most talented young musicians from the South Pacific region, each July.
The festival was established in 1990 by Ray Golding, Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University and Chairman of the festival's Board, and Theodore Kuchar, the festival's Artistic Director. Today, the festival exists largely through the financial support of its principal sponsor, James Cook University of North Queensland. With a series of some seventy events during the first five years, with approximately 40,000 attending most festival performances have been broadcast by Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Classic FM, with subsequent re-broadcasts in the United States and New Zealand.
The festival has unquestionably, through the enthusiasm of the national and international media, earned its place among the elite of the international festival circuit. David Denton, in the October, 1995 issue of London's "The Strad", reported:
"Into the period curiously termed winter when the temperature may drop just below 30 degrees C – some of the world's finest musicians arrive for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, one of the most unique musical events held in a tropical location and placing Townsville on the map of the world's major festivals."
Isabelle van Keulen
Rainer Moog belongs to the select group of viola-players who have achieved a successful solo career. A top prizewinner at the ARD Competition in Munich in 1971, he was in 1974 appointed solo violist of the Berlin Philharmonic by the late Herbert von Karajan, serving with distinction until 1978. Since then, Rainer Moog has been Professor of Viola at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. His many recordings as a soloist and chamber musician and participation in numerous international festivals have placed him at the forefront of the world's violists.
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