About this Recording
8.553459 - MARTINU: Flute Trios / Promenades / Madrigal Sonata

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959)
Trio for flute, cello and piano
Trio for flute, violin and piano
Promenades for flute, violin and harpsichord
Madrigal Sonata for flute, violin and piano

The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu was born in 1890 at Policka 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 Policka. 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 Martinu'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 German 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 Martinu 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, was played by the famous scientist with the pianist Robert Casadesus. After the war he planned to return to, 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 until 1955, 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. After a period in Nice, he spent his final years in Switzerland, where he died of cancer in 1959.

Martinu 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 compositions 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. Nevertheless there were influences to be absorbed in Paris during the seventeen years he spent there, and much of this is evident in the trios for flute, string instrument and piano or harpsichord.

Martinu wrote his Trio for flute, cello and piano in 1944 and it belongs, therefore, to his period of exile in America. It opens vigorously, transparent in texture, with much use initially made of the notes of the descending scale. The cello introduces a new thematic element, sequentially developed before the return of the opening theme, leading to an exciting conclusion. The second movement, marked Adagio, is introduced by the piano, later to be joined by the flute, with the plucked notes of the cello in accompaniment. Flute and cello then lead forward into music of strong feeling, in which the piano joins, before subsiding into tranquillity. The flute provides the introductory Andante with which the third movement begins. Before leading into a very lively finale, which brings its own moments of lyrical relaxation of tension, before the return of the opening scherzando.

The Trio for flute, violin and piano was written in 1937, while Martinu was still in Paris. Politically this was a period of particular disturbance, not least in view of the predicament in which Czechoslovakia was involved. It is broadly neo-classical in form and texture, with a lively first movement. The piano introduces a secondary theme in contrast, but the prevailing mood is that of the opening. There follows an Adagio with interwoven melodic strands from the three instruments. Something of the mood of the first movement returns with the third movement Allegretto, a scherzo with a trio section dominated by the flute, before the violin takes up the thread. The trio ends with a movement marked Moderato that, as from time to time with earlier movements, momentarily suggests Prokofiev, only to turn to an overtly romantic flute episode, the serenity of which is broken by the twentieth century counterpoint of the piano in which flute and violin soon join.

Martinu wrote his Promenades in 1939. The choice of harpsichord, with flute and violin, is in accordance with the neo-classical spirit of the period. The first energetic movement is followed by a gentle flute aria, in which the violin joins in duet. The third of the Promenades, marked scherzando, is capricious in humour and is followed by a final Poco allegro with a conclusion of increased rapidity.

The Madrigalovli Sonata was written in 1942, during Martinu's first year in America. The opening Poco allegro is lively enough, marked by syncopations that contribute to the character of the music, followed by a second movement Moderato. Here the flute, with vestigial accompaniment, provides the opening melodic interest, followed by the interplay of flute, violin and piano. This leads to a conclusion of initial vigour, subsiding into a gentler mood with the return of the flute melody, before the final idiosyncratic syncopation.

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