Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was one of the most significant and prolific Czech composers of the twentieth century.
As a young man, Martinů performed as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic and studied composition briefly with Josef Suk. He left Prague in 1923 and relocated to Paris. There he was drawn to new musical currents which included jazz, neoclassicism, and surrealism. During this time, the French composer Albert Roussel served as his chief mentor. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Martinů emigrated to the United States in 1941 where he composed six symphonies as well as concertos and numerous chamber works. He served on the faculties of New York’s Mannes College of Music, Princeton, and Tanglewood. Among his students was Alan Hovhaness. Martinů returned to Europe in 1953.
The music of Bohuslav Martinů springs to life with a sunny, exuberant Neoclassicism. This style, which emerged in the twentieth century, swept away the weighty drama, dense chromaticism, and programmatic associations of nineteenth century Romanticism. It featured pristine counterpoint, austere, pared-down instrumentation, and witty allusions to the mannerisms of the Baroque and Classical periods.
Nonet No. 2 was composed in 1959 during the final year of the composer’s life. It is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. These nine distinct instrumental voices interact with one another in a way similar to nine people conversing at a party. Martinů wrote numerous pieces for the Czech Nonet, an ensemble “founded in 1924 by a group of students of the Prague Conservatory according to instrumental requirements of Louis Spohr’s Nonet.” Set in three brief and contrasting movements, Nonet No. 2 was written in celebration of the ensemble’s 35th anniversary and was premiered at the Salzburg Festival.
Here is a newly released album by the Brussels-based chamber ensemble, Oxalys:
I. Poco allegro:
The artist is always searching for the meaning of life, his own and that of mankind, searching for truth. A system of uncertainty has entered our daily life. The pressures of mechanization and uniformity to which it is subject call for protest and the artist has only one means of expressing this, by music.
- Martinů: Nonet No. 2, H. 374, Oxalys Qobuz.com
Featured Image: the Vanna Venturi House (1959), designed by Robert Venturi