Skip to main content
Select Source:

Bohuslav Martinu

Bohuslav Martinu

The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was the most important composer of his generation in the former Czechoslovakia.

Bohuslav Martinu was the son of a small-town shoemaker who was also the custodian of a church tower used as a fire-lookout station. Bohuslav was born in the tower and spent his childhood there. The composer suggested that this physical detachment from the usual childhood experiences helped to form his introspective and reflective nature. Violin lessons from a village teacher revealed his strong musical aptitude, and when he was 16 he went to Prague to attend the conservatory. He did not respond well to the rigid training and was soon expelled.

In spite of his failure at the conservatory, Martinu became a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he held from 1913 to 1923, except for the war years (1914-1918), when he returned to his native village. His early works include the Czech Rhapsody (1920) and the ballet Istar (1922). Realizing that he needed more formal training in composition, he returned to the conservatory to study with Josef Suk.

With the aid of a government grant Martinu went to Paris in 1923, where he lived for the next 17 years. He became a pupil of Albert Roussel, whose economical but vigorous scores he admired. Martinu lived in the simplest manner, making his living by teaching a few private pupils and from the commissions he received from time to time. Important compositions of this era are Half-time (1925), inspired by a soccer game, and La Bagarre (1926; Tumult), dedicated to Charles Lindbergh, who had just made his flight to Paris. Serge Koussevitsky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, introduced Martinu's music to the United States. In 1932 his String Sextet won the Coolidge Prize for chamber music.

During the Paris years Martinu did not lose contact with Czechoslovakia. He wrote a folk ballet called Spalicek (1931), a kind of variety show of sketches from Czech life; The Miracle of Our Lady (1933), a medievalstyle miracle play; and the opera Juliette (1938). The major work of this period is his Double Concerto (1938), a powerful work expressing his feelings just before World War II and the imminent downfall of his country.

With the outbreak of war Martinu went to the United States, where he remained until 1953. He taught at the Berkshire Summer School and at Princeton University. Works of the American period include a Symphony (1942), a Violin Concerto (1943), and a Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1943). An accidental fall in 1946 resulted in a period of amnesia and partial deafness.

Martinu lived in Rome from 1953 to 1955, where he wrote Fresques de Piero della Francesca for orchestra, the opera Mirandolina, and his Sixth Symphony. He completed his twelfth and last opera, based on Nikos Kazantzakis's Greek Passion Play, shortly before his death in Switzerland.

Martinu's music was in no sense reactionary, but at the same time it was never blatantly "modern" or "experimental." It is characterized by the freedom of its melodies, perhaps influenced by Czech inflections, the vigor of its rhythms, and the transparency of its textures. He favored concerto grosso-like structures, contrapuntal and continuous, over sonata forms, and he avoided sentimentality and dramatic effects.

Further Reading

MilošŠafránek, Bohuslav Martinu: The Man and His Music (1944; rev. ed. 1946), was written by a friend of the composer and contains a thorough discussion of Martinu's personality and style. More recent studies of Martinu are in Arthur Cohn, Twentieth-century Music in Western Europe: The Compositions and the Recordings (1965), and David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-century Music (1968).

Additional Sources

Martinu, Charlotta, My life with Bohuslav Martinu, Prague: Orbis Press Agency, 1978. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bohuslav Martinu." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bohuslav Martinu." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bohuslav-martinu

"Bohuslav Martinu." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bohuslav-martinu

Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan)

Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan) (b Polička, 1890; d Liestal, Switz., 1959). Cz. composer and violinist. Vn. lessons at 6; began composing at 10. Violinist, Czech PO 1918–23, whose cond. Talich performed Martinů work in Prague 1923. Went to Paris 1923 to study with Roussel. Stayed until 1940, when he escaped to Portugal and in 1941 settled in USA where he composed 5 syms. Returned to Europe 1953, living in Fr. and Switz. Prolific composer in all mus. forms. Remained essentially Cz. despite long exile. His works are uneven and flawed, but the best, such as the opera Julietta and the syms., are progressive and full of rhythmical energy and imagination. Basically diatonic, but with wide, sometimes dissonant, harmonic range. Prin. works:OPERAS: The Soldier and the Dancer (1926–7); The Knife's Tears (1928); The Three Wishes (opera-film, 1929); The Miracles of Mary (1933–4); The Voice of the Forest (1935); Comedy on the Bridge (comp. 1935, radio 1937, rev. 1950, stage 1965); Theatre Behind the Gate (1935–6); Julietta (1936–7); Alexandre Bis (1937); What Men Live By (1951–2); The Marriage (TV, 1952); Mirandolina (1953–4); The Greek Passion (1956–9); Ariadne (1958).BALLETS: Ištar (1918–22); Who is the Most Powerful in the World? (1922); Revolt (1925); The Butterfly that Stamped (1926); Kitchen Revue (1927); Špalìček (The Chap Book, singing ballet) (1931–2); The Strangler (1948).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 (1942), No.2 (1943), No.3 (1944), No.4 (1945), No.5 (1946), No.6 (Fantaisies symphoniques) (1951–3); The Angel of Death, sym.-poem (1910); Half-Time (1924); Le Bagarre (Tumult) (1926); Le jazz (1928); Serenade (1930); Sinfonia Concertante, 2 orch. (1932); Inventions (1934); Concerto Grosso (1937); Double Concerto, 2 str. orch., pf., timp. (1938); Memorial to Lidiče (1943); Intermezzo (1950); The Rock (1957); 3 Estampes (1958).CONCERTOS: pf., No.1 (1925), No.2 (1934), No.3 (1947–8), No.4 (Incantations) (1955–6), No.5 (Fantasia Concertante) (1957), Concertino (Divertimento), left hand (1926), Concertino (1938), 2 pfs. (1943); vn., No.1 (1932–3), No.2 (1943), 2 vns. (1950); vc., No.1 (1930, rev. 1955), No.2 (1944–5), Concertino (1924); Misc., str. qt. and orch. (1931), 2 concertinos, pf. trio, str. (1933), hpd. (1935), fl., vn. (1936), Concerto da camera, vn., pf., perc., str. (1941), Sinfonia Concertante, ob., bn., vn., vc. (1949), Rhapsody-Concerto, va. (1952), vn., pf. (1953), ob. (1955).CHORAL: Czech Rhapsody, bar., ch., org., orch. (1918); Hymn to St James, sop., alt., bass, narr., ch., ens. (1954); The Mount of Three Lights, ten., bar., male ch., orch. (1954); The Epic of Gilgamesh, sop., ten., bar., bass, ch., orch. (1954–5); The Opening of the Wells, sop., cont., bar., women's ch., ens. (1955); Mikeš of the Mountains, sop., ten., ch., ens. (1959); The Prophecy of Isaiah, sop., cont., bar., male vv., va., tpt., pf., timp. (1959).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts., No.1 (1918), No.2 (1925), No.3 (1929), No.4 (1937), No.5 (1938), No.6 (1946), No.7 (Conc. da camera) (1947); nonet, wind quintet, pf. qt. (1924–5), nonet, wind quintet, str. trio, db. (1959); pf. quintet (1911); str. quintet (1927); wind quintet (1930); pf. quintet No.1 (1933), No.2 (1944); pf. qt. (1942); ob. qt. (1947); str. trios, No.1 (1923), No.2 (1934); pf. trios, No.1 (1930), No.2 (1950), No.3 (1951); vn. sonatas, No.1 (1927), No.2 (1931), No.3 (1944); vc. sonatas, No.1 (1939), No.2 (1941), No.3 (1952); va. sonata (1955); fl. sonata (1945); cl. sonatina (1956); tpt. sonatina (1956).Many kbd. pieces and songs.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/martinu-bohuslav-jan

"Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/martinu-bohuslav-jan

Martinů, Bohuslav

Bohuslav Martinů (bô´hŏŏsläf mär´tĬnōō), 1890–1959, Czech composer; studied at the Prague Conservatory. He played the violin (1918–23) in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Martinů lived in Prague from 1907 to 1923, in Paris from 1923 to 1940 and, fleeing the Nazis, moved to the United States in 1941. After 1946 he divided his time among Prague, Switzerland, and the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1952. Extremely prolific, he was both analytical and intuitive in his composing style. Outstanding among his works are the operas The Miracle of Our Lady (1935) and Julietta (1938), a Concerto Grosso (1938), Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques, 1955), Memorial to Lidice (1943) for orchestra, and a number of powerful quartets.

See biography by B. Large (1975).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Martinů, Bohuslav." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Martinů, Bohuslav." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martinu-bohuslav

"Martinů, Bohuslav." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martinu-bohuslav

Martinů, Bohuslav

Martinů, Bohuslav (1890–1959) Czech composer. Much of his music is based on Bohemian folk rhythms and Czech dances. Martinů's works include the opera Julietta (1938) and Symphony No. 6 (1955).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Martinů, Bohuslav." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Martinů, Bohuslav." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martinu-bohuslav

"Martinů, Bohuslav." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/martinu-bohuslav