Skip to main content

Martinu, Bohuslav (Jan)

Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan)

Martinů, Bohuslav (Jan), remarkable Czechborn American composer; b. Policka, Dec. 8, 1890; d. Liestal, near Basel, Aug. 28, 1959. He was born in the bell tower of a church in the village where his father was a watchman. He studied violin with the local tailor when he was 7; from 1906 to 1909 he was enrolled at the Prague Cons.; then entered the Prague Organ School (1909), where he studied organ and theory, but was expelled in 1910 for lack of application. He played in the 2nd violin section in the Czech Phil, in Prague (1913–14), returning to Policka (1914–18) to avoid service in the Austrian army; after World War I, he reentered the Prague Cons, as a pupil of Suk, but again failed to graduate; also played again in the Czech Phil. (1918–23). In 1923 he went to Paris and participated in progressive musical circles; took private lessons with Roussel. In a relatively short time his name became known in Europe through increasingly frequent performances of his chamber works, ballets, and symphonic pieces; several of his works were performed at the festivals of the ISCM In 1932 his String Sextet won the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Award. He remained in Paris until June 1940, when he fled the German invasion and went to Portugal; finally reached the U.S. in 1941 and settled in N.Y.; personal difficulties prevented him from accepting an offer to teach at the Prague Cons, after the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945; later was a visiting prof, of music at Princeton Univ. (1948–51). In 1952 he became a naturalized American citizen. Although Martinů spent most of his life away from his homeland, he remained spiritually and musically faithful to his native country. He composed a poignant tribute to the martyred village of Lidice when, in 1943, the Nazi authorities ordered the execution of all men and boys over the age of 16 to avenge the assassination of the local Gauleiter. Martinû immortalized the victims in a heartfelt lyric work entitled Memorial to Lidice. In 1953 he returned to Europe, spending the last 2 years of his life in Switzerland. On Aug. 27, 1979, his remains were taken from Schonenberg, Switzerland, to Polička, Czechoslovakia, where they were placed in the family mausoleum. Martinů’s centennial was celebrated in 1990 all over Czechoslovakia. As a musician and stylist, he belonged to the European tradition of musical nationalism. He avoided literal exploitation of Czech or Slovak musical materials, but his music is nonetheless characterized by a strong feeling for Bohemian melorhythms; his stylizations of Czech dances are set in a modern idiom without losing their authenticity or simplicity. In his large works, he followed the neo-Classical trend, with some impressionistic undertones; his mastery of modern counterpoint was extraordinary. In his music for the stage, his predilections were for chamber forms; his sense of operatic comedy was very strong, but he was also capable of sensitive lyricism.


dramatic: opera:Voják a tanečnice (The Soldier and the Dancer; 1926–27; Brno, May 5, 1928); Les Larmes du couteau (The Knife’s Tears; 1928); Trois souhaits, ou Les Vicissitudes de la vie, “opera-film in 3 acts” (1929; Brno, June 16, 1971); La Semaine de bonté (1929; unfinished); Hry o Marii (The Miracle of Our Lady; 1933–34; Brno, Feb. 23, 1935); Hlas lesa (The Voice of the Forest), radio opera (Czech Radio, Oct. 6, 1935); Divadlo za bránou (The Suburban Theater), opera buffa (1935–36; Brno, Sept. 20, 1936); Veselohra na mostě (Comedy on a Bridge), radio opera (1935; Czech Radio, March 18, 1937; rev. 1950); Julietta, or The Key to Dreams, lyric opera (1936–37; Prague, March 16, 1938); Alexandre bis, opera buffa (1937; Mannheim, Feb. 18, 1964); What Men Live By (čim člověk žije), pastoral opera after Tolstoy (1951–52; N.Y., May 20, 1955); The Marriage (Ženitba), television opera after Gogol (1952; NBC- TV, N.Y., Feb. 7, 1953); La Plainte contre inconnu (1953; unfinished); Mirandolina, comic opera (1954; Prague, May 17, 1959); Ariadne, lyric opera (1958; Gelsenkirchen, March 2, 1961); Ŕecké pašije (Greek Passion), musical drama after Kazantzakis (1955–59; Zürich, June 9, 1961; original version reconstructed by Ales Brezina and 1st perf. in Bregenz, July 20, 1999). ballet: Noe (Night), “meloplastic scene” (1913–14); Stín (The Shadow; 1916); Istar (1918–22; Prague, Sept. 11, 1924); Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? (Kdo je na světě nejmocnější), ballet comedy, after an English fairy tale (1922; Brno, Jan. 31, 1925); The Revolt (Vzpoura), ballet sketch (1922–23; Brno, Feb. 11, 1928); The Butterfly That Stamped (Motýl, ktery dupal), after Kipling (1926); La Revue de cuisine (Prague, 1927); On tourne (Natáčí se), for a cartoon and puppet film (1927); Le Raid merveilleux (Báječný let), “ballet mécanique” for 2 Clarinets, Trumpet, and Strings (1927); Echec au roi, jazz ballet (1930); Špalíček (The Chapbook), with Vocal Soloists and Chorus (1931; Prague, Sept. 19, 1933; rev. 1940; Prague, April 2, 1949); Le Jugement de Paris (1935); The Strangler (Uškreovaˇ), for 3 Dancers (New London, Conn., Aug. 15, 1948). orch.: Andel smrti (Angel of Death), symphonic poem (1910; also for Piano); Komposition (1913–14); Nocturno No. 1 for Viola and Orch. (1914); Bailada (1915); Míjející půlnoc (Vanishing Midnight; 1921–22); Half Time, rondo (Prague, Dec. 7, 1924); Concertino for Cello, Winds, Piano, and Percussion (1924; Prague, March 24, 1949); 5 piano concertos: No. 1 (1925; Prague, Nov. 21, 1926), No. 2 (1934; Prague, 1935; rescored 1944), No. 3 (1947–48; Dallas, Nov. 20, 1949), No. 4, Incantation (N.Y., Oct. 4, 1956), and No. 5, Fantasia concertante (1957; Berlin, Jan. 31, 1959); La Bagarre, rondo (1926; Boston, Nov. 18, 1927); Divertimento for Piano, Left-Hand, and Orch. (1926; Prague, Feb. 26, 1947; rev. 1928 as the Concertino for Piano, Left-Hand, and Orch.); Jazz Suite for Chamber Orch. (Baden-Baden, June 7, 1928); Allegro symphonique, rhapsody (Boston, Dec. 14, 1928); Praeludium (1930); Serenade for Chamber Orch. (1930); 2 cello concertos: No. 1 for Cello and Chamber Orch. (1930; rev. for Full Orch., 1939; rescored 1955) and No. 2 (1944–45); Concerto for String Quartet and Orch. (1931); 2 violin concertos: No. 1 for Cello and Chamber Orch. (1931–32; Chicago, Oct. 25, 1973) and No. 2 (Boston, Dec. 31, 1943); Sinfonia concertante for 2 Orchs. (1932); Partita: Suite No. 1 (1932); Divertimento: Serenade No. 4 for Violin, Viola, Oboe, Piano, and Strings (1932); Concertino for Piano Trio and Strings (1933; Basel, Oct. 16, 1936); Invence (Inventions; Venice, Sept. 1934); Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orch. (1935); Concerto for Flute, Violin, and Orch. (Paris, Dec. 27, 1936); Duo concertante for 2 Violins and Orch. (1937); Suite concertante for Violin and Orch. (1937; rev. 1945); Piano Concertino (1938; London, Aug. 5, 1948); Concerto Grosso for Small Orch. (1938; Boston, Nov. 14, 1941); 3 ricercari for Chamber Orch. (1938); Double Concerto for 2 String Orchs., Piano, and Timpani (1938; Basel, Feb. 9, 1940); Sonata da camera for Cello and Chamber Orch. (1940; Geneva, Nov. 25, 1943); Sinfonietta giocosa for Piano and Chamber Orch. (1940; rev. 1941; N.Y., March 16, 1942); Concerto da camera for Violin, String Orch., Piano, and Timpani (1941; Basel, Jan. 23, 1942); 6 syms.: No. 1 (Boston, Nov. 13, 1942), No. 2 (Cleveland, Oct. 28, 1943), No. 3 (1944; Boston, Oct. 12, 1945), No. 4 (Philadelphia, Nov. 30, 1945), No. 5 (1946; Prague, May 27, 1947), and No. 6, Fantaisies symphoniques (1951–53; Boston, Jan. 7, 1955); Memorial to Lidice (N.Y., Oct. 28, 1943); Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orch. (Philadelphia, Nov. 5, 1943); Thunderbolt P-47, scherzo (Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 1945); Toccata e due canzone for Small Orch. (1946; Basel, Jan. 21, 1947); Sinfonia concertante for Oboe, Bassoon, Violin, Cello, and Small Orch. (1949; Basel, Dec. 8, 1950); Concerto for 2 Violins and Orch. (1950; Dallas, Jan. 8, 1951); Sinfonietta La Jolla for Piano and Chamber Orch. (1950); Intermezzo (N.Y, Dec. 29, 1950); Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orch. (1952; Cleveland, Feb. 19, 1953); Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orch. (1955); Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca (1955; Salzburg Festival, Aug. 28, 1956); boe Concerto (1955); The Rock, symphonic prelude (1957; Cleveland, April 17, 1958); The Parables (1957–58; Boston, Feb. 13, 1959); Estampes, symphonic suite (1958; Louisville, Feb. 4, 1959). chamber: 1 unnumbered string quartet (1917; Zürich, May 7, 1994); 7 numbered string quartets: No. 1 (1918; reconstructed, with the addition of a newly discovered 4th movement, by Jan Hanuš, 1972), No. 2 (1925), No. 3 (1929), No. 4 (1937; Donaueschingen, Oct. 15, 1960), No. 5 (1938; Prague, May 25, 1958), No. 6 (1946; Cambridge, Mass., May 1, 1947), and No. 7, Concerto da camera (1947); 2 unnumbered violin sonatas (1919; 1926, Prague, March 30, 1963); 3 numbered violin sonatas (1929, 1931, 1944); 2 string trios (1923, 1934); Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Cello, and Drum (1924); 2 unnumbered nonets: for Violin, Viola, Cello, Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Horn, Bassoon, and Piano (1924–25), and for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Horn, and Bassoon (1959); 2 duos for Violin and Cello (1927, 1957); Impromptu for Violin and Piano (1927); String Quintet (1927); Sextet for Winds and Piano (1929); 5 Short Pieces for Violin and Piano (1929); Wind Quintet (1930); Les Rondes, 6 pieces for 7 Instruments (1930; Paris, March 18, 1932); 3 piano trios (5 Brief Pieces, 1930; 1950; 1951); Sonatina for 2 Violins and Piano (1930); Études rythmiques for Violin and Piano (1931); Pastorales and Nocturnes for Cello and Piano (both 1931); Arabesques for Violin or Cello and Piano (1931); String Sextet (1932); Sonata for 2 Violins and Piano (London, Feb. 1932); Serenade No. 1 for 6 Instruments, No. 2 for 2 Violins and Viola, and No. 3 for 7 Instruments (all 1932 and 1st perf. in Prague, Oct. 16, 1947; No. 4 is the Divertimento for Violin, Viola, Oboe, Piano, and String Orch.); 2 piano quintets (1933, 1944); Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Piano (1936; Paris, July 1, 1937); 4 Madrigals for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon (1937); Violin Sonatina (1937); Intermezzo, 4 pieces for Violin and Piano (1937); Trio for Flute, Violin, and Bassoon (1937); 3 cello sonatas (1939, 1944, 1952); Bergerettes for Piano Trio (1940); Promenades for Flute, Violin, and Harpsichord (1940); Piano Quartet (1942); Madrigal Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Piano (1942); Variations on a Theme of Rossini for Cello and Piano (1942); Madrigal Stanzas, 5 pieces for Violin and Piano (1943); Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano (1944); Flute Sonata (1945); Czech Rhapsody for Violin and Piano (1945); Fantasia for Theremin, Oboe, String Quartet, and Piano (1945); 2 duos for Violin and Viola (3 Madrigals, 1947; 1950); Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1947); Mazurka- Nocturne for Oboe, 2 Violins, and Cello (1949); Serenade for Violin, Viola, Cello, and 2 Clarinets (1951); Viola Sonata (1955); Clarinet Sonatina (1956); Trumpet Sonatina (1956); Divertimento for 2 Flutes-à-bec (1957); Les Fêtes nocturnes for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet, Harp, and Piano (1959); Variations on a Slovak Theme for Cello and Piano (Prague, Oct. 17, 1959). keyboard: p i a n o:Puppets, small pieces for children (3 sets, 1914–24); Scherzo (1924); Fables (1924); Film en miniature (1925); 3 Czech Dances (1926); Le Noël (1927); 4 Movements (1928); Borová, 7 Czech dances (1929; also for Orch.); Préludes (enforme de...) (1929); Fantaisie for 2 Pianos (1929); Á trois mains (1930); Esquisses de danse, 5 pieces (1932); Les Ritournelles (1932); Dumka (1936); Fenêtre sur le jardin, 4 pieces (1938); Fantasia and Toccata (1940); Mazurka (1941); Études and Polkas (3 books, 1945); The 5th Day of the 5th Moon (1948); 3 Czech Dances for 2 Pianos (1949); Sonata (1954); Reminiscences (1957). harpsichord:2Pieces (1935); Sonata (1958); Impromptus (1959). organ:Vigilie (1959). vocal:Nipponari, 7 songs for Woman’s Voice and Chamber Ensemble (1912); česka rapsódie, cantata (1918; Prague, Jan. 12, 1919); Kouzelné noci (Magic Nights), 3 songs for Soprano and Orch. (1918); Le Jazz for Voice and Orch. (1928); Kytice (Bouquet of Flowers), cantata on Czech folk poetry (1937; Czech Radio, May 1938); Poiní mše (Field Mass) for Men’s Chorus, Baritone, and Orch. (1939; Prague, Feb. 28, 1946); Hora tři světel (The Hill of 3 Lights), small oratorio for Soloists, Chorus, and Organ (1954; Bern, Oct. 3, 1955); Hymnus k sv. Jakubu (Hymn to St. James) for Narrator, Soloists, Chorus, Organ, and Orch. (1954; Polička, July 31, 1955); Gilgameš (The Epic of Gilgamesh) for Narrator, Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1954–55; Basel, Jan. 24, 1958); Otvírání studánek (The Opening of the Wells) for Narrator, Soloists, Women’s Chorus, 2 Violins, Viola, and Piano (1955); Legend from the Smoke of Potato Fires for Soloists, Chorus, and Chamber Ensemble (1957); Mikeš z hor (Mikesh from the Mountains) for Soloists, Chorus, 2 Violins, Viola, and Piano (1959); The Prophecy of Isaiah (Proroctvi Izaiášovo) for Men’s Chorus, Soloists, Viola, Trumpet, Piano, and Timpani (1959; Jerusalem, April 2, 1963); numerous partsongs and choruses.


M. Šafránek, B. M.: The Man and His Music (N.Y., 1944); J. Löwenbach, M. pozdravuje domov (Prague, 1947); M. Šafránek, B. M.: His Life and Works (London, 1962); H. Halbreich, B. M. (Zürich, 1968); C. Martinů, Můjžiivot s B. M. (My Life with B. M.; Prague, 1971); B. Large, M. (N.Y., 1975); J. Brabcová, ed., B. M. anno 1981: Papers From an International Musicological Conference, 26-28 May, 1981 (Prague, 1990); G. Erismann, M., un musicien à l’éveil des sources (Arles, 1990).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Martinu, Bohuslav (Jan)." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . 26 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Martinu, Bohuslav (Jan)." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . (March 26, 2019).

"Martinu, Bohuslav (Jan)." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Retrieved March 26, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.