concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani
Martinu was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia in 1890, the son of a
shoemaker. His life was to prove turbulent from the beginning. As
a student he was expelled from the Prague Conservatory. He
continued his studies in Paris with Alfred Roussel. Nevertheless
he longed to return to his homeland and in 1938 determined to come
out of exile and return to Czechoslovakia. The Munich agreement
and subsequent annexation of Czechoslovakia by Hitler put an end
to that dream. The Double Concerto was written as a reflection on
and protest against these events. The violent start of the fist
movement portrays vividly the shocking effect that this treatment
to his homeland had on Martinu. The final 3 chords of the last
movement ring out like the shots of a firing squad.
"Everything which I have done, thought or which I have
fought, has become meaningless" wrote Martinu, "another,
more valuable quality has become important to me - the ability to
express oneself freely". This powerful and noble belief was
to cost Martinu his personal safety. Blacklisted by Nazis, a
second performance of the Double Concerto in France by the Basle
Chamber Orchestra (whose conductor Paul Sacher had commissioned
the work) had to be cancelled and Martinu and his wife had to
flee. Abandoning all his is belongings, including most of
Martinu's manuscripts; they were often to forced to sleep in
railway stations during their flight. They crossed the Pyrenees on
foot and finally left for the United States by ship from Lisbon.
One of the few scores in his possessions was the Double Concerto.
On seeing it the great conductor Sergei Koussevitzky immediately
took an interest in Martinu. It was he who commissioned Martinu's
first symphony. Martinu returned to Europe in 1950's and died in
Basle of stomach cancer in 1958.
to the Double Concerto's premiere was immediate. During rehearsals
for the premiere, the musicians rioted, proclaiming the work was
too difficult to play. Paul Sacher laid down his baton and
announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a masterpiece.
Let us continue rehearsing."
the premiere, Arthur Honegger, the composer, rhetorically asked
for an explanation of the effect created by the work. "Is it
the melody, the rhythm, the technique, the dissonances, the
tonality, the lack of tonality? No," he concluded, "it
is none of these individually, it is a combination of all of them.
This new music has a direct and extraordinary effect."
© Lygia O'Riordan