ABOUT THE MUSIC
CONCERT THEME & TITLE inspired by the music of Schumann's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat.
Bohuslav Martinů grew up in Polička, a tiny town on the Bohemian-Moravian border where his father worked as a cobbler and a bell-ringer at the local church. The family lived at the top of the bell tower, and it was there that the young Martinů began to develop his skills on the violin, which he took up at the age of seven. He showed a natural talent for the instrument, and at just 15 years of age was accepted to the Prague Conservatory; the local community pooled together the money for him to attend, and he left for the city in 1906. Unfortunately, like so many talented but immature university students left to their own devices, Martinů did not apply himself and was eventually expelled from the conservatory in 1910 for “incorrigible negligence.” Though his conservatory tenure was a failure, Martinů was won over by the cosmopolitan life in Prague, and apart from a brief stint living in Polička and avoiding military service during the Great War, he spent most of the rest of his life in and around the world’s great cities. In 1923, he moved to Paris, where he absorbed the music of Stravinsky, Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, and the American jazz that was beginning to sweep over the world. His rural childhood stayed with him musically, however, and his compositional style was always marked by the marriage of his modern and traditional sensibilities—complete understanding of and fluency in cutting-edge techniques combined with his interest in and innate talent for emulating the folk music of his native Czechoslovakia. As so many artists and intellectuals were forced to do, Martinů fled Europe for the United States in 1941 to escape the spreading Nazi plague. After his arrival in the States, legendary conductor Serge Koussevitzky— who as music director of the Boston Symphony from 1924 to 19449 was responsible for commissioning so many musical masterpieces of that era—welcomed Martinů with a request for a symphony, his first. A great success, that one symphony soon turned into five in as many years, taking up the majority of his time and effort. But despite the public demand for the grandeur of symphonic music, Martinů’s greatest love was that darling of the Baroque era, the concerto grosso. The Toccata e due canzoni, written in 1946, was Martinů’s triumphant return to this beloved style. While at work on it, he wrote the following: I am delighted to return to my favorite form … It is not the mere matter of playing off soli and tutti against each other; here we find ourselves on the firm ground of pure music, or simply of music. Here we do not require so many colors or orchestral effects, here there is no climax of sound or emotion, which often leads you where you have no wish to go and which often impoverishes the line and the musical thought with this “climax-cliché,” where real music is completely lacking. Less obvious emotion, less noise, and much more music in a condensed form—that is the concerto grosso. Throughout the Toccata e due canzoni Martinů’s infectious enthusiasm for and mastery of his chosen musical form is obvious. The toccata is a brilliant perpetuum mobile characterized by intricate woven rhythms, grumbling piano, skittering strings, and flights of fancy for small groupings of instruments that suddenly give way to soaring melody for the whole ensemble. The due canzone are wide ranging in character but retain the first movement’s combination of lyricism and complex rhythmic backbone, replacing its restless forward motion with a more impressionistic and free-form sense of development. And despite his complaints about the need for color and orchestral effects, this piece is full of unusual and fascinating sonorities, displaying Martinů’s mastery of orchestration as an expressive device equal to that of melody, rhythm, and form.
By Jay Goodwin