Blog No. 2 – Why No Martinu?

Date posted: 12/08/2019

On a website that promotes Czech music, it might feel odd asking the question – Why No Martinu?  There are no complaints about recordings, with Czech label Supraphon leading the field.  Over decades they have promoted Martinu’s music in all its forms.  Add in contributions from other labels and from a recording perspective listeners can find a comprehensive library of Martinu’s creations.  Since most of this music hardly ever finds its way into live performances, recordings remain one of the only ways to hear it.

Even a casual listener will enter into Martinu’s sound-world easily.  He is a very approachable composer.  His style becoming far broader with his exile in America and the commissioning of his Six Symphonies.  These are remarkable works, to this day still denied their rightful place in concert halls, alongside his later orchestral works, operas and choral works.  His late, Greek Passion, was deemed to “mainstream” for broadcasting by one radio station, busy alienating listeners with atonal pieces.

Although Martinu found support with Czech musicians, what he did not receive was the support of the great generation of conductors who came in the post-war years and dominated the second half of the 20th century.  While they featured Shostakovich, somehow they overlooked Martinu.  It is sad that for one of his last recordings Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek (1946 – 2017) selected  Martinu’s Symphony No. 1, H 289 (1942).  Commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, it can be heard on a Supraphon disc with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra coupled with Martinu’s short opera, What Men Live By.  The Symphony with its finale giving a sense of wide open spaces, begs another question: with Erich Wolfgang Korngold in Hollywood at the time he composed it, why did Martinu not get a call to join him?