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Bohuslav Martinů and Lucie Rosen: the Path to Fantasia for Theremin

The American Period: Symphonies, Concertos, and Space-Controlled Music

Rudolf-Firkušný, Charlotte and Bohuslav Martinů in Central Park, New York.
Rudolf Firkušný, Charlotte and Bohuslav Martinů in Central Park, New York.

Martinů was not unknown to the American public. La Bagarre was performed on 18 and 19 November 1927 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky and the String Sextet, as well as other of his compositions, had been performed several times in various parts of the United States receiving excellent reviews. Such as the one that appeared on the Evening Star following the performance of the Sextet at the auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in 1933:

Constructed with a positive feeling for form, it overflows with exuberance and vitality. Replete with rhythm from beginning to end, it is alive and glowing with sentiment that springs from a true inspiration, the strength of which is not diminished at any moment. The power and richness of his manner of expression are extraordinary and one feels that here stands a composer with a fiery thread of genius in his musical weaving that is forceful enough to carry him to great heights. While distinctly modern in harmonization, it is logical in structure and the color which he evolves flows from the spirit as well as from the brain. (Eversman, 1933)

Thanks to this excellent reputation and also to the support from Serge Koussevitzky, then director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, once Martinů reached the United States, he began to receive commissions that helped him make ends meet in such a difficult time. It was the beginning of a particularly fruitful period during which Martinů composed some of his most significant works. According to his biographer Milos Safranek “There are few emigrant-intellectuals who have penetrated, the complexity of American life with such a positive attitude and with such understanding as Martinů.” (Šafránek, 1944)

Bohuslav Martinů with Serge Koussevitzsky in New York in 1941.
Bohuslav Martinů with Serge Koussevitzsky in
New York in 1941. (Photo: Martinů Center, Polička, CZ)

On November 14, 1941, Martinů’s Concerto Grosso was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Koussevitzsky. This work, one of Martinů’s most important, had been composed in Paris in 1937 but had never been performed due to the war events and, in addition to receiving excellent reviews, represented the composer’s debut on American soil.

In 1942 Martinů received a commission for a symphonic work by Koussevitzky to commemorate his late wife. This assignment led to the writing of the first of his six symphonies, all composed in the United States.

The Symphony No1 was followed in a short time, as proof of Martinů’s creative fervor, by other works such as Lidice (1942), composed at the request of President Beneš to commemorate the massacre of the Czech village of Lidice, the Concerto for Two Pianos (1943), commissioned by the piano duo Pierre Luboschutz and Genia Nemenoff, the Symphony No. 2 (1943), commissioned by the Czech and Slovak citizens of Cleveland, the Violin Concerto No. 2, commissioned by violinist Mischa Elman, the Madrigal Stanzas (1943), dedicated to Albert Einstein, the Symphony No. 3, dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky, the Trio for flute, cello and piano (1944), commissioned by René Le Roy and the Fantasia for Theremin, Oboe, String Quartet and Piano (1944), commissioned by Lucie Bigelow Rosen.

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