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Bohuslav Martinu

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Bohuslav Martinů


Biography

Bohuslav Jan Martinů (8 December 1890, Policka, Bohemia – 28 August 1959, Basel Swit.) was a Czech composer of modern classical music who lived in Switzerland and the United States.

As violinist, he excelled and developed a strong reputation, giving his first public concert in his hometown in 1905. The townspeople raised enough money to fund his schooling, and in 1906 he left the countryside to begin studies at the Prague Conservatory.

He became a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and briefly studied under Czech composer and violinist Josef Suk. After leaving Czechoslovakia in 1923 for Paris, Martinů deliberately withdrew from the Romantic style in which he had been trained. During the 1920s he experimented with modern French stylistic developments, exemplified by his orchestral works Half-time and La Bagarre. He also adopted jazz idioms, for instance in his Kitchen Revue (Kuchyňská revue).

In the early 1930s he found his main fount for compositional style: neoclassicism, creating textures far denser than those found in composers treating Stravinsky as a model. He was prolific, quickly composing chamber, orchestral, choral and instrumental works. His Concerto Grosso and the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani are among his best-known works from this period. He wrote six symphonies, 15 operas, 14 ballet scores and a large body of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental works. Among his operas, Juliette and The Greek Passion are considered the finest. He has been compared to Prokofiev and Bartók in his innovative incorporation of Czech folk elements into his music. He continued using Bohemian and Moravian folk melodies throughout his oeuvre. In 1932, his string sextet won the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Award. 

Martinů's symphonic career began when he emigrated to the United States in 1941, fleeing the German invasion of France. He settled in New York City and was visiting professor of music at Princeton University from 1948 to 1951. His six symphonies were performed by all the major U.S. orchestras. Eventually Martinů returned to live in Europe for two years starting in 1953, then was back in New York until returning to Europe in May 1956.  

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