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Poco allegro; Poco vivo
Poco andante; Andante moderato
Allegro moderato; Allegro
Like most European artists before and during World War II, Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) suffered tremendously. Although he was not as vulnerable as the Jews during this period, his Czech heritage was scarcely an asset where the Nazis were concerned, and in early 1941 he was forced, after a desperate nine-month struggle, to join the multitude of émigré composers who found themselves transplanted to America. In Martinu’s case, this central calamity was neither the beginning nor the end to his troubles.
An accomplished violinist — a prodigy, in fact — Martinu chose the more difficult path of composition, made all the more difficult by the fact that he was not a diligent student. After the death of his father, with whom he had been very close, he abandoned his country for Paris, and the course of study he had undertaken with Josef Suk, to face years of struggle in relative obscurity before he began to receive wider recognition in the 1930s. Unhappy in America even though he succeeded far better than most émigré composers, Martinu responded eagerly to the chance to teach in Czechoslovakia after the war.
Tragic events conspired to keep him in America, however, and, eventually, to make his exile from his homeland permanent. It was during this particularly troubled period, in early 1947, that his Three Madrigals for violin and viola were composed, shortly after his near-fatal fall from a balcony at Tanglewood in July 1946, and before his decision, ultimately, not to accept the position he had been offered in Prague, which had fallen under Communist rule by the time he had recovered sufficiently to travel.
Martinu’s exile, which led him first to Paris and later to America, enriched his music in many ways, deepening his attachment to Czech idioms and subjects, and exposed him to a wide variety of influences. Thus, during his Paris sojourn, his music began to embrace idioms ranging from impressionism to surrealism and jazz. On the other hand, “Memorial to Lidice,” composed in the wake of the Germans’ systematic obliteration of Lidice (near Prague) in barbaric retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, ranks among his most powerful works written in America during the war.
Martinu’s most immediate inspiration for the Three Madrigals was a performance of the Mozart violin-viola duets by Joseph and Lilian Fuchs, a brother-sister duo who subsequently received the dedication. But the pieces reveal, even more clearly, his attachment to Czech idioms, and his long-standing fascination for the flexible declamation of the English madrigal.
Intended to be performed together, the Three Madrigals are arranged in a familiar fast-slow-fast pattern. But Martinu, six months after his fall, was still recovering his compositional powers, and the third piece does not fully live up to the others; nevertheless, the first two are gems, and constitute a vibrant study in contrasts. Thus, the driving rhythms of the first Madrigal, alternating imitative counterpoint with homophonic textures in the manner of its namesake, eventually give way to the introspective trills that open and close the second. Notably, Martinu’s evocation of the madrigal here enables him to achieve a more equal balance between the instruments than was possible, or perhaps desirable, in the 18th-century models that more immediately inspired him.
- Note by Raymond Knapp