Composers Datebook®

Martinu's "Frescoes"

Composer's Datebook - Aug. 26, 2023


Piero della Francesca was a 15th century Renaissance painter, whose series of frescoes entitled Legend of the True Cross inspired one of the best orchestral works of a 20th-century Czech composer named Bohuslav Martinu.

In 1952, Martinu made a trip to the Tuscan hill town of Arezzo, where he saw the frescoes and got the idea for a new symphonic work that would attempt to capture in music what Piero had captured in painting.

What Martinu sought to replicate was, as he put it, “a kind of solemn, frozen silence and opaque, colored atmosphere… a strange, peaceful, and moving poetry.”

Martinu linked the first movement of his score to one Tuscan fresco showing the Queen of Sheba and some women kneeling by a river; and the second to another depicting the dream of the Emperor Constantine. The third movement was intended, in Martinu’s words, as “a kind of general view of the frescoes.”

Martinu’s orchestral triptych, entitled The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca, received its premiere performance on today’s date at the 1956 Salzburg Festival in Austria, with the Vienna Philharmonic led by the eminent Czech conductor, Rafael Kubelik.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bohuslav Martinu (1890 – 1950) Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca Vienna Philharmonic;Rafael Kubelik, conductor. Orfeo C521-991 (recorded August 26, 1956)

On This Day


  • 1887 - Nicaraguan composer Luis Delgadillio, in Managua;

  • 1915 - British composer Humphrey Searle, in Oxford;


  • 1958 - British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, age 85, in London;


  • 1815 - Weber: Clarinet Quintet in Bb, Op. 34, in Munich, featuring clarinetist Heinrich Bärmann;

  • 1846 - Mendelssohn: oratorio "Elijah," at Birmingham Festival in England, with composer conducting;

  • 1954 - Alan Rawsthorne: "Practical Cats" (after T.S. Eliot), for speaker and orchestra, at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland

  • 1956 - Martinu: "Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," for orchestra, at the Salzburg Festival in Austria

  • 1957 - Panufnik: "Rhapsody" for orchestra, in London

  • 2001 - André Previn: "Tango, Song and Dance," at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis.


  • 1717 - French flutist and composer Jacques-Martin Hotteterre is appointed royal flutist (“flutte de la chamber de Roy”) at a salary of 6000 livres

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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