The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu had written around 300 works before he started on his first symphony in 1942. In fact, he had written pieces in just about every orchestral genre EXCEPT a full-blown symphony.
At heart, Martinu was a cosmopolitan European composer, but with a deep link to the specifically Czech musical legacy of Smetana, Dvorak, and Janacek. In 1942, Martinu was experiencing a cultural mid-life crisis: both his native land of Czechslovakia and his adopted home of Paris had been overrun by the Nazis. Martinu was living as an exile in America. Musical AND ethical considerations were both on his mind.
In a program note for the Boston Symphony’s premiere on November 13, 1942, the 52-year old Martinu wrote: “You will understand that when someone is face to face with the problem of his first symphony, he takes up a very nervous and serious attitude… his reflexes link with Beethoven’s and Brahms’s First… The large proportions, the expansive form of the symphony force the composer to put himself on a high plane… My deepest conviction is the essential nobility of thoughts and things which are quite simple and which, not explained in high-sounding words and abstruse phrases, still hold an ethical and human significance.”
Martinu’s First Symphony somehow captures both the nervous tension of the times and the yearning for a nobility of spirit in the face of a world in crisis.
Music Played in Today's Program
Bohuslav Martinu (1890 - 1959)Symphony No. 1National Orchestra of Ukraine; Arthur Fagen, cond.Naxos 8.553348