Bohuslav Martinů

08/12/1890 Polička, 28/08/1959 Liestal  

Bohuslav Martinů, one of the major 20th-century Czech composers, began studying the violin at the age of seven. In 1906, he enrolled at the Prague Conservatory, from which he was expelled for “incorrigible negligence”, following which he studied on his own and finally passed the state teaching exam in December 1912. Martinů hailed the foundation of an independent Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 with the cantata Czech Rhapsody.  In the autumn of 1920, he became a member of the Czech Philharmonic. In October 1922, he began taking composition lessons from Josef Suk. Upon receiving a scholarship from the Ministry of Education, he left for Paris to study with Albert Roussel. He soon gained acclaim, with his music performed by the Czech Philharmonic and the National Theatre in Prague. In 1935, Martinů was awarded the Czechoslovak State Prize for the opera The Plays of Mary. In 1940, he and his wife Charlotte fled Paris before the approaching Nazi forces. After months on the run, they finally reached the USA in 1941. Life in America was initially difficult for Martinů, yet he would ultimately gain great acclaim as a composer. In January 1942, his music was featured in the New York Philharmonic’s concert titled The Czechoslovak Immortals of Symphonic Music. Martinů also earned his living as a teacher, including at Princeton University. The numerous pieces he composed during his time in the USA included the Memorial to Lidice, a response to the Nazis’ razing the Czech village to the ground. In 1952, Martinů was granted US citizenship, yet the very next year he returned to Europe, where he would stay until the end of his days. Martinů spent the final years of his life in Switzerland at his friends’ estate. In 1959, he died in Liestal. Two decades later his remains were moved to and buried in his native Polička. Martinů created almost 400 works – songs, symphonies, concertos, pieces for solo instruments and a variety of chamber ensembles, ballets, vocal compositions and operas, intended for theatre, radio and television.