The first movement sounds at first like a cry of despair, a confused, agitated mind looking for help, for orientation, for the light at the end of the tunnel. A slow transition to a kind of monologue, a mind wandering into unknown territories, the pizzicato* introduces a phase of consolidation and of consolation. The second movement has the texture of a prayer, a lullaby, a long, drawn-out sigh expressing a certain resignation, a certain peace of mind, albeit on the background of an overall depressed and confused mood. Occasionally gentle, optimistic figured for the violin are pitched against the darkness, but they cannot prevail. The last movement however has a hopeful, playful general mood and finishes on a strident, agitated repetition of the central theme giving the third movement a bitter aftertaste.
March 1938: German troops occupy Austria, supported by thousands of local Nazi sympathizers. April 1938: Adolf Hitler orders preparations to invade and annex Czechoslovakia. September 1938: Through bluffing and unscrupulous blackmailing, Hitler wins French and British approval to annex the Czech territories of Moravia and Bohemia. While political tensions in Europe reached a first culmination point, a Czech composer was busy writing a concerto upon a commission of the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher for the Basel Chamber Orchestra, a concerto grosso in three movements. It became known as Bohuslav Martinu’s Double Concerto, H. 271. It has been recorded by the Essener Philharmoniker under Tomas Netopil and the pianist Ivo Kahanek.
The story of this post is s curious one. The first time I was consciously listening to this piece of music I was about to park my car in a street across my office. It was a cold, grey autumn morning and I thought: “How appropriate! Its too early, too cold and this piece is totally unhinged. Brilliant start into the day.” My judgment was based on the first bars and I reversed it quickly: the harsh musical language hides a Romantic longing, the story of an impossible love, of living on the edge and under incredible tension.
Victory. Liberation. Can you jubilate after a war with 60 million people killed? Hardly. Relief was the first impulse that the composer Bohuslav Martinu felt after Germany had surrendered. It gave gradually way to unbound joy, but the memory of the deadliest conflict in human history lingered on. Such a tragedy could not be brushed away in a few weeks or months.