Ethereal Sounds from a Czech Composer’s Pen

Enigma. © Charles Thibo

Danger. Tension. Something is in the air. You can feel it, you can touch it, you can hear it. You can not see it, nor can you comprehend it, it escapes the human understanding. But it is. It is there. Evil. The memory of evil. Crimes against humanity. An aggression war. The betrayal and dismembering of a country. Deportations. Millions of displaced persons. And in the midst of all this negativity – a glimmer of hope. A flute.

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A Trio Born in Prague, Influenced by Paris

Rays of light in the darkness. © Charles Thibo

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.

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“Looking for hope that did not come”

Double concerto Martinu-2
The peace did not last.

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.

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A honest reference to Martinu’s tormented soul

Resignation. © Charles Thibo

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.

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