Principal Works
Musical Samples

Bohuslav Martinu

(1890 - 1959)

Bohuslav Martinu


Version française

It is perhaps understandable that a person who was born into the world to the accompaniment of festive bells would have grown up to become a great musician. Such, indeed, was the case of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu.

Bohuslav's father was the bell ringer and watchman in the little Bohemian town of Policka. His job was to act as fire watcher for the village and to ring the church bells for prayers and festive occasions. Thus it was that in the small tower room of the church of St. James, where the Martinus lived, on the public holiday of 8 December 1890, Bohuslav was born with the sound of church bells ringing joyously all round him.

Young Bohuslav, who was tall, thin, and weakly, often had to be carried by his father up and down the 193-step staircase in the tower. He spent the first twelve years of his life looking at his village from this bird's-eye perspective. The memory of this view of the world impressed itself upon Bohuslav's young mind and remained with him all his life, strongly influencing his ideas of composition. As he was to write later in life, it was "not the small interests of people, the cares, the hurts, or the joys" that he saw from that great height, but "space, which I always have in front of me."

When Bohuslav had hardly begun public school, his parents entrusted him to the care of the Policka music teacher. This teacher was the first to recognize the lad's genius and encouraged him to try composing. Bohuslav never forgot that first teacher for pointing him on his way toward the goal of becoming a great composer.

At sixteen years of age, Bohuslav was take to Prague by his mother to be introduced to real music experts. He carried with him his violin and his first string quartet. The outcome of this visit was encouraging, and later that year he entered the Prague Conservatoire.

But things did not go well for the young man. By the end of his second year he was failing his examinations. He finally left the Conservatoire to continue his studies on his own. He read, studied scores, attended concerts, and composed daily. It was with such intense personal discipline and hard work that Martinu was able to grow into a fine composer. Later, in a letter to the teachers in the Policka Music School, Martinu wrote to remind the students that he "was also a young lad — a student, like themselves — and that everything is achievable if we really want it and if we have the patience to go for it." The key to realizing one's dreams, in other words, is hard work.

It was fortunate for the young composer that in those days Prague was a crossroads of culture. One could hear works by Strauss, Bruckner, Debussy, and even Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók performed in the concert halls of Prague. Martinu's compositions during this time were being received with favorable response among many of Prague's musicians.

After World War I, Martinu became a second violinist with the Czech Philharmonic, where he learned to master the composition of music for a large orchestra. His Czech Rhapsody for solo, chorus, and orchestra was given a performance by the Philharmonic in 1919 and was favorably received.

Some time later Martinu was given the opportunity to travel to Paris to study with the famous French composer Albert Roussel. Martinu composed a remarkable number of works during his Paris years. Among these were Polocas ("Halftime") and La Bagarre ("Tumult"), both for orchestra, and an opera Voják a tanecnice ("The Soldier and the Dancer"), as well as ballets and chamber music. In 1935 he was awarded a Czechoslovak State Prize for another of his operas, Hry o Marii ("The Miracle of Our Lady"). One of his most famous operas, Julietta aneb Snár ("Juliette, or The Key to Dreams"), was first performed before a Prague audience that same year.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Paris years of Martinu came to a close. He visited for a short time in Switzerland before finally making his way to America — but not before waiting anxiously for several months for transportation. Even during these very trying times Martinu continued not only to compose daily, but also succeeded in writing music that is full of strength, vitality, hope, and joy. Among his works of this period are his Sinfonietta giocosa for piano and orchestra and Fantasia and Toccata for piano solo.

Arriving in American in 1941, Martinu had to work hard to establish himself in the New World. But it was in America that Martinu mastered symphonic writing. Fifty years earlier another Czech composer by the name of Antonín Dvorák had won the hearts of Americans. Principally through his virtuoso symphonies, Martinu also was to gain America's respect. Ernest Arnsermet once said that of all musicians of his generation, Martinu was "the great symphony writer."

During the next few years Martinu wrote an almost innumerable number of compositions. But, succumbing at last to a cancer that had been plaguing him for nearly a year, Bohuslav Martinu died on 28 August 1959 in Liestal, Switzerland. At his funeral, the eulogist characterized Martinu's work by saying, "His music is the music of our times, because it expresses profound basic problems; it bears the stamp of individuality, which enables it to ring out among all the rest, and guarantees that he will not be forgotten."


Principal Works

Solo Instrument
Vocal & Choral
Ballet & Opera


  • Symphony No. 1 (1942)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1943)
  • Symphony No. 3 (1944)
  • Symphony No. 4 (1945)
  • Symphony No. 5 (1946)
  • Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies symphoniques) (1953)
Other Orchestral Works
  • La Bagarre (1926)
  • Concerto grosso (1937)
  • Double Concerto for 2 String Orchestras, Piano & Tympani (1938)
  • Faithless Marijka (film score) (1933)
  • Les Fresques de Piero della Francesa (1955)
  • Half-time (1924)
  • Intermezzo (1950)
  • Inventions (1934)
  • Memorial to Lidice (1950)
  • The Parables (1958)
  • Partita (Suite I) for String Orchestra (1931)
  • The Rock (1957)
  • Serenade for Chamber Orchestra (1930)
  • Sinfonia Concertante for 2 Orchestras (1932)
  • Thunderbolt P-47 (1945)
  • Toccata e due Canzoni (1946)
  • Tre ricarcari (1938)
  • Trois Estampes (1958)
Piano and Orchestra
  • Concertino (Divertimento) for the Piano Left Hand & Chamber Orchestra (1926)
  • Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra (1943)
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 with Chamber Orchestra (1925)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 (1934)
  • Piano Concerto No. 3 (1948)
  • Piano Concerto No. 4 (Incantation) (1956)
  • Piano Concerto No. 5 (Fantasia concertante) (1957)
  • Sinfonietta Giocosa for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1940)
  • Sinfonietta La Jolla for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1935)
Other Solo Instrument(s) and Orchestra
  • Concertino for Piano Trio and String Orchestra (1933)
  • Concertino for Violoncello, Winds, Piano and Percussion (1924)
  • Concerto de Camera for Violin, Piano, Tympani, Percussion and String Orchestra (1941)
  • Concerto for Flute, Violin and Chamber Orchestra (1936)
  • Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (1955)
  • Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra (1933)
  • Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra (1943)
  • Concerto No. 1 for Violoncello (1930)
  • Concerto No. 2 for Violoncello (1945)
  • Concerto for 2 Violins and Orchestra (1937)
  • Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (1953)
  • Divertimento (Serenade No. 4) for Violin, Viola, Oboe, Piano and String Orchestra (1932)
  • Duo Concertante for 2 Violins and Orchestra (1950)
  • Piano Trio with String Orchestra (1933)
  • Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1952)
  • Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Violoncello, Oboe, Bassoon and Orchestra (1949)
  • Sonata da Camera for Violoncell and Chamber Orchestra (1940)
  • String Quartet with Orchestra (1931)
  • Suite Concertante for Violin and Orchestra (1937)


  • Divertimento for Two Recorders (1957)
  • Duo for Violin and Viola (1950)
  • Duo No. 1 for Violin and Cello (1927)
  • Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello (1958)
  • Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola (1947)
  • Trios
    • Bergerettes for Violin, Cello and Piano (1939)
    • Madrigal Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano (1942)
    • Madrigals for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1937)
    • Piano Trio (No. 1) "Cinq pičces brčves" (1930)
    • Piano Trio No. 2 in D Minor (1950)
    • Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major (1951)
    • Promenades for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord (1939)
    • Serenade for 2 Violins and Viola (1932)
    • Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano (1937)
    • Sonata for 2 Violins and Piano (1932)
    • Sonatina for 2 Violins and Piano (1930)
    • String Trio No. 1 (1923)
    • String Trio No. 2 (1934)
    • Trio for Flute, Violoncello and Piano (1944)
    • Mazurka (Nocturne) for Oboe, 2 Violins and Cello (1949)
    • Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Violoncello and Drum (1924)
    • Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Violoncello and Piano (1947)
    • Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Violoncello (1942)
    • String Quartet No. 1 (1921)
    • String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
    • String Quartet No. 3 (1929)
    • String Quartet No. 4 (1937)
    • String Quartet No. 5 (1038)
    • String Quartet No. 6 (1946)
    • String Quartet No. 7, "Concerto da camera" (1947)
    • Piano Quintet No. 1 (1933)
    • Piano Quintet No. 2 (1944)
    • Serenade for Violin, Viola, Cello and 2 Clarinets (1951)
    • String Quintet (1927)
    • Serenade for Clarinet, Horn, 3 Violins and Viola (1932)
    • Sextet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, 2 Bassons and Piano (1929)
    • Sextet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and 2 Violoncellos (1932)
    Other Ensembles
    • Fantasia for Theremin, Oboe, Piano and String Quartet (1944)
    • Jazz Suite for 11 Instruments (1928)
    • Musique de chambre No. 1, "Les fętes nocturnes," for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet, Harp and Piano (1959)
    • Nonet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon and Horn (1930)
    • Les Rondes for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, 2 Violins, Cello and Piano (1930)
    • Serenade (Divertimento) for Violin, Viola, Oboe, Piano and String Orchestra (1932)
    • Serenade for Oboe, Clarinet, 4 Violins and Cello (1932)


    Piano, Harpsichord & Organ
    • Borová, "Seven Czech Dances" (1929)
    • Les bouquinistes du Quai Malaquais (1948)
    • Butterflies and Birds of Paradise (1920)
    • Esquisses de danse (1932)
    • Etudes and Polkas, in 3 volumes (1945)
    • Fantasia and Toccata (1940)
    • Fantasia for 2 Pianos (1929)
    • Le ritournelles (1932)
    • Sonata for Harpsichord (1958)
    • Sonata for Piano (1954)
    • Three Czech Dances for Solo Piano (1926)
    • Three Czech Dances for 2 Pianos (1949)
    • Two Compositions for Harpsichord (1935)
    • Two Impromptus (1959)
    • Vigils for Organ (1959)


    Violin & Piano
    • Cinq pičces brčves (1929)
    • Czech Rhapsody (1945)
    • Five Madrigal Stanzas (1943)
    • Impromptu (1927)
    • Intermezzo (1937)
    • Seven Arabesques (1931)
    • Sonata in C Major (1929)
    • Sonata in D Minor (1926)
    • Sonata No. 1 (1929)
    • Sonata No. 2 (1931)
    • Sonata No. 3 (1944)
    • Sonatina (1937)
    Violoncello & Piano
    • Miniature Suire (1930)
    • Nocturnes (1930)
    • Pastorales (1930)
    • Seven Arabesques (1931)
    • Sonata No. 1 (1939)
    • Sonata No. 2 (1941)
    • Sonata No. 3 (1952)
    • Variations on a Slovak Theme (1959)
    • Variations on a Theme by Rossini (1942)
    Other Instruments & Piano
    • Sonata for Flute and Piano (1945)
    • Sonata for Viola and Piano (1955)
    • Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano (1956)
    • Sonatina for Trumpet and Piano (1956)


    • Czech Rhapsody (1918)
    • Dandelion Romance (text by Miloslav Bures) (1957)
    • Field Mass (text by Jirí Mucha) (1939)
    • Gilgamesh (based on Babylonian texts) (1955)
    • Legend of the Smoke fro the Potato Haulms (text by Miloslav Bures) (1957)
    • Mikes from the Mountains (text by Miloslav Bures) (1959)
    • Mount of Three Lights (1954)
    • Nosegay (folk texts) (1937)
    • The Opening of the Wells (text by Miloslav Bures) (1955)
    • The Prophecy of Isaiah (1959)
    • Brigands' Songs (folk texts) (1957)
    • Czech Madrigals (folk texts) (1939)
    • Czech Nursey Rhymes (folk texts) (1934)
    • Four Marian Songs (1939)
    • Madrigals (folk textst) (1959)
    • Primrose (Moravian folk texts) (1954)
    • Three Sacred Songs (1952)
    Solo Voice
    • Magic Nights for Soprano and Orchestra (1918)
    • New Spalícek for Voice and Piano (1943)
    • Nipponari for Female Voice and Orchestra (1912)
    • Songs on Two Pages for Voice and Piano (1944)


    • The Butterfly that Stamped (1926)
    • Checkmating the King (1930)
    • The Czech Year (Spalícek) (1932)
    • Istar (1922)
    • The Kitchen Revue (Le revue de cuisine) (1927)
    • On tourne (1927)
    • Le Raid Merveilleux (1927)
    • Revolt (1925)
    • The Strangler (1948)
    • Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? (1922)
    • Alexandre bis (André Wurmser, libretto) (1937)
    • Ariadne (Bohuslav Martino, libretto) (1958)
    • Cycle of Four Plays (1936):
      I. The Wise and Foolish Virgins
      II. Mariken of Nimégue
      III. The Nativity
      IV. Sister Pascaline
    • Greek Passion (Nikos Kazantzakis & Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1958)
    • Juliette, or The Book of Dreams (Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1937)
    • The Knife's Tears (Les larmes du couteau) (Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, libretto) (1928)
    • The Marriage, a radio opera (Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1952)
    • The Miracle of Our Lady (1934)
    • Mirandolina (La Locandiera) (Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1954)
    • The Soldier and the Dancer (J.L. Budín, libretto) 1927)
    • The Three Wishes, or The Vicissitudes of Life (Les trois souhaits ou Les vicissitudes de la vie) (Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, libretto) (1929)
    • The Voice of the Forest (Vítezslav Nezval), a radio opera (Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1935)
    • A Week of Good Deeds (Semaine de bonté) (Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, libretto) (1929)
    • What Men Live By, a radio opera (Bohuslav Martinu, libretto) (1952)


    Musical Samples

    Click on the buttons below to hear short MIDI samples of Martinu's work. Be sure to close the small screen after listening to the sample before clicking on the next example or you will only hear the same piece repeated.

    Kolumbina tanci

    Ostychava panenka


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