Bohuslav Martinu

Born 8 December 1890. Died 28 August 1959.
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Bohuslav Martinu

The 20th century Czech composer who embraced the avant-garde.

Featured in BBC Music Clips


Born in a church tower in the village of Polička in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands, Bohuslav Martinů began violin lessons aged 7 and was sent to the Prague Conservatory, funded by the Polička villagers.

In 1923 he moved to Paris to study, and stayed for 17 years, absorbing the avant-garde as well as jazz influences, the latter enshrined in the chamber work La revue de cuisine (1927). He fled Paris for the USA following the German invasion of 1940, taking up teaching posts at Tanglewood and at Princeton University. Settling in New York, he was championed by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Martinů's prolific output of over 400 works crosses all genres – from piano solo to opera, from chamber music to ballet and film music – and his unclassifiable style has contributed to his works falling into neglect. Among his masterpieces is the cantata The Epic of Gilgamesh (1955) and the operas Julietta (1938) and The Greek Passion (completed in 1959). After leaving Paris he felt the constant pull of his homeland, though decided not to return after Czechoslovakia came under Communist rule in 1948. Instead, he returned to Western Europe for his final years.

Profile © Edward Bhesania

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