Bohuslav Martinů’s Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani

Notes by TŌN violinist Esther Goldy Roestan

A Shy Boy with a Violin
Unlike other famous composers, Bohuslav Jan Martinů wasn’t born into a wealthy family, but rather a middle class family; his father was a shoemaker, and his family worked in a church. Martinů was a shy boy and had some health problems that kept him from vigorous activities, so his way of expressing himself was through the violin. He developed a strong reputation as the townspeople grew fond of his musical talent, and they helped fund his education at the Prague Conservatory. During his years at the Conservatory he was far more attracted to books, analyzing music, and composition in general. He initially composed Romantic-style music and gradually became more interested in modern classical music composition. In 1941 he moved to New York City, and that’s when his career really began. Many of his symphonies were performed by major orchestras in New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and elsewhere.

Music in a Hostile Time
Martinů’s Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani was written in Switzerland in 1938. The political climate in Europe was very hostile around this time, especially because Hitler was still in power, and this severely impacted Czechoslovakia, where Martinu had a lot of connections. This was the year of Kristallnacht, the Czech Crisis, and the Munich Agreement. Even though Switzerland was pretty neutral during this time, these major events affected all Europeans. In this concerto, Martinů clearly expressed how he felt during this difficult time, and we can hear anxiety, depression, and restlessness throughout the piece.