Bohuslav Martinů’s (1890 – 1959) music has always been a gentle but powerful key to opening mysterious experiences of time, spring, nature, memories, traditions, hearts, souls, and love. For Martinů, a theme of wisdom, national dances, folk texts, and ancient customs in relation to children’s virtue kept him grounded in his homeland while he was abroad.
He wrote happily from Paris about the rendition of his early Children’s Songs (1926), and in 1932 he even addressed the Academy of Sciences in Prague with a letter expressing his interest in publications about folk music and Moravian folk songs from Bartoš and Janáček´s collection (1901).
There is a biblical meaning behind the Czech word “petrklíč” (primrose) symbolizing St. Peter’s key to open the springtime earth after snowy winters. For Martinů, it was a pure joy to “sing along” with this folk love poetry and discover its phrasing and rhythmic roots for his duets (1954).
While still abroad, he composed Songs for a Children’s Choir in Schönenberg, Switzerland, in January 1959, the last year of his life. The text by František Halas from the collection of verses Tuning (Prague 1955) was set to music, as well as the texts from the collection of Czech folk songs and rhymes (1864) by K. J. Erben. One month later, still in the same place, he finished the sophisticated score of Bird Feast set to an ancient Czech text V Strachotíně hájku (In a grove of Strachotín).
The cycle of six pieces à cappella for women’s choir under the influence of K. J. Erben originated in Paris in 1930, and the first ternary of them was evidently titled based upon his Czech folk songs and proverbs. The composer named the second ternary from 1931 as Czech Nursery Rhymes. Both marginal choirs were also involved in the chanted ballet entitled Špalíček (The Chap-Book, 1932).
However, the strongest feeling of “the bonds of in-coming and leaving generations” (T. Hejzlar) we can have is in listening to the cantata Opening of the Springs (Otvírání studánek) (1955) with text written by Miloslav Bureš. “This is all coming from our countryside, all about fairies and folk queens, about purging the wells in spring,” wrote Martinů in his letter to Brno, and Polička, his native community. This real audience was part of the world premiere of his deep and intimate Opening on January 7, 1956.
photo: Marek Uhrin
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