5 May 2013

Bohuslav Martinů - Symphony No.3

There are so many composers still on my to-listen list, but thanks to The Rest is Noise Festival I can strike one of them off: Bohuslav Martinů. Last week I saw the London Philharmonic Orchestra play his Double Concerto, which was amazing (you can read my review here, they also played Berg, Bartók and Webern). It was an incredibly moving and exciting piece, and so of course I had to seek out more of his music. My favourite so far? The Symphony No.3:

Bohuslav Martinů - Symphony No.3: I Allegro Poco Moderato
Played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Vaclav Neumann

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was a Czech composer. He studied at the Prague Conservatory for a while but was dismissed because he preferred to study and explore on his own. Eventually he studied composition under Josef Suk for a few years, after which he left and moved to Paris. He was really interested in different styles of music and of course Paris at that time was an absolutely fantastic place artistically speaking. His composing style continued to develop, but it wasn't until after his move to the US in 1941 that he wrote his six symphonies. He composed many pieces (almost 400!) throughout his life, apart from the symphonies there are many ballets, 8 pieces for piano and orchestra, a whole bunch of other concertos, and a lot of chamber music, including 12 string quartets.

Symphony No.3 contains three movements and was composed in 1944. The piece wasn't commissioned but it was dedicated to and premiered by the Boston Symphonic Orchestra and Serge Koussevitzky (premiere was in 1945). It's an energetic and loud piece, but honestly it's also quite unlike anything else I've heard before (even though it fits squarely into the genre of loud 20th Century symphonic music that I love so much). The piano has a prominent place in the symphony, perhaps similar to Stravinsky's Sympony in Three Movements. At the same time it has some stunning writing for woodwinds, and some wonderful percussion. Basically, it's really fantastic and you should listen to it. If you like the first movement, here are the others: II Largo and III Allegro - Andante.


  1. Martinu's 3rd symphony is full of anxiety, tension and gloom and is coloured by the darkest hours of WW II.

    Its a symphony which is far from being the most representative of his symphonic oeuvre, which is predominantly of a cheerful, optimistic nature.

    1. Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for your comment :). I doubt that there's a single piece that's at all representative of Martinů's oeuvre, he's such a diverse composer! I definitely agree with you, many of his other works are much more cheerful. Though I do think that some other of his symphonies are dark, just like the 3rd (and I love all the symphonies, though not quite as much as this one which is my clear favourite). Unlike, for example, all the pieces for piano(s) & orchestra - I find those all really joyful!

      What's your favourite Martinů piece?

      - Renée.

  2. Hello, I´m happy to learn there are some understanding listeners who can value Martinů´s music. I could rant for hours about my favorite pieces of his music, but here is just one recommendation: Epic of Gilgamesh. Ok, one more as for purely instrumental pieces: Piano concerto No. 4 (Incantations), though it´s not the easiest to listen at first.
    - Bohdan