Our music for this week is Bohuslav Martinu’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, performed by the German virtuoso Julia Fischer. We still have one more week of Ravel before we move onto a new series, but I wanted to share this with you after hearing it for the first time this week.
This music is meant to stretch your conception of classical music into the more flexible dimensions that 20th century composers utilized. You will hear modern melodic elements in this work, as well as French Impressionist flavors, which happened to be a stylistic preference of Martinu. It is also interesting to note that Martinu incorporated a polyphonic style akin to that of the great Baroque composer J.S. Bach into this work. In addition, you will hear elements that mimic the war-like madness that is often found in compositions by Shostakovich and other composers of this era. This is largely due to the very personal experiences with war that Martinu and other Eastern European composers had; only two years before this work was written, he and his wife fled their Czech homeland and left Europe through France with one day to spare before German tanks overran their hometown.
The work was written in 1943 and premiered that year by the great Jewish violinist Mischa Elman with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Elman had apparently heard Martinu’s 1st Symphony performed a few years earlier and had been so impressed with it that he requested that Martinu write him a violin concerto to perform. Martinu, who was apparently a constantly cheerful and happy individual, gleefully agreed and asked Martinu to play a recital at his home so that he could understand the violinist’s stylistic and technical preferences. The strong element of lyricism that can be heard throughout the piece was an intentional addition by Martinu, who felt that Elman’s best asset as a violinist was his ability to display heartfelt lyricism.
At the time of its premier, it was thought to the only violin concerto of Martinu, but after the composer’s death an earlier concerto was found in his older manuscripts. It is strange to think that this violin concerto, composed at the exact same time as the much more well-known concerti of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, is almost completely unknown in today’s violin repertoire.
P.S. A listening tip – you’ll find the main melody of the first movement around the 3-minute mark 🙂