Bohuslav Martinu is another composer whose life was filled with many changes. He was born on December 8, 1890 in Policka, a small town in Bohemia. His father was the town’s fire watcher and bell ringer and they lived in the tower of one of the local churches. He spent much of the early years of his life in the tower looking out upon the world as he was too weak to climb the 193 step staircase and had to be carried.
He played the violin and did concerts in his town at a young age. With financial help from the townsfolk, he attended the Prague Conservatory starting in 1906. School life did not agree with him and he was eventually dismissed in 1910. Martinu went back to Policka for a while, teaching, playing, and composing. In 1920, he started as a second violinist in the Czech Philharmonic.
1923 brought another major shift in Martinu’s life. He moved to Paris. This brought about many changes for him. Here he studied composition with Albert Roussel until Roussel’s death in 1937. He met and married a French seamstress. And it is also here in Paris that Martinu composed many pieces including his String Quartet No. 5 in 1938. We will have the pleasure of hearing this quartet performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet at their concert on January 9th. It was the last string quartet Martinu composed in Paris and was inspired by a trip back to Czechoslovakia.
Blacklisted due to his connections with the Czech resistance, he fled Paris in 1940 when the Germany army approached France. Eventually he made his way to America in 1941. He stayed in the U.S. until 1953, writing numerous pieces including his 6 symphonies. In 1953, Martinu returned to France and spent most of his remaining years in Europe. He passed away in 1959 in Switzerland.