Bohuslav Martinů

1890 - 1959



Born in the small market town of Polička on December 8th 1890, Bohuslav Martinů is widely held as one of the most significant Czech composers of the 20th century. He began his musical life as a violinist, having lessons twice a week, developing and improving at an impressive pace. He gave solo recitals in Polička on a number of occasions in his youth. These recitals led to one of the most important events of his youth – the people of the town drew together and raised funds for him to go and study at the Prague Conservatory in 1906. 

His studies in Prague were uniformly appalling and he was expelled from the conservatory in 1910 for ‘incorrigible negligence’. Despite this, he continued to contribute to the musical life in Prague and began to compose after hearing the Prague premiere of Debussy’s Peliéas et Mélisande (1908). In order to generate some income to support his compositional pursuits, Martinů attempted to take the state teaching examination, failing initially in 1911 but then qualifying in 1912. The following years saw a sporadic output of works, as Martinů evaded conscription in the First World War. He played for the Czech Philharmonic and, importantly, toured with them in the early 1920s, visiting London, Geneva and Paris. He particularly enjoyed the last of these, and, with help from a small scholarship from the ministry of education, moved there in October 1923 in order to study with Roussel. 

Whilst in Paris, his music absorbed many influences, including the music of Stravinsky, Les Six and jazz. Through the late 1920s and early 30s, Martinů’s works saw some high-profile premieres in Boston, London, Prague and Venice with the orchestral work Inventions being premiered at the ISCM Festival in 1934. As the Nazis spread across Europe, Martinů fled, with his wife Charlotte, first to southern France, then to Lisbon, with the further aim of departing for the sanctuary of America. On March 21st 1941, they departed Portugal and in the years that followed spent much time in New York, leaving the city during the summers for more picturesque surroundings in New England. After a difficult start in the USA, compounded by a poor knowledge of English and a bout of depression, Martinů began composing once again. He moved again several times in the coming years before moving to Switzerland, where he remained until his death in August of 1959 from stomach cancer. He died a greatly respected teacher and composer.

Publications for sale by Bohuslav Martinů can be purchased online here.



13th September 2024

Christian Tetzlaff, violin
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Nicholas Collon
Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki, Finland