Martinu’s style is highly appealing, varied and approachable. The chamber music recorded here demonstrates this extremly well.
One remarkable aspect of Martinu is the sheer volume of his compositions, many of which are still quite unknown. Born in Policka, Czechoslovakia, in 1890, he began violin lessons at the age of six and had started composing by the age of ten.He studied at the Prague Conservatoire from 1906 to 1910 under Josef Suk, and by 1923 was having his first compositions conducted in Prague by the legendary Václáv Talich. With the help of a scholarship, Martinu left for Paris in 1923 and studied under Albert Roussel, a composer whom he admired greatly. He remained their, in great poverty, for the next seventeen years. His reputation as a composer however, quickly spread throughout musical circles, and he composed an impressive number of works embracing many styles, from jazz to opera.
He was always experimenting with form, style and orchestration, and he became particularly interested in the cnventions of the baroque era. His rhythmic patterns are also highly individual, being imaginative, often highly energetic and driving. His chamber music was distinguished and he won the Coolidge prize in 1932 for his String Quintet. In 1931 he married a dressmaker who worked tirelessly so that her husband could devote his life to composition, and during this period his music became much more overtly nationalistic. He was forced to leave Paris in 1940 and eventually settles, rather unhappily, in America for a number of years. It was here that he composed his Second and Third Piano Trios. He later returned to Europe, and died in Liestal, Switzerland, in 1959.
The piano Trio No 2 is dedicated to the Massachuetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge Massachussetts, having been composed for the opening of the Haydn Library. It is one of Martinu’s more serious works, with a Brahmsian feeling behind Martinu’s typical rhythmic and harmonic treatment. The Piano Trio No 3 is the most substantial of his piano trios, and was originally published with the title ’Grand Trio’. It is a mixture of Martinu’s driving rhythms contrasted with more lyrical sections, and ends positively in F major. Both of these trios are cast in three movements.
Martinu’s music for the cello occupies a significant place in his output, of which the Nocturnes: Four Studies for Cello and Piano, dating from 1930, are a fine example. Although they were composed for teaching purposes, they are rewarding works in their own right, combining a mixture of lyrical and virtuoso writing, fulling exploring the possibilities of the instrument. In the Czech Rhapsody dating from 1945, we find the composer in patriotic mood; a most attractive work, written for piano and violin, providing suitable contrast to the more serious repertoire on this album.