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ClassicsOnline Home » MARTINU: Chamber Music
Chamber Music from The
1994 Australian Festival of Chamber Music
Piano Quartet No. 1
Quartet for oboe,
violin, cello and piano
Sonata No.1 for viola
String Quintet for two
violins, two violas and cello
The Czech composer
Bohuslav Martinů was born in 1890 at Polička in Bohemia in a
bell-tower, where his father, a shoe-maker by trade, was employed as watchman.
In his childhood he learned the violin from a local tailor and made a local
reputation for himself, giving his first public concert in his home-town in
1905. At the same time he concentrated attention on composition, although
without proper tuition and lacking even the necessary manuscript-paper for the
purpose. In 1906 he became a violin student at the Prague Conservatory, but
four years later, after relegation for one year to the Organ School, he was
expelled. His principal interest, in fact, continued to centre on composition,
and he pursued this aim during the war, which he spent as a teacher in Polička.
In 1918 he joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist and his
ballet Istar, completed in 1922, was performed in 1924. There had been a
brief period of instruction in composition from Josef Suk at the Conservatory,
soon abandoned, and in 1923, assisted by a scholarship, he moved to Paris to
become a pupil of Albert Roussel.
In the following years
Martinů's music began to gain a hearing, particularly through Talich in
Czechoslovakia, Paul Sacher and Ernest Ansermet in Switzerland, Henry Wood in
England, Munch in France and Koussevitzky in the United States. By 1931 he had
established himself well enough to marry a young dressmaker. Charlotte
Quennehen, although he never earned enough to allow even reasonable comfort.
The first performance of his Concerto Grosso planned by Talich in 1938
was postponed with the invasion of Czechoslovakia that year and in June 1940 he
and his wife hurriedly fled from Paris, four days before the Germany armies
marched into the city. With considerable difficulty they made their way to
Portugal and thence to Bermuda, reaching New York at the end of March 1941. In
the United States Martinů eventually received commissions from the
Koussevitzky Foundation, for which he wrote his First Symphony. This was
followed by further symphonies and concertos, including a violin concerto
commissioned by Mischa Elman, while in 1943 his Memorial Stanzas, dedicated
to Albert Einstein, were played by the famous scientist with the pianist Robert
Casadesus. After the war he planned to return to Prague, where he had been
offered the position of professor of composition at the Conservatory, but was
prevented from doing so by the accession to power of the Communist Party. In
1948 he became professor of composition at Princeton University, returning to
Europe in 1953. He lived in Nice unti11955, when he moved to Philadelphia to
teach at the Curtis Institute and the following year returned to Europe to
teach at the American Academy in Rome. He spent his final years in Switzerland,
where he died of cancer in 1959.
Martinů was an
enormously prolific composer, who seemed often enough careless of the fate of
what he had written. He tended to avoid revision of his work and in consequence
the vast quantity of music he wrote is of uneven quality and varying style,
although he came, in the 1930s, to make increasing use of Czech thematic
material and to be identified with his native country, from which he remained
Martinů wrote his
Piano Quartet No. 1 in 1942, after his arrival in the United
States. The first movement, marked Poco allegro, opens with a
characteristic figure that is to undergo further development as the germ from
which the music grows, further motor energy provided by the inherent element of
syncopation and in the delicate piano passage-work. A heartfelt Adagio follows,
opened by the poignant sound of the strings, an air of melancholy always
implied in the descending melodic contours. The piano makes a much later
appearance, lightening the mood, although melancholy finally predominates. The
piano leads gently into the final Allegretto poco moderato, with
material that suggests Appalachia, and it is this that brings the work to an
end, after intervening episodes.
Martinů wrote his
Quartet for oboe, violin, cello and piano in 1947. Again opening motifs
assume importance, as the first movement develops in almost classical textures
of clarity. The piano opens the following movement, marked Adagio, with
grandiose chords, diminishing, as the other instruments appear in all their
initial delicacy. This leads to a final Poco allegro that provides an
element of caprice in its passing suggestions of popular song in its thematic
Sonata was written in 1955, at a time when the composer, after two years in
Nice, had decided to return to America, now to teach at the Curtis Institute.
Finding life in the United States increasingly uncongenial, he moved in the
following year to Rome to teach at the American Academy, where employment was
now offered. The first movement of this useful addition to viola repertoire is
characterized by syncopation of rhythm, while allowing the viola a lyrical melodic line. The Allegro
non troppo proves lively enough at first in a movement that offers moments
of tranquillity and even of the histrionic in its varied course.
The String Quintet,
scored, like Mozart's string quintets, for two violas rather than
Schubert's two cellos, was composed in 1927 and is a work of much greater
tension, with harmonies and rhythms that suggest Bartók. The work was awarded
the Coolidge Prize. The vigorous and occasionally strident first movement is
followed by a melancholy Largo in distinct contrast of mood, as melodic
lines are interwoven and dissonances resolve, finally ascending to the heights,
before the hushed conclusion. The Allegretto starts cheerfully enough,
its opening theme giving way to more lyrical material, the two elements
providing contrast in a satisfying finale.
Festival of Chamber Music
Queensland may, at first, appear to be an atypical location for an arts event
of international stature, yet the city of Townsville has annually, since 1991,
hosted Australia's foremost music festival, The Australian Festival of Chamber
Music. The festival has featured the world's pre-eminent soloists, chamber
musicians and pedagogues in a series of concerts and masterclasses, for the
most talented young musicians from the South Pacific region, each July.
The festival was
established in 1990 by Ray Golding, Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University
and Chairman of the festival's Board, and Theodore Kuchar, the festival's
Artistic Director. Today, the festival exists largely through the financial
support of its principal sponsor, James Cook University of North Queensland.
With a series of some seventy events during the first five years, with
approximately 40,000 attending most festival performances have been broadcast
by Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Classic FM, with subsequent
re-broadcasts in the United States and New Zealand.
The festival has
unquestionably, through the enthusiasm of the national and international media,
earned its place among the elite of the international festival circuit. David
Denton, in the October, 1995 issue of London's "The Strad", reported:
"Into the period
curiously termed winter when the temperature may drop just below 30 degrees C –
some of the world's finest musicians arrive for the Australian Festival of
Chamber Music, one of the most unique musical events held in a tropical
location and placing Townsville on the map of the world's major
Daniel Adni has
clearly established himself as one of the foremost pianists of his generation.
Since his sensational début at the age of nineteen, with Otto Klempererand the
New Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London, he has
appeared as soloist with most of the major orchestras in the United Kingdom, as
well as having toured extensively in Europe, Israel, South Africa and the Far
East. He presently serves as the pianist of the London-based Solomon Trio.
Kathryn Selby is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she won the
Gold Medal and the Rachmaninov Prize, and holds a Master's Degree from the
Juilliard School. She has appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia and
Boston Pops Orchestras and the Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, National,
Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Sydney Symphony Orchestras. Selby is an experienced
chamber musician, having taken part in the Marlboro, Spoleto and Midsummer
Mozart (San Francisco) Festivals and is a founding member of Australia's
foremost piano Trio, the Macquarie Trio.
The Australian violinist
Charmian Gadd returned to Australia in 1988 after spending twenty-three years
in the America and Europe. Her international career has included solo
performances with many of the world's finest orchestras, chamber music
appearances and professorships at two American universities. Her principal
teachers were Richard Goldner, Josef Gingold, Henryk Szeryng and Janos Starker.
She holds Diplomas of Honour from both the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius
Competitions and was a prizewinner in international violin competitions in
Vienna and Philadelphia. In 1988, Gadd became Head of the String Department at
the Canberra School of Music and is currently Professor of Violin at the Sydney
Conservatorium of Music.
Solomia Soroka was
born in Lviv. Ukraine and, at the age of twenty-five, is one of the most
internationally accomplished Ukrainian musicians of her generation. She
graduated from the Kiev State Conservatory, earning a Master's Degree with the
highest distinction while having studied with Olga Parkhomenko and Bogodar
Kotorovitch. She now serves as a lecturer in violin and chamber music at that
institution. She made her solo début with orchestra at the age of ten playing
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra.
Since then she has represented her country at concerts and festivals in
Australia, Germany, Italy, Sicily and the former Soviet Union. Soroka is the
only musician to have won the top prize in each of the three most prestigious
Ukrainian competitions. During the past season she has appeared as soloist with
the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in concertos by Saint-Saëns,
Prokofiev and the Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.
Isabelle van Keulen
Isabelle van Keulen,
born in The Netherlands in 1966, received her first violin lessons at six and
was only eleven when she went to the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam. She
came to prominence in 1984 by winning first prize in the Eurovision Young
Musician of the Year Competition in Geneva, playing with the Suisse Romande
Orchestra under Horst Stein. Since then she has appeared as soloist with the
Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, the Philharmonia, Bavarian Radio
Symphony, Detroit Symphony and Minnesota Orchestras, among many others, under
such conductors as Chailly, Conlon, de Waart, Dutoit and Marriner.
Rainer Moog belongs to
the select group of viola-players who have achieved a successful solo career. A
top prizewinner at the ARD Competition in Munich in 1971, he was in 1974
appointed solo violist of the Berlin Philharmonic by the late Herbert von
Karajan, serving with distinction until 1978. Since then, Rainer Moog has been
Professor of Viola at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. His many recordings
as a soloist and chamber musician and participation in numerous international
festivals have placed him at the forefront of the world's violists.
Young-Chang Cho began studying the cello at the age of eight in his
native Korea, later moving to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute
of Music. He was a top prizewinner at international competitions in Budapest,
Geneva, Munich and Paris. From 1983 to 1987Young-ChangCho was solo cellist of
the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and since 1988 he has been Professor of
Cello at the Musikhochschule in Essen.
The artistry of
cellist Alexander Ivashkin is well known to audiences in more than twenty
countries on four continents. He has established an international reputation
both as an interpreter of the standard repertoire and as a proponent of
contemporary music, especially that of Alfred Schnittke, having given the first
performances and been the dedicatee of a number of his compositions. Ivashkin
received his Doctorate Degree from the Moscow Gnesin Music Institute, and was
subsequently appointed solo cellist of the Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and
artistic director of the Bolshoy Soloists Ensemble. He has recorded widely and
his publications include several books and more than two hundred articles which
have appeared around the world. He is currently a professor at the University
of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Joel Marangella, born
in Washington, D.C., and educated in France, is a graduate of the
conservatories in Orléans and Paris and holds a Master's Degree from the
Juilliard School in New York. He has performed as a soloist all over Europe and
America and has played as principal oboist in orchestras accompanying many of
the world's most famous ballet companies such as the American Ballet Theatre,
the Bolshoy Ballet and the Royal Ballet (Covent Garden) and was for years the
principal oboist of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. In 1989 he was one of
the invited jurors at the International Oboe Competition in Toulon, France.
Since 1981, Marangella has been principal oboist of the West Australian
Symphony Orchestra in Perth.
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MARTINU: Chamber Music