Bohuslav Martinů’s long lost Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

Bohuslav Martinů in New York

Music must be beautiful,” wrote Bohuslav Martinů, “or it wouldn't be worth the effort.” One of the most prolific 20th century Czech composers wrote around 400 works, drawing inspiration from different styles and genres. His long-lost Concerto for Violin and Orchestra carries typical Czech traits.  

Bohuslav Martinů as a child in 1896 | Photo: Institut Bohuslava Martinů

Bohuslav Martinů (1890 -1959) was born in the small town of Polička as the son of a simple bell ringer, but his great talent for music opened the way to fame and success and a cosmopolitan life in some of the world’s greatest cities.

Recognizing his talent, the townspeople of Polička raised money to fund his studies, sending him to Prague where he studied with Josek Suk and played violin in the Czech Philharmonic. The ensemble’s concerts took him to London, Geneva and Paris. The latter made a big impression on him and in 1923 Martinů moved there to study with Albert Roussel.

In 1940 he fled the German invasion of France and settled in the United States, where he gained international recognition, composing and teaching at Princeton University and at the Berkshire Music Center in Massachusetts.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 from the collection of Hans Moldenhauer | Photo: Institut Bohuslava Martinů

In the course of his life, Martinů composed 15 operas, 14 ballet scores, 6 symphonies and a vast number of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental works.

His best-loved works include the opera The Greek Passion, Juliette or The Key of Dreams, Symphony N: 1 and the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani.

One of his lesser-known works is his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, which he composed in Paris in 1932, a work commissioned by the violin virtuoso Samuel Dushkin. However, it was never performed during the composer’s lifetime, since it got mislaid and was considered lost for many years.

It was not until 1961 that a musicologist and collector uncovered it and approached Czech violinist Josef Suk, who premiered the work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in October 1973. A recording of the concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra that same year won great critical acclaim.

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