The Opening of the Wells - Bohuslav Martinů’s tribute to the Moravian Highlands

Bohuslav Martinů, photo: Fond B. Martinů Polička

The Opening of the Wells (Otvírání studánek) is one of Bohuslav Martinů’s most famous compositions. The cantata was written some time between June and July 1955 in France to the text of the poem The Song of the Rubínka Well (píseň o studánce Rubínce) written by Martinů’s friend, poet Miroslav Bureš. Martinů shortened the text, which was inspired by folk traditions of the annual ritual of cleaning and reopening the sources of water around the Moravian village of Tři Studně, and created a warm and captivating composition. It was one of the few works of the composer that was allowed to be performed in communist Czechoslovakia and was used in Vladimír Sís’ 1981 film Otvírání studánek, which was inspired by the Moravian custom and the poem.

Bohuslav Martinů,  photo: Fond B. Martinů Polička

The cantata was written for two violins, a viola and piano, with a female chorus featuring a soprano, alto, baritone solos and a reciter. It is part of a larger, four-part cycle of cantatas that all revolve around the Moravian Highlands, Martinů's native region. The baritone depicts a pilgrim returning to his native land.

Bohuslav Martinů wished for the cantata to premiere in Polička, the town from which both he and the poet Bureš hailed. However, the first time the composition was played was in Prague sometime in December 1955, possibly on the occasion of Martinů’s birthday. The composer’s correspondence, sent upon learning about the fact, seems to suggest he was disappointed with the decision. However, it was met with critical acclaim.

Tři Studně | Photo: Irena Šarounová,  Czech Radio
Ultimately, Martinů would get his wish fulfilled, with the official premiere being held in Polička on January 7, 1956. He would learn of the performance through a letter sent by the local national council while he was in America. It stated that the performance had been a huge success and was accepted by all participants with spontaneous enthusiasm, who apparently recognised that it had been inspired by the author's love of his homeland, local region and town.

Martinů, who spent the latter part of his life abroad, had hoped to visit Polička once again. However, he died of Hepatitis in Switzerland on August 28, 1959, his wish of returning to Polička unfulfilled.

This version of the cantata was performed by Czech Radio’s Children’s Choir on the occasion of the opening of the annual Days of Bohuslav Martinů music festival 2015. The choir was joined by baritone Roman Janál, reciter Alfred Strejček and the Sedláček Quartet. Veronika Ptáčková played the piano.