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Martinů in Paris: A Synthesis of Musical Styles and Symbols

By

Erik Anthony Entwistle

III. Of Folk Tunes, Pastorals, and the Masses

Russian melodies and motifs, which in Petrushka still provide the main supplementary material, here constitute [in Les Noces] an essential part of the work, the vernacular of the people, the spirit that animates it and makes it one of the most powerful expressions of the Russian soul. At the present time of slogans and trends, this work, with its national and human content, is particularly impressive.

This assessment by Martinů of Stravinsky’s Les Noces, dating from the Czech composer’s first years in Paris, offers us a window into related aspects of his own work. Like Stravinsky, Martinů discerned in folk material the potential for powerful expression and multiple layers of meaning. In Martinů’s works stylized folk tunes stand out from the short ostinati and rhythmic cells that sometimes surround them. This frank melodicism, so characteristic of Martinů’s style, reflects not only the composer’s national origins and his desire to cultivate Czech folk material, but also demonstrates his motivation to express something significant about the cosmopolitan environment of Paris and society at large, using materials with which he personally identified.

In many of the works written during his initial years in Paris, Martinu favored an approach that featured a prominent tune in folk style, usually standing in relief against a more rhythmic, dissonant background. The folk component is clearly reflected in the frequent stepwise progressions and total absence of chromaticism. There is often a sense of triumph over struggle; the singing quality of the tune represents humanity in the most general sense, while at the same time reflects Martinu’s nationalistic, and essentially optimistic, approach. There is also more than a hint of socialist tendencies here, not necessarily in a political sense, but certainly in an idealized one, reflecting the power and exuberance of the masses. As Šafránek pointed out, “[Martinů’s] feeling for people in the mass plays an important part in his work and is clearly shown in…Half-Time, La Bagarre, La Rhapsodie, and Field Mass, as well as, to some extent, in the Double Concerto."

Half-time is indeed the first work to demonstrate this feeling. As a frenzied crowd of fans grows ever more excited in the midst of a tense soccer match, a melody emerges fortissimo in the strings and harmonized in thirds, an obvious folk-inspired gesture:

This tune clearly represents the crowd, en masse, in an excited state. It is the only extended melodic passage in the entire piece, and as such vividly stands out.

With La Bagarre this trend continues, but with more interesting implications. This is the work Martinů boldly offered to Koussevitsky when he spotted the conductor at a sidewalk café in Paris, and which the Russian conductor premiered in America with the Boston Symphony Orchestra to critical acclaim. Martinů submitted the following program notes for that occasion (the italics are mine):

La Bagarre is charged with an atmosphere of movement, dash, tumult, obstruction. ‘Tis a movement in grand mass, in uncontrollable, violent rush. I dedicate the composition to the memory of Lindbergh landing at Bourget, which responds to my imagination, and expresses clearly its aim and evolution.

In this symphonic rondo, 2-2, I have portrayed the tension of spectators at a game of football (sic). ‘Bagarre’ is, properly speaking, an analogous subject, but multiplied, transported to the street. It’s a boulevard, a stadium, a mass, a quantity which is in delirium, clothed as a single body. It’s a chaos ruled by all the sentiments of enthusiasm, struggle, joy, sadness, wonder. It’s a chaos governed by a common feeling, an invisible bond, which pushes everything forward, which moulds numerous masses into a single element full of unexpected, uncontrollable events.

It is grandly contrapuntal. All interests, great and small, disappear as secondary themes, and are fused at the same time in a new composition of movement, in a new expression of force, in a new form of powerful, unconquerable human mass.

But ‘La Bagarre’ is not descriptive music. It is determined according to the laws of composition; it has its chief theme--as the human crowd has its theme of enthusiasm--which directs the movement. ‘La Bagarre’, properly speaking, is a triptych, in which the intermediate phrase, usually free, is replaced (apparently by a more melodious movement) by a quicker tempo than that of the first and third, ending in a violent, presto coda.

It is instructive to compare Martinů’s description of La Bagarre with the program notes to the third work mentioned above by Šafránek, La Rhapsodie (dubbed La Symphonie at the premiere), a work possessing distinct nationalistic overtones. Here the annotator is obviously paraphrasing Martinů’s own description and includes, rather confusingly, a few direct quotes (again, italics mine):

This "Symphony" performed on December 14, 1928, for the first time, was begun at Christmas, 1927. It was written as a souvenir of the first Czechoslovakian flag given to the first Czechoslovakian regiment at Darney, France, in June 1918. "This ceremony, in which Raymond Poincaré, the President of the French Republic, and Edward Beneš took part, was the first grand, solemn act in the independence of Czechoslovakia."

The dedication, "Pour Darney, 30 juin, 1928," does not hint at a programme for the music. The symphony has a precise form and construction, but not the classic form; nor has Martinů put four movements into one. The symphony is a grand march with a melodic contrast. There is a crescendo to the end which is based logically and musically on the rhythmic theme with which the symphony begins. This rhythm is noticeable in the percussion instruments. "Different traditions of Czech music are found throughout the work." The inspiration is the same as that of Martinů’s “La Bagarre” ("The Tumult"), an Allegro for orchestra which was performed in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on November 18, 1927, for the first time anywhere. Like "La Bagarre," this symphony pictures in tones a great movement of masses, also "a mighty struggle of events, hopes, efforts."

It should be noted that La Bagarre was already finished a full year before Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget on May 21, 1927. Martinů obviously took advantage of the Lindbergh sensation by allying his piece to the subject after the fact, raising the question of Martinů’s original programmatic intention for the symphonic poem. In any case the extra-musical content is generally described in the composer’s program notes. This quote, some of which seems to have been a bit lost in translation, is an apt description of the work in Martinů’s own words. It demonstrates a social consciousness in total contrast to, for example, the ivory tower 12-tone experiments of Schoenberg occurring at that time. Socialist themes abound in the description: the human mass is unconquerable, and interests of the whole outweigh individual significance. Most tellingly, there is a reference to being transported to the street and the outcome of unexpected, uncontrollable events. Given such descriptions the piece might well have commemorated the October Revolution.

The general title of La Bagarre gives no hint of being inspired by aviation. Indeed, the word bagarre has often been translated as "tumult" (as in the program notes above) but more specifically means "brawl" or "free-for-all", suggesting a more combative tone ("bagarrer" means to fight or battle). It is puzzling why Martinů did not change the title to “Spirit of St. Louis” or something similar, but then again his program notes deliberately downplay the connection to Lindbergh’s triumphant flight. Šafránek’s biographies offer no further insight, merely attempting to minimize the "machine aesthetic" aspects of the work without offering a substitute interpretation. In both cases he tells us what La Bagarre is not: "La Bagarre is certainly not a description of the landing at Le Bourget, with its mechanical sounds and incidents", and "La Bagarre is certainly no description of Lindbergh’s landing or the echo of mechanical sounds."

Turning now to the music itself, the composer employs two by now very familiar principle rhythmic motives at the outset, a pattern of eighth notes in syncopated groups of threes (secondary ragtime), and an anapest (polka) rhythm employed with ferocity rather than gaiety. Of course the presence of jazz rhythms here in the form of secondary ragtime is not surprising, for this amazingly popular music represented the masses as a potent symbol of contemporary taste. After introducing these rhythmic elements, they are immediately combined, providing accompaniment as Martinů introduces the signature tune of the work for the first time in the first violins and violas. As Martinů himself stated, it is the theme of the human crowd’s enthusiasm:

By briefly examining two of Martinů’s ballets written before La Bagarre the seeds of this socially minded aesthetic can be readily observed. In the fairy-tale ballet Who is the Most Powerful in the World written just before Martinů came to Paris, the mice swear allegiance to one seemingly all-powerful figure after another - the Sun (who apparently reigns supreme), the Cloud (who eclipses the Sun), the Wind (who blows away the Cloud) and the Brick Wall (who stops the Wind cold). But when the mice gnaw away at the foundation of the Wall and it collapses, they finally realize that they are in fact the most powerful, and celebrate their happiness in the finale by dancing the polka.

This parable with socialist echoes has a counterpart in Martinů’s ballet-sketch Vzpoura (The Revolt), written in 1925. The libretto, devised by the composer, is worth recounting in order to help explain the significance of the appearance of the folk tune at the climax of the ballet. Šafránek’s description is as follows:

The Revolt is a revolt of musical notes (the low notes are fat and bearded and the tall notes are thin and pale), against poor piano playing, bad singers, a cracked, out-of-tune gramophone and dance music in night clubs. All the notes have risen in protest, the wireless announces, and a general strike of notes has been proclaimed. This leads to unemployment among musicians; Stravinsky retires to a desert island, authors’ benefit societies go into liquidation, and makers of musical instruments switch over to the making of children’s toys. A composer appears on the scene who wishes to compose, but nothing occurs to him. Behind the scenes a girl’s voice is heard singing a folk song - the best would be (according to Martinů’s instruction): ‘Music-makers, what are you doing?’ The girl, dressed in national costume, comes nearer; the composer listens, is fascinated and writes, while behind him there rises the white-robed figure of Inspiration. The notes pop out their heads at the sides of the stage, curious to see what is going on, and Inspiration draws them together. The notes return two by two, exactly with the theme of a fugato, gradually give in and start dancing. The whole ensemble (bird, dog, mice, a Spanish dancer, street singers, gentlemen in evening dress, a lady in evening dress, Harlequin and his beloved pupil, a music teacher) enter the stage and dance with the composer, with the girl in national costume and with Inspiration.

 

Here is the familiar theme of revolution, played out in an absurd context, with a rallying cry in the form of a folk tune that unites the rabble. The following example shows the tune that no doubt represents the composer’s inspiration after hearing the girl’s song, in the appropriately simple and uncluttered key of C major:

The joyous finale that follows comes complete with references to the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel’s Messiah. But beneath all of the humor and exaggeration, Martinů is making a serious aesthetic statement about the value of folk music in the din of musical modernism. Only a folk tune, with its straightforward, diatonic melody, seems capable of restoring normalcy, indeed a sense of humanity, to the chaos.

It is clear, if perhaps surprising, that the aesthetic stance of such works as Vzpoura, La Bagarre, Half-time and La Symphonie also extended to Martinů’s chamber works of the period, where he experimented with similar approaches to form and content. Martinu at this time did not approach chamber music as an abstract, "pure" art, but enthusiastically cultivated extra-musical themes in this branch of his output as well. In the String Quintet, finished October 5, 1927, this is especially evident, and with good reason. In the previous month Martinů had written to Václav Talich about a new work to be composed especially for him, as an alternative to La Bagarre which had already been reserved for Koussevitsky: "I cannot fix an exact date when I shall finish it. It is called Décollage, i.e. the take-off of an aeroplane from an airport; it is a sharp Allegro con brio lasting about seven minutes." As it happened Décollage was never realized; it seems that the string quintet emerged instead. Perhaps Martinů realized that three works in rapid succession with airplane themes would be a bit much (he had recently completed the mechanical ballet Le Raid merveilleux about the doomed flight of Nungesser and Colli who, after Lindbergh, had unsuccessfully attempted to cross the Atlantic).

There is ample evidence that Décollage indeed morphed into the String Quintet, or, at any rate, the work’s first movement, which dates from the same time he wrote to Talich. The first movement is indeed an Allegro con brio (though it lasts barely 6 minutes rather than seven). Furthermore, throughout the movement the writing for the five strings is remarkably orchestral in conception, perhaps further betraying its origin, although Martinů at this time had a penchant for overloaded textures in his chamber pieces. More to the point is the musical substance of the movement itself, where the machine aesthetic is represented by two distinct ideas that open the work. The first begins as a rocket gesture in triplets ascending a d-minor arpeggio, quickly followed (and opposed) by swirling, chromatically descending triplets. This musical idea reflects the laws of melodic and natural gravity, and could easily represent the distilled essence of an airplane flight: a dramatic takeoff followed by a more measured landing.

This recalls similar passages in La Bagarre, as seen in the following example from the beginning of its development section:

The main concern here is with the melodic element, which, as in La Bagarre, appears amidst the busy rhythmic texture already established. It functions as a second subject, in the parallel major, and clearly expresses something similar to its counterpart in La Bagarre, which it fairly resembles. It is definitely of the diatonic, largely stepwise, folk-inspired type favored by the composer. Even the ascending scale in the cello part recalls the descending scale patterns in the corresponding passage in La Bagarre:

After struggling against the ceaseless buzzing of the chromatic triplets the tune breaks free with a final "rocket" gesture, and all five instruments are brought fully aloft in a breathtaking climax. One imagines that the airplane has soared into the sky, and with it the human spirit:

In the finale (a typical polka-like movement in 2/4 time), the opening theme, which dominates the entire movement, is transformed through simple augmentation into a climactic hymn capping the entire quintet. The added counterpoint, with its close imitation, increases the fervor and intensity of the work’s peroration. Once again the presence of the "big tune" represents the collective voice of humanity having the last word:

Martinů’s most famous chamber work from this period shows a similar tendency. In the slow movement of the String Quartet No. 2, a step-wise melody is featured in the movement’s climax, with the typical indication of espressivo molto underlining its significance:

As late as 1933 Martinů used this portentous style in the conclusion to his Piano Quintet No. 1. This grand melodic apotheosis strains the chamber music texture with huge, accented, orchestrally conceived chords in the strings and a resounding piano part to match. It is so bombastic that Martinů may well have had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote it, parodying the enthusiasm of his own earlier style:

Indeed, one is reminded by the previous example of another work, Martinů’s piano Prelude written in 1929 to celebrate the opening of the new theater in his hometown of Polička. This constitutes an outrageous parody of Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition. The unusual harmonic progressions invoke the style of Mussorgsky’s "empirical" harmony, providing additional humor. The last four bars also parody a phrase from the “big tune” in Martinů’s La Bagarre, which appears here at a much slower tempo:

It is not surprising that the spirit of Mussorgsky finds its way into Martinů’s works. There is more than a hint of it in the melodies quoted earlier as well, and without humorous intent. He noted, and no doubt shared, Stravinsky’s sympathies in this regard. Writing about Les Noces, Martinů observed that “the shade of Mussorgsky lies on these melodies, which are transposed into the present epoch, the present tendencies and sensibilities of the modern man." Thus Martinů can be observed leaning as much toward Russian folk stylization as Czech. He clearly sympathized with the pan-Slavic approach favored by his predecessor Dvořák, as well as that other famous Czech Russophile, Leoš Janáček.

Most of the long-breathed melodies examined so far are interesting in that they lack any syncopated qualities. Martinů clearly wants these tunes to sing, and not dance, giving them a larger-than-life quality and allowing them to stand out symbolically from the rest of the texture. When such tunes are syncopated and the notes themselves made more rapid, however, a dance-like character of completely different sensibility results, as the following example from the Duo No. 1 for violin and cello demonstrates:

If this example resembles the rhythmic approach observed in the previous chapter, other of Martinů’s dance tunes in folk style, while rhythmic in quality, remain untouched by syncopation. As the following example from the Commedia dell’ Arte suite demonstrates, this is part of a process of simplification that can be observed in certain of the composer’s folk-inspired works, particularly from the 30’s. Here, the resemblance of this polka tune (played by solo viola) to the Russian Dance from Petrushka is unmistakable:

After these brief examples it proves instructive to examine in detail a short, complete work in Martinů’s folk idiom. A good example is the second movement from a cycle of four short piano pieces entitled Quatre Mouvements, written in 1929. The melody is of the non-syncopated dance type, similar to the one just quoted. The entire work extensively features what the composer would have referred to as “Czech elements”, and perhaps not coincidentally. It was dedicated to Martinů’s compatriot and future biographer Miloš Šafránek. In the second movement various rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic characteristics provide a veritable catalog of Martinů’s approaches to folk stylization. The following annotated example reproduces the entire movement:

 

Martinů works with an extremely simple, step-wise melody in clear folk style. It may well be an actual folk tune rather than a stylization, and it could easily be set to a children’s nursery rhyme. There is more than a hint of the polka, too, especially evident in the rhythmic patterns found in measures three and seven. Martinů plays with the tune in a variety of ways. The melodic structure consists of simple antecedent/consequent phrases (actually, the melodies in each phrase are nearly identical, but Martinů treats them gesturally as a complementary pair). Immediately the composer begins to embellish the basic line through various means. First are the pervasive grace notes, which immediately muddy the waters, both melodically and harmonically. As also seen in the previous example reminiscent of Petrushka, this ornamentation is a definite type of folk stylization - in faster tempi it recalls a playful "Gypsy" style of embellishment, and in slower tempi it recalls an ornamented vocal line. Stravinsky was fond of both types in his early ballets for Diaghilev and other works such as the Soldier’s Tale, and Martinů was clearly influenced by this approach.

The piece begins in unison, while the right hand’s grace notes imitate the melodic line from one beat behind, complicating the presentation of the simple tune. In the consequent, the left hand is no longer in unison with the right, clashing with seventh intervals and compounding the "wrong note" effect of the grace notes. In the third bar, fifths D-A added to the right hand complement the C-G in the bass, creating the unrefined, "folk" sound of open fifths. The biggest surprise comes in the fourth bar, when a sudden switch to triple meter causes the phrase to be cut off prematurely, leading directly into the consequent phrase. This humorous, lopsided effect is exploited in the rest of the piece. For example, at the switch to minor (measure 17) the insertion of two triple-meter bars creates two phrases of 4+3+3, extending this disorienting effect.

At the Poco largamente, the tune returns in augmentation, where it is also extended by two additional beats. At this point the original tune has undergone further changes. It is back in major (G this time), but has been transposed to the first scale degree instead of the original third degree (the consequent however re-orients itself melodically). At measure 29, a sudden modulation to E major features alternating tonic and dominant-seventh chords which creates a wheezing accordion effect. Martinů used the accordion itself in many works, including two operas written at that time, Les Larmes du couteau, and Les Trois souhaits. As noted in the example, the harmonies do not always coincide with the melodic shape, enhancing the crude, primitive effect. Martinů was fond of creating patterns in this way and letting them pursue their more or less independent paths. Here the melody is now heard beginning at the fifth scale degree and features a new variation of the tune. At measure 33, yet another variation heard half a step higher with a poco a poco accelerando causes the music to gain momentum, leading into a much faster reprise. But the anticipated flourish at the end is thwarted in a typically humorous touch - the frenzied dance is suddenly halted by a 2/4 measure of rest, and the descending, cadential portion of the tune has the last word in a slower tempo. The persistent grace notes and harsh dissonances evaporate, leaving only a pure, final, perfect cadence in the bass and soothing parallel sixths in the treble. The piece, suddenly stripped of all modernisms, ends like a nineteenth-century polka in salon style. This naïve gesture is very typical of Martinů’s approach to humor.

The overall harmonic palette of this brief morceau shows the pan-diatonicism typical of Martinů’s pieces written in a stylized folk vein. Though framed by F major, the piece journeys through c minor, g minor, G major, and E major in a fluid approach to tonality. Strictly speaking these are not harmonic "progressions" but rather backdrops to the series of pictures (variations of the melody) presented in the different colors of the various keys. Typical also is the unbuttoned approach that this piece favors, with wild, unpredictable flights of fancy and emotional exuberance.

If the preceding analysis shows Martinů’s use of stylized folk melodies in a specifically nationalist (i.e., “Czech”) vein, another important facet of this aspect consists of Martinů actually quoting his predecessors Smetana and Dvořák. There are many possible avenues of inquiry here, but two characteristic examples related to Dvořák will suffice.

In the slow movement to his Violin Sonata in d minor (1926), Martinů recalls the slow movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with a similarly tender melody. Here is one of Dvořák’s phrases (piano reduction of orchestra), followed by the opening of Martinů’s sonata:

This heralds a movement that is unabashedly romantic in conception - an uncharacteristic departure for the composer writing works such as La Bagarre during what he coined an "era of dynamism."

If the previous example strikes one as coincidental, the following should prove more convincing. The first of five Esquisses de danses for piano (1932) is a polka in which several musical ideas bear a striking resemblance to Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 3, also a polka. The two ideas in the separate hands of the primo part in the Dvořák are evoked in different parts of Martinů’s short, highly episodic movement. Dvořák’s left hand melody is heard in Martinů’s work in a kind of diminution in minor mode, with the long held note “polka’d” with rapid repeated notes in the characteristic rhythm. All of this is supported by another harmonically clashing Stravinskian ostinato in the piano’s left hand:

 

Later in the Martinů piece a variation on the idea heard in the right hand of the Dvořák occurs, seeming to confirm that the correspondence between the Martinů and Dvořák in this work is not merely accident or coincidence. Interestingly, Martinů shifts the groupings so the slurs do not cross the bar lines, but the agogics undoubtedly remain the same for the listener:

Of course Martinů’s intent cannot be proven in these cases, but whether the references to Dvořák are accidental or intentional is perhaps beside the point. In any case, it is clear that the tradition of Czech musical nationalism that Dvořák and Smetana helped to establish remains alive and well in Martinů’s works.

This leads finally to an examination of the pastoral, which occupies a special place in Czech music and which Martinů uses in a very striking way. The composer’s use of music in pastoral vein is frequently associated with the Martinů’s upbringing in the rural Czech-Moravian highlands known as the Vysočina. His bird’s-eye view of the endless stretch of fields and hills surrounding the town seen from the top of the tower of the St. James Church, where Martinů spent the first eleven years of his childhood, particularly springs to mind. In truth, however, Martinů was confronted by pastoral images not only during his frequent visits home but in Paris itself, for the world or art and literature had responded to the pastoral in a kind of backlash against the speed and harshness of modern city life, as the following quote makes evident:

Fostered by a nostalgia for a bygone world, seen as a consolation for the violent historical disruption of the War, and stirred by demographics - an uninterrupted rural exodus had led by the twenties to what many perceived as an alarming hemorrhage of the French countryside - the period was beset by a heated debate of urban versus rural. If French literature, for one, witnessed the revival of the regionalist novel, which sang the praise of pastoral life, a survey of the art exhibited at the annual Parisian Salons during the 1920s indicates that the number of works devoted to urban themes was actually limited compared with the output of landscapes and peasant themes.

This surprising phenomenon no doubt helped to fuel and shape one of the most important aspect of the composer’s aesthetic. The idea of the pastoral as an escape finds one of its most characteristic expressions in a comparatively insignificant work by Martinů, the Sketches for piano solo written in 1931. Here, surrounded by yet another jazzed-up polka, a rather obnoxious fox trot, a quirky waltz and two works built up from Stravinskian ostinati, appears an exquisite pastoral, underlining the idea of escape from the noise and rhythms of modern existence. In this fourth of six pieces, the chords float without reaching true resolution, creating a sense of open space without forward motion. At the end of the following excerpt, a mixolydian inflection helps to avoid a standard cadence. The sound is distinctly Coplandesque, remarkably anticipating that composer’s pastoral style:

The end of the piece utilizes similar modal inflection. The final cadence arrives after a pentatonic passage evoking a shepherd’s flute in quintessential pastoral style. This time the progression reflects the Lydian mode, with chords mostly in inversion and a pedal point in the upper voice creating a tonally ambiguous close. Again, there is an avoidance of any sense of progression in the traditional harmonic sense, despite the presence of chords that should be heard as tonic, predominant and dominant. Indeed, when listening to the last two chords it is difficult to decide whether they constitute an open-ended half-cadence or a plagal one, since the B natural seems to point toward C. Here Martinů has apparently expanded upon the traditional harmonic structures of the pastoral without sacrificing the essence of the style:

Further examples of pastorals abound in Martinů’s works, and here are two more typical ones from the Commedia dell’ Arte Suite. In the first, the harmony remains fixed in typical drone bass style while bucolic figures in the flute complement the oboe’s lyrical, folk-style tune. The only irregularity is the five-bar phrase, but this only enhances the open-ended feeling evoking an imagined place where time has no meaning:

As the excerpt continues, more characteristic features appear - the drone has moved to the lower bass register, and the modified tune is now harmonized in thirds and sixths, offering a paradigmatic pastoral image:

More sophisticated is the melody heard at the beginning of the fifth movement of the Suite. The triple meter and frequent rests in the passage below offer a sense of repose and flowing nonchalance. Somewhat independent lines occasionally produce the expected thirds and sixths, but fourths and fifths are equally prevalent (notice the parallel fifths in measures five-six), as are the unusual phrase lengths (three and six bars, until the last two-bar ending). Though not entirely within the realm of the stereotypical pastoral, then, the musical effect of the passage is essentially congruous:

Often the pastoral occurs metaphorically within a Martinů work as a place of respite surrounded by more agitated music, giving it more expressive power as its vulnerability becomes all the more apparent. In a work such as the String Trio No.2 (1934), with its opening rocket theme,

there soon appears, as an opposing force, a lyrical second theme. This idyllic folk melody, while again not specifically a pastoral, nevertheless functions as an escape from its agitated surroundings:

This lyric music is like a vulnerable oasis of calm and beauty, standing out all the more remarkably because of its simple diatonicism. The juxtaposition of these two extremes of style make each that much more dramatic and compelling, and this represents one of the composer’s responses to the long established masculine-feminine thematic duality characteristic of sonata form.

Another remarkable example of this approach occurs in one of the very first pieces Martinů wrote in Paris, the Concertino for cello. In the midst of relentless rhythmic passages derived from jazz and Stravinsky, the cello is allowed a simple, very expressive folk tune. Even while the cello sings, military fanfares and shifting triads à la Petrushka can be heard, pianissimo, in the background. Here is the tune itself, with its Slavic quality reminiscent of Mussorgsky:

The following excerpt from Le Départ (a symphonic interlude from the 1929 jazz opera Les Trois souhaits) offers a useful comparison. Here, Martinů inserts a very brief pastoral passage, unaccompanied and therefore unperturbed, that contrasts with the dense, disturbed character of the symphonic poem as a whole. The pentatonic scale is once again called into service to help create the pastoral image, with Martinů using melodic oscillations to help create a sense of temporal suspension (these are also slurred for emphasis). Unlike the previous example from the Concertino, this gently descending shape is not a developed tune, but sounds rather like a wistful, meandering improvisation. Amidst the dissonant bustle of the remainder of the composition, this moment seems to reflect more gently on the opera’s subtitle, "The Vicissitudes of Life":

Three further examples show an integrated approach typical of Martinů’s slow movements. In the opening of the Poco andante from the Piano Concerto No. 2, a noble melody is presented in the first two measures with all parts in diatonic agreement. This initial restful gesture is soon threatened by an increasing sense of tension in measure three as the melody and bass clash harmonically, with dissonant intervals formed in the middle parts as well. The chromaticism markedly increases in the fourth measure, along with the dynamics, bringing the intensity to its high point. The music just as quickly retreats, however, with a diminuendo and a falling chromatic pattern bringing about an unexpected shift back to the tonic in measure five, via a perfect cadence:

A tender reminiscence of the melody returns toward the close of the movement, followed by a disarmingly simple piano solo. Up until this point the solo writing has been marked by unrelieved chromaticism, but now all such vestiges have been purged and the ear is finally comforted with a gently rocking, diatonic passage emphasizing thankful plagal progressions:

In the Andantino moderato from the Serenade for Chamber Orchestra (1930), a solo violin joins the woodwind for a distinctly pastoral-sounding timbre. The melody, with its almost Mozartian lyricism shared by the solo flute and violin, confirms the neoclassical orientation of the piece suggested by the title. It is largely diatonic, clear and expressive, though lacking a strong folk flavor. Indeed, the folk component appears to have been sublimated in favor of a more neutral melodic profile. The passage begins simply in G major with all parts in agreement, but the harmonic structure quickly becomes muddied by opposing polyphonic strands, threatening the initial mood of total serenity. The clarinet proves to be in the dominant, not the tonic, while the bassoon begins an ascending octatonic scale in a typical oscillating pattern. The brief return to G in measure seven provides a transient moment of harmonic clarity before bitonal and chromatic elements one again create a dissonant departure. At the close of the passage order is at last restored as G is once again established in a perfect cadence that Martinů arrives at through a gratifying reunion of all parts. This passage is characteristic in its use of octatonic, chromatic, and otherwise contrasting scales to regulate tension. As the amount of density and dissonance increases, so does the feeling of distance from home. Finally Martinů clears the air, lyricism reemerges unscathed, and traditional harmonic underpinnings once again hold sway:

In contrast, the slow movement of the String Quartet No. 5 shows a more uniformly dissonant, quasi-pastoral setting. It begins with a melancholy tune in the first violin based on an octatonic scale. As in the previous example, the accompanying portion is not based on the scalar material of the soloist, but has its own independent pitch content. This is probably as close as Martinů comes to an expressionistic style in his works, with the lower three strings approximating the atonal style of Webern. The pastoral image can also be discerned, however, in the lonely wail of the violin solo. Despite the modern musical setting there is a kinship here to Berlioz’ use of pastoral imagery to evoke despair in the slow movement of his Symphonie Fantastique. The ominous rumblings of the string tremolandi can be interpreted in this connection:

In examining Martinů’s use of the pastoral, and by extension his penchant for a certain kind of distinctive, vulnerable lyricism, it has been observed that such moments, standing freely or threatened from within, function as symbols of refuge. There is no doubt that they also contribute some of the most striking moments in Martinů’s music, standing out because of their apparent simplicity but complex in their overall meaning. This orientation in Martinů’s works is clear, despite the composer’s assertion that "melody has changed its character. It does not represent anything pathetic, it is not romantic, it is not overfilled with poetry, sentimentality, it is concise, exact, expressive, it is a musical thought, the expression of a musical theme upon which it is necessary to build a work within specific musical laws." Certainly Martinů’s folk tunes are “concise, exact and expressive”, but in their very simplicity they acquire powerful expressive potential.

With regard to the use of folk tunes in general, it would not be an exaggeration to draw a metaphor from Martinů’s everyday life in Paris, with its attendant bustle and stress, and the rural roots to which he was constantly drawn. Martinů’s folk idiom, whether heroically emblematic of the masses or symbolic of the refuge and peace craved by humankind, seems to capture this dilemma of the modern man who at once hopes to improve conditions of his reality, but at the same time longs for escape. It is an essential component of the composer’s aesthetic, and offers a different path from the problem-filled "metaphysics" that the composer denounced as pretentious and meaningless. It is important to remember, however, that for Martinů this was no mere idealizing of the rural “folk” from an urban dweller’s perspective. The composer was after all a product of that rural environment, and he knew its harshness and limitations all too well. Rather there is something deeper at work, with the composer using musical means to transform the simple into the profound. In such moments Martinů strikes a reasoned aesthetic balance between the provincial and the cosmopolitan, tapping into his own rich cultural heritage to bring forth a more universal message.

Introduction
I. A New Beginning: Life In Paris
II. How Martinů "Got Rhythm"
III. Of Folk Tunes, Pastorals, and the Masses
IV. Dvakrát Svatý Václave (St. Wenceslas, Twice)
V. An Aspect of Minor/Major Significance
VI. Fin de séjour: Julietta and Musical Symbolism
VII.Conclusion: Martinů’s Parisian Legacy

 



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