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Martinů in Paris: A Synthesis of Musical Styles and Symbols


Erik Anthony Entwistle

II. How Martinů “Got Rhythm”

Il est vie. Il est art. Il est ivresse des sons et des bruits. Il est joie animale des mouvements souples. Il est mélancolie des passions. Il est nous d’aujourd’hui.

It is positive and spontaneous, [with an] almost primitive touch, …complicated but not subtle. It coalesces with life and avoids nothing in which life is manifest.


With their expression of similar sentiments, the preceding two quotes are related, but not in the way one might expect. In the first, André Coeuroy, a French musicologist, critic and friend of Martinů, writes about the jazz phenomenon in his book entitled, appropriately enough, Le Jazz. In the second quote, the author is Martinů, but he is not speaking about jazz - he is discussing the music of Stravinsky.

In Martinů’s experience the two influences clearly became intertwined; indeed, in addition to the ministrations of Albert Roussel, Martinů’s most important reckoning upon his arrival in Paris could be summed up in three words: jazz and Stravinsky. The influence exerted by both upon Martinů proved synergistic and led to an immediate, and in many ways shocking, stylistic re-orientation.

Martinů would no doubt have concurred with Coeuroy’s observations on jazz, which included the ironic statement that “en vain fermera-t-on l’oreille au jazz".

The Czech composer himself was not reticent on the subject, pointing out that "the continuous stream of short jazz notes and the unity in the chaos of rhythms captures the impetuousness and nervousness of the time, and it’s no wonder almost all the young took this style as their own." Comparing the influence of jazz to that of the folk music, Martinů noted:

I often think of the amazingly pregnant rhythm of our Slav folk songs, of our Slovak songs, of their characteristic rhythmical, instrumental accompaniment, and it seems to me that it is unnecessary for us to have recourse to the jazz band. Nevertheless I cannot deny the part it plays in the stream of our life, which dictates all that it needs for its expression. It is another question, however, how this influence should be realized.

Roussel expressed similar sentiments to those of Martinů in his own cautious assessment of the place of jazz in the current musical milieu:

It seems to me that the jazz band is incontestably "musical," which is not to say that all compositions written for this instrumentation are musical in the traditional sense; but one cannot deny that the music played by these bands is fascinating and I, for my part, have been charmed on more than one occasion by a very particular sonority or character. I must admit, however, that despite the prodigious virtuosity of some of the instrumentalists, a prolonged hearing of jazz becomes monotonous and irritating to me.

Without a doubt, jazz exercises a very marked influence on the aesthetic of a certain number of young composers. Its particular rhythms and characteristic weak-beat accents can be recognized in a number of modern works, as well as the curious manner of an orchestration which features a seemingly paradoxical union of instruments that has for twenty-five years enlarged and enriched the field of combined sonorities. On the other hand I do not believe that it is the nature of this influence to modify the musical forms themselves.

An original and independent jazz music, obeying its own laws, already exists in America. I do not see why it could not develop also in Europe. The use of popular songs and the invention of tunes suited to the particular genius of the race would permit capable specialists to form a repertoire that would no doubt transform itself little by little and whose evolution would perhaps one day give birth to a new aesthetic.

It should be kept in mind that Martinů had already flirted with the popular idiom while still in Prague, having several foxtrots and cabaret songs to his credit before he settled in Paris. These modest forays show Martinů’s predisposition to such materials, but from them one would not have predicted the decisive contribution jazz would soon make to the compositional technique of his earliest Parisian works.

The pivotal discovery of Stravinsky’s music has often been misleadingly described as having a more lasting influence than Martinů’s love affair with jazz. Certainly Martinů made no secret of his admiration, writing a series of articles devoted to Stravinsky’s music for Czech newspapers, journals and concert programs during his early Paris years. At once Martinů’s music also began to show signs of this aesthetic allegiance, which in the notorious case of Half-time won him accusations of blatantly plagiarizing his Russian counterpart.

Putting aside such accusations for the moment, what strikes us in Half-time and other works of the period is that Martinů’s new approach to rhythm is remarkably confident, if still admittedly experimental and indebted to the innovations of others. Martinů had at last found a way to begin to express himself by creating an “art in line with the problems of [the day]." If Debussy’s Nocturnes had once given him encouragement to pursue another course in rejection of the Prague musical establishment, in Paris it was now the Soldier’s Tale, the Rite of Spring and dances such as the tango and Charleston that provided the composer the stimulus he needed for his newest creative exploits.

Martinů’s new rhythmic orientation can be observed in a trio of works written in 1924: Half-time (Rondo for orchestra) mentioned above, the Quartet for clarinet, horn, violoncello and side drum, and the Concertino for violoncello and small orchestra. The unusual instrumentation of the Quartet brings to mind the sound world of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale, with Martinů building up musical textures in collage-like fashion from short, ostinato-like motives - another Stravinskian trademark. The following example, taken from the finale, shows three contrasting elements treated simultaneously:

Only the horn (middle staff) seems interested in complying with the 3/8 meter by offering a lilting melody, and this only at first. It soon takes over the polka-like (anapest) rhythmic motive heard in the clarinet, a favorite rhythmic device of the composer. Meanwhile the cello engages in a different rhythmic trick, playing groups of three sixteenth notes across the bar line, adding to the polyrhythmic effect. In jazz such syncopated groupings of three are sometimes referred to as “secondary ragtime”, and it is a device that quickly becomes a mannerism in Martinů’s music, as was the case with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue written in the same year. After handing over the polka rhythm to the horn, the clarinet takes up the cello’s secondary ragtime pattern, but the accents emphasize the fact that the two patterns are not aligned vertically. There is a dry, playful quality to the passage as Martinů objectifies rhythms into a conglomeration of clashing ostinati.

If the Quartet seems is reminiscent in places of The Soldier’s Tale, a work that also explores rhythmic patterns from ragtime in a similar fashion, the orchestral Half-time takes its cue from Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. In Half-time the pagan-inspired primitivism of the Rite is brought to bear on modern society and transferred to the soccer field. Repetitive ostinati are once again featured, of which the following one, heard midway through the piece in the piano part, is an example:

This percussive style is elsewhere wedded to the secondary ragtime rhythm hinted at in the example above. Characteristically, Martinů seems interested in exploring the complementary aspects of the two approaches, jazzing up the essentially Stravinskian gesture:

The Concertino pits a stringless ensemble of wind orchestra, piano, and side drum against that most romantic of stringed instruments, the cello - an arrangement reminiscent of the earlier Quartet but transferred to an enlarged, concertante setting. Here the soloist and orchestra frequently clash with contrasting materials, with rhythmic aspects intruding on melodic ones. In this work the ghost of Petrushka lives on, but he dances the Charleston. Towards the end of the work the trademark pattern of parallel triads in the orchestra (piano reduction) offsets a stepwise melody in the cello of great simplicity, resembling a Slavic chant or folk tune. Underneath it all can be heard the military fanfare that opened the piece, adding a third layer to another collage-like musical texture:

In this work an additional kind of rhythmic treatment emerges, one that proves no less characteristic. Martinů applies a syncopated, dance-like pattern to his melody and slows the tempo to at least half of what one would encounter in the dance hall (note how the pattern at high speed resembles a cakewalk if one begins the pattern on the staccato eighth note). The “slow syncopation” of this passage gives it a very special, sprung quality that Martinů apparently relishes, judging by how often it is encountered in future works. In this example, the espressivo marking indicates Martinů’s intention, creating an overarching lyricism despite the staccato eighth notes followed by accented, syncopated quarters:

The year 1926 finds Martinů still composing in a similar vein in his Trois danses tchèques for piano solo. This work is Martinů’s first explicitly titled “Czech” work to be written in Paris, and as such makes an interesting case study for investigating the role of rhythm with regard to musical nationalism in Martinů’s Parisian works. Although published under the title Trois danses tchèques, Martinů’s manuscript gives the title La Polka Tchèque. Indeed, the Obkročák (round dance) and Dupák (stamping dance) that constitute the first and second dances are both of the polka type, and the finale is simply titled "Polka".

Just as Paul Whiteman and his orchestra indulged in the habit of ragging ordinary tunes via added syncopation, Martinů blends jazz and folk elements in his Trois danses tchèques. In fact Martinů’s jazz-derived embellishments, combined with other metrical tricks, come near in places to disintegrating the national element entirely. In the first movement (Obkročák), the meter curiously shifts to 3/4 as early as measure three. This is no doubt imperceptible to the listener, and seems to be of questionable musical significance. In hindsight, however, it anticipates the rapid shifts from 2/4 to 3/4 that occur in bars five through eight. Indeed, much of the movement strays from 2/4 or adopts opposing rhythmic patterns within it, undermining the polka’s rhythmic hegemony. Here Martinů is probably alluding to the Czech mateník or "muddling" dances that feature alternating duple and triple meters and are often danced to the steps of the obkročák.

The polka tune that begins the piece comfortably inhabits the world of Smetana, but Stravinsky is also undeniably present in the harmonically clashing left-hand ostinato, immediately establishing the modern character of the music. Soon a surprise occurs; in measure four the listener is suddenly transported from the Slavic folk realm to a 1920’s Parisian dance hall where the rhythms of the Charleston can be heard:

Martinů had used a similar device in a recently completed piano cycle entitled Loutky (Puppets). These short, pedagogically oriented works depict various characters from the Italian commedia dell’ arte. The second piece from Book One is entitled Nová loutka (The New Puppet) and the music is subtitled "Shimmy". Here the polka, as in the obkročák, is "jazzed up" with a secondary ragtime pattern:

 Clearly this new puppet could dance the shimmy as well as the polka, and in quick succession. Later in the piece, in a gesture to his beloved Debussy, Martinů has his new puppet dance the cakewalk. It is introduced by jarringly dissonant, off-the-beat chords, with the entire passage suggesting a grotesque cockiness to the new puppet’s dance:

Martinů’s clever metaphor here is perhaps obvious but nonetheless important: the conventional world of the commedia dell’ arte has been invaded by a shocking but irresistible new element. The music has a distinctly ironic aspect as it brings this comically naïve world up to date with the shimmy, notorious for its sexual suggestiveness, and the cakewalk, a genre that parodied genteel white dances.

In the Trois danses tchèques Martinů adopts a similarly playful but rather more complex procedure as the obkročák unfolds. After taking turns in the opening of the work, the polka and Charleston elements enter into conflict, each stubbornly proclaiming dominance over the other. In the following example the left hand now has the pattern of three sixteenths derived from the Charleston’s characteristic syncopation (again, the so-called secondary ragtime rhythm), with the right hand adopting the square polka rhythms. The highly chromatic harmonic setting and virtuosic piano writing, coupled with the emphatic accents and resulting cross rhythms enhance the feeling of tense opposition, with each hand seemingly more concerned with its own course rather than the simultaneous effect:

Later in the piece a truce appears to have been called as both elements are now combined against less complicated (if independent) diatonic progressions, suggesting a comfortable synthesis between the two. Jazz does seem to have gained the upper hand however, dominating in the right hand with its accents intact:

The general approach observed in the obkročak can also be found in the remaining two movements. The second movement, Dupák, features more extensive use of opposing meters reminiscent of the mateník, to the point of opening in triple rather than duple meter. Encountered again are passages reminiscent of ragtime, as in the following example in which a three sixteenth-note melodic pattern is superimposed on eighth notes in duple meter, giving a secondary ragtime texture complete with typical accompaniment. Such passages are not exactly subtle, and Martinů seems to delight in their frankly clichéd rhythmic character while in this case exploring a nonfunctional progression of broken triads:

The finale continues the exuberant virtuosity of the first two dances. In one delightful passage that underscores the essential lightness of Martinů’s overall conception, a particularly infectious combination occurs, with a Smetanian polka tune in the right hand and a syncopated, Charleston-like pattern in the left hand:

Martinů continued to favor such juxtapositions on both the horizontal and vertical planes in subsequent works. Belonging to the horizontal type is the following example from the finale of the Sonata in D minor for violin and piano (1926), in which the polka tune is rudely interrupted by three secondary ragtime patterns, only to resume right where it left off in the final measure (and beyond, where the pattern of interruption is repeated):


The opening movement of the String Quartet No. 2 (1925), one of the first works to gain Martinů a wide reputation, goes a step further, introducing secondary ragtime, quick foxtrot (suggested by dotted rhythms), and then polka in rapid succession:

Horizontal and vertical juxtapositions occur simultaneously in the following examples. In the first movement of the Piano Concerto No.1, the right hand of the soloist alternates familiarly between polka and secondary ragtime rhythms, with the left hand following suit. In the orchestra (reduction shown), vertical conflict occurs as both rhythmic types occur simultaneously. As the piano part is ragged it briefly comes into rhythmic alignment with the treble part of the orchestra. In the bass, there is a further oddity; the polka rhythms are organized in waltz-like patterns of three:

Another example of waltzing the polka, but without the addition of jazz syncopations, occurs in the finale of Quatre mouvements (1929) for piano solo. As in the Trois danses tchèques, the changing meters only add to the confusion and tend to conceal what is actually occurring rhythmically. Waltz alternates with polka, but the switch is not unequivocal since the polka rhythms in the right hand are once again arranged in groups of three:

It is clear that several "Martinů-isms” emerged from all of this rhythmic experimentation. These characteristics remain alive and well to the end of Martinů’s Paris period and beyond. Perhaps the slow syncopation seen in the Concertino for cello (example above) becomes most emblematic, for it is encountered in innumerable works. In the example from the Concertino, the L-L-S-L-S pattern repeats regularly within common time measures. However, Martinů most typically employed uneven patterns that would subvert the regular meter or call forth irregular ones. Several different metrical approaches for very similar music can be observed in the following examples, each of which features a basic pattern L-L-S. In the first (Improvisation for piano, 1937), the 5/8 meter reflects the length of the pattern, but Martinů unaccountably changes to 4/8 and 6/8 in the following measures rather than leaving the 5/8 meter intact. The harmonic structure is, by contrast, extremely simplified. In the second example (Sinfonietta Giocosa for piano and orchestra, 1940), the meter is unchanged, leaving the pattern to spill over the bar lines, with harmonically unstable music:

Sometimes Martinů employs an expanded pattern of L-L-L-S with similar results, as the following example in duple meter from the finale of the Violin Concerto No.1 (1933) demonstrates. Here, harmonies clash abrasively in a bitonal setting:

Martinů ultimately preferred this simpler metrical approach, letting the syncopated patterns fall where they may. A final example of a L-L-S pattern, within triple meter this time, shows this approach as part of a disarmingly simple, stylized folk setting entirely characteristic of the composer, featuring thirds and sixths in a tonal harmonic structure. It is taken from the suite to his opera, Divadlo za branou (Theater Beyond the Gate, 1936):

Another passage that displays similar characteristics is the opening orchestral ritornello from the Concertino for piano and orchestra (1938). Here, simultaneous two-note oscillations in the violins and violas are realized in accented patterns that disregard the bar lines. The cellos and basses have their own distinctive, but rhythmically less active accompanimental pattern, which also reflects the harmonic rhythm (shifting ominously back and forth from minor tonic to vii7). These repetitive oscillations between two notes reflect the minimalist style characterized by the composer’s use of short rhythmic and melodic cells. As elsewhere, Stravinsky’s use of ostinati is a palpable influence, but there is also an unmistakable connection to the hypnotic world of impressionism:

Another mannerism that unmistakably evolved from the early Paris works is Martinů’s obsessive use of the secondary ragtime pattern. It sometimes functions as an explicit reference to ragtime or the dance hall, and often with humorous overtones. In the following example from the first of Seven arabesques for violin (or violoncello) and piano, Martinů rags an octatonic scale. It is quite possible that he is parodying or even mocking Stravinsky, for elsewhere in the piece there are explicit references to The Rite of Spring. Here, the ostinati in the piano part provide the underpinning to the ascending octatonic scale in the violin in secondary ragtime rhythm, producing a lively combination:

If this is typical of the earlier Paris years, later Martinů tends to employ the pattern for its own sake in pieces that otherwise have little to do with jazz. Indeed, this tendency to absorb the pattern into a general neo-Baroque motorism proved increasingly salient. This is not surprising, for as time passed in Paris the dance craze began to fade as the novelty wore off. True, as late as 1936 an explicitly "jazzy" use of this pattern in a piano solo from the suite from the opera, Divadlo za branou (Theater Beyond the Gate) is encountered:

This is, however, an exception, with Martinů taking advantage of a return to the stock characters of the commedia dell’ arte featured in the opera in order to recall the humorous music of the "New Puppet" discussed earlier.

Emblematic of the more objective approach are the following four examples, showing very different ways in which Martinů employs the secondary ragtime pattern. In La Fantaisie for two pianos, it combines very eccentrically in rapid tempo with an augmentation of itself in the second piano part. The two pianos do not correspond rhythmically at all, but the overall effect is of the first piano rhythmically filling in the spaces of the second:

In the finale of the piano cycle Les Ritournelles (1932), there is a certainly a hint of jazz in the following very agitated passage, but the overriding impression is one of constant motoric rhythm, without explicitly invoking the dance hall:

From the same year comes the following example from the first of five Esquisses de danses. Here is the by now familiar juxtaposition of polka and jazz rhythmic patterns, but the syncopation is less explicitly "jazzy", if still clearly derived from popular dance. The overall effect is subtler, with the texture pared down and an implied harmony limited to tonic and dominant:

Characteristic of later works, where jazz references become further sublimated, is the following excerpt from the finale of the Concertino for piano and orchestra (1938). The pattern, treated pentatonically, appears in the solo part almost as a matter of fact and without accentuation, a vestige of its former rhythmically pointed self:

In addition to jazz, lasting rhythmic influences can also not surprisingly be detected from Stravinsky, particularly given Martinů’s fondness for ostinati. Another example from La Fantaisie for two pianos features a passage reminiscent of Half-time, and by extension, Stravinsky. Here the resulting sound, with major/minor clashes a minor second apart, is deliberately dissonant and "primitive" in sound:

In the previous example the short "cellule", according to Martinů’s own terminology, is immediately expanded. In both cases the pattern returns to the original pitch, with only neighboring pitches used to create a very compact musical idea. Martinu referred to this as the “geometric” approach - his tendency to use a limited number of pitches, creating a short, self-contained musical unit, often circling back to the same opening pitch, and featuring repetition of notes. Such "cellules" are often announced at the beginning of a work and then developed with other rhythmic ideas. It is worth citing several examples, chronologically for convenience, in order to observe their musical similarities and consistently compact character (notwithstanding an often attention-getting long note at the beginning):

Quartet for clarinet, horn, cello and side drum (1924): III

String Quartet No.3 (1929): I

String Quartet with Orchestra (1931): I

Sinfonia Concertante for two orchestras (1932): I

Serenade No. 3 (1932): I

Serenade No. 4 (1932): I

Concert pour trio (1933): I

Inventions (1934): I

Concerto for Flute, Violin and Orchestra: I (1936)


Tre Ricercari (1937): I

Concertino for piano and orchestra (1937): III

It is noteworthy that Martinů often links separate movements of a larger work by using such cellules cyclically. As might be expected, there is great variety in his treatment and realization of such unifying gestures, and the following examples show several different approaches.

Martinů’s Concertino for piano trio and string orchestra (1933) shows the composer’s penchant for building motivic relationships among different movements of a work as a binding gesture. Interestingly, he accomplishes this while maintaining a very traditional four-movement structure (fast-scherzo-slow-fast), each having the expected varied characters. This neo-baroque work is loosely modeled after the seventeenth-century concerto grosso, with the violin, cello and piano forming the concertino and often featured independently, and the strings (sometimes with support of the piano trio) functioning as the ripieno.

The Concertino features an identical rhythmic motive in all four movements. The five-note rhythmic motive cited here (S-S-S-S-L) constitutes one of many inter-related rhythmic ideas appearing throughout the piece. In the opening Allegro (con brio), the motive is heard in the ripieno just before the initial entrance of the concertino:

The importance of the motive to the entire piece starts to become clear with the opening measures of the second movement, which functions as a scherzo. Here, the motive is now expressed in thirty-second notes:

In the proceeding Adagio, Martinů creates running patterns of thirty-second notes in the strings, as if the motive has been expanded indefinitely from the patterns heard in the scherzo. The following passage, which culminates in a statement of the motive, is heard at the movement’s close, just before a final F major chord on the piano:

In the finale (Allegro), the opening violin solo features the motive in measure two, expressed once again in eighth notes. It is preceded by a shortened version of itself (S-S-L) and followed by three increasingly long extensions. The implied harmony of the violin’s unaccompanied solo, marked by third relationships until the final V-I cadence, is also typically free in approach:

In the following ripieno the motive is once again prominently featured, again expressed in eighth notes:

The Intermezzo (1937) for violin and piano shows a similar approach to that of the Concertino, but in this case it is the motive’s melodic profile that assumes importance, (a melodic "cellule", so to speak). In this cycle of four pieces, the first, second and fourth movements begin with closely related melodic shapes based on a five-note melodic cellule. The first and fourth pieces are in major, and the second is in minor. In the fourth movement the rhythm has been altered, but this hardly detracts from the easy recognition of the same melodic profile:

(first movement)

(second movement)

(fourth movement)


In an interesting deviation, the third movement, marked Andante, avoids a statement of the motive at the outset and later only hints at it with similar melodic fragments, as the following examples show:

This is an example of Martinů’s playfulness; after the first two movements, an attentive listener would be thwarted in an effort to find an obvious statement of the motive in the slow movement, only to have it return prominently once again in the finale. Form also plays a role here - the faster movements are all cast in simple ABA form, while the Andante is through-composed and hence very different structurally from its neighbors. Thus, the presence of only vague references to the motive arguably reflects this formal difference as well.

Another work written in the same year, the Duo concertant for two violins and orchestra, shows yet another approach. Here, a short rhythmic cell heralds the beginning of each of the three movements. The energetic three-note motive serves as a similar departure point for very different musics. In the motoric outer movements, the motive assumes structural importance and is quite prominent, whereas it only appears symbolically in the slow movement. Also note the "secondary ragtime" counterpoint in the viola part of the third movement, further evidence of Martinů continuing to favor such patterns in works not explicitly related to jazz. Here, as in some of the works from the 1920’s discussed earlier, the pattern provides a refreshing counter-rhythm to the ever-present polka element so often favored by Martinů, especially in his finales:

Poco Allegro




Other characteristic uses of cells illuminate important aspects of Martinů’s art, revealing an individuality that transcends the apparent influences of jazz and Stravinsky. At times Martinů employs a cell at the beginning of a work, only to have it blossom later into a full-fledged tune. A perfect example of this technique can be seen in the Violin Sonata No.1 (1929), where the opening motive is shamelessly borrowed from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue:

Later in the movement Martinů parodies Ravel’s similar use of the same idea in his violin sonata, as the following comparison shows:

(Ravel, "Blues" movement)

(Martinů, first movement)

Only later in Martinů’s first movement, however, is the entire Gershwin motto quoted, rhythmically altered. In the excerpt below, a strange modulation occurs near the beginning of the tune when it finally emerges, with a half-step creep upward from B to C leading to the Largamente. Then the remainder of the tune is ragged and extended in what constitutes, not coincidentally, the climax of this movement. Here is Gershwin’s original, followed by Martinů’s version:

A further example of building long melodies from a short cell exists in the finale of the Divertimento for piano (left hand) and chamber orchestra (1926), which finds Martinů at his most humorous. Here the composer experimented with completely unrelated orchestral and solo parts. The orchestra begins with a statement of the main theme in the strings and then in the winds, and the melody begins to develop immediately as initial statements are expanded in repetition. Here is the passage in the woodwinds:

The subsequent left-hand solo part consists almost entirely of triplets, with the short cellule clearly seen in the first bar of the piano’s entrance. The main idea is mock-heroic, like a brief fanfare, and offers a totally different characterization from the bubbly orchestral dance:

The orchestra almost entirely avoids this pattern, save for a few accompanimental gestures that follow the piano part, and the piano part likewise ignores the orchestra, endlessly repeating the triplet figuration. Other ideas appear as melodic extensions based on the triplet cellule. With such a great deal of repetition, this opening gesture, initially not terribly promising, becomes ridiculously banal as it is squeezed dry in various harmonic permutations. Finally, in the cadenza, a surging, unabashedly romantic melody with bel canto-style leaps emerges from the triplets, only to be cut off by a dissonant staccato version of the original motive just as the music reaches a glowing Wagnerian apotheosis. This is Martinů’s humor at its most engaging:

In addition to working with single cells and their permutations, Martinů is also fond of building polyrhythmic structures from various discreet patterns. In such instances the composer uses the experiments and discoveries of the early twenties as ingredients in very characteristic rhythmic formulations. The following passage from the sixth of Seven arabesques for violin and piano is one example of Martinů’s sophisticated approach. The composer seems particularly intrigued here by combinations of odd numbers, particularly three and five. The three-note descending broken triads are stated five times within three bars. The pattern repeats within changes of harmony (in this case a delightfully clear I-IV-I-V-I in G major), and the harmonic rhythm is based on three bars (after the opening five-bar establishment of the tonic). Another play with five comes from Martinů’s use of the pentatonic scale in the tune itself, which is very strongly reminiscent of Dvořák. The three-note motive is repeated and then expanded into related seven- and nine-note figures, separated by rests, that overlap the harmonic changes. In the fourth measure of the excerpt, the pattern reverts back to groups of five only when the solo violin changes its pattern to go against the meter. Symmetry occurs between the seven- and nine-note fragments (7,9,9,7) and the entire, self-contained passage is fifteen (5x3) bars long:

A second example of playing with threes and fives can be observed in the Field Mass (1939). In the piano part, the right hand’s pentatonic, five-note pattern is out of sync with the repetitive 3/4 pattern in the left hand, which is an augmentation of the right hand’s first three notes. When the meter shifts to 4/4, both patterns continue unchanged. The metric shift is not evident to the listener; though other instruments enter at this point, their patterns are too flexible to help to establish the switch to 4/4. As with the previous example from the Arabesques, there is a playful quality to these combinations:



Such metric ambiguity is a hallmark of Martinů’s fluid approach to rhythm. In the fourth of five Esquisses de danses (1932), as another example, the 3/4 meter and the Tempo di valse designation promise very familiar rhythmic territory. But the player (again, not the listener) becomes immediately aware that all is not as it should be. The waltz melody is grouped in eighth, not quarter notes, and furthermore the groupings do not even correspond to the bar lines. When quarter-note motion is finally introduced in measure three, the result is a hemiola, as if the waltz has briefly paused. Measure four resumes the waltz, but this new phrase is compressed now that the listener is in on the game, with only one bar of music necessary to reestablish the eighth-note motion before the hemiola returns:

After Martinů plays rhythmic variations on this theme during the rest of the very brief A section, similar ambiguity continues to be played out in the middle section. In the following measures the question arises as to whether three-beat groupings should be heard twice in each bar or only once:

As the section unfolds, subsequent musical groupings demonstrate that Martinů indeed has both possibilities in mind and enjoys playing with the shifting from one to the next in a rhythmic bait and switch characteristic of the Czech furiant. In the following excerpt, the crescendi reinforce the clear pattern of two triple groupings within the bar:

Later, however, the rhythm definitely shifts to three in a bar, creating a sense of broadening as the music approaches a climax:

The section culminates with a cadenza featuring groupings of three sixteenth-notes, an ultimate diminution of the groupings of three. At this point of course the waltz has completely disintegrated (although it is about to return with the recapitulation of section A):

By way of summarizing Martinů’s approach to rhythm it is interesting to note the observations of Czech conductor Václav Neumann, who recorded the first complete cycle of Martinů’s symphonies in the 1970s: “Martinů’s love of syncopation is a highly special feature of his music; he is incapable of expressing any musical ideas in standardized values--he consistently transforms it into syncopated shape, shifts the accent to the unaccented beat.” Complementing Neumann’s comments are those of the Russian composer Nikolai Lopatnikoff, a contemporary of Martinů:

Slavic characteristics, barely discernible in Tcherepnine, are much more marked in Bohuslav Martinů. Living in Paris, he may be called the most promising musician of the younger generation. The richness and strength of his inspiration, his overflowing temperament, which at times threatens to disregard form, reveal him as a most forceful creative power. Like Tcherepnine, Martinů is a supreme master of rhythm though of a different type. If Tcherepnine, by his method of breaking up line, may be designated as typical of linear rhythmic composition, Martinů, with his more personal, compact rhythm--often suggesting a dance style--may be called a master of vertical rhythm.

It is clear that Martinů’s new approach to rhythm in Paris represented a synthesis of diverse source materials enthusiastically adopted by the composer. Stravinsky, the jazz band, and Czech folk dances all contributed substantially to Martinů’s rhythmic palette, with some characteristic figures appearing with enough frequency to the point of mannerism. If Martinů noted in 1941 that “The music of Czechoslovakia is rhythm - strong, vital rhythm,” the composer nonetheless did not hesitate to experiment with a wealth of rhythmic materials from other sources as well. As in other aspects of his work, Martinů strived in the rhythmic component to create fresh and interesting combinations and juxtapositions. His all-embracing attitude paradoxically yielded the very identifiable rhythmic traits that characterize his mature works. This essential component of Martinů’s music remains an important factor in the next chapter, which examines the significance of folk melodies, real and stylized, to the composer’s oeuvre.

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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Recordings of the Month

November 2022
Bach Orchestral Suites

del Cinque
Del Cinque Cello sonatas

Fujita Mozart
Mao Fujita Mozart

Stanczyk Acousmatic Music


October 2022

Berg Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto Elmes

DEbussy Jeux
Debussy Jeux

Romantic pioano masters
Romantic Piano Masters

The future is female - Vol 2
Volume 2 - The Dance

impromptu harp music
Complete Harp Impromptus


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