Martinu's Third

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Friday, October 12, 2018

On today’s date in 1945, the Third Symphony of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu had its premiere performance at Symphony Hall in Boston.

The new symphony’s dedication read: “To Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony,” and the new score was presented on the occasion of Koussevitzky’s 20th anniversary as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Martinu had finished the first two movements of his symphony that summer, as the Second World War was rushing to a close. Martinu later claimed he had Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” very much on his mind in those days.

He said he was convinced that there was somehow an ethical force at work in the creation of a symphonic work, and, as in Beethoven’s “Eroica,” it was possible to express in music a sense of moral forces at work. As an exile from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and France, Martinu had come to the United States in 1941, and his mood is understandable in the anxious yet hopeful spring and summer of 1945.

After liberation of Czechoslovakia, Martinu returned to his homeland and was offered a teaching post in Prague. Martinu, unhappy with Czechoslovakia’s new Communist rulers, declined the offer, and returned to the America, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1952.

Even so, Martinu returned to Europe in 1953 and settled in Switzerland. He died there in 1957, but eventually his remains were returned to his family mausoleum in Czechoslovakia, and in 1990, the Centenary of his Birth was celebrated in that country as a major cultural event.