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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
The Birch Wood (1903) by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67671
Recording details: December 2005
Dvorák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, Czechoslovakia
Produced by Zdenek Zahradník
Engineered by Tomáš Zikmund
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 18 minutes 35 seconds

Concerto for two violins and orchestra in D major, H329
composer
May to July 1950; commissioned and first performed, on 14 January 1951 in Dallas, by Gerald and Wilfred Beal

Poco allegro  [7'28]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the twelve years between the Duo concertante and the Concerto in D major for two violins and orchestra H329 almost everything changed in Martinu’s life. In 1940 he left Paris just a few days before the Nazi occupation and spent nine hard months escaping from France, through Spain and Lisbon in Portugal, to the United States. During World War II Martinu established a reputation as probably the most performed living classical composer in America, accepting commissions from leading orchestras and soloists. Originally intending to return to Czechoslovakia after the war, he changed his plans after the communist take-over in 1948 and took American citizenship. The last six years of his life were spent mostly in Italy, France, and Switzerland—at the home of the conductor Paul Sacher. In addition to the complicated political situation of the Cold War, Martinu suffered a serious accident in 1946, which left him deaf in one ear and caused an almost permanent loss of balance. He recovered sufficiently to accept a teaching position at Princeton University in New Jersey in September 1948, but it was not until the early 1950s that he returned to his usual rate of composing several works within very short periods of time. The Concerto for two violins was written from May to July 1950 in New York on commission from the promising young twins Gerald and Wilfred Beal. At the time of its premiere, which took place in Dallas on 14 January 1951, the twins were barely eighteen years old.

Apart from the simple fact that it was written for two solo violins and orchestra, this concerto is almost completely different from the earlier Duo concertante. It uses a large symphonic orchestra in the Romantic concerto tradition and shows a remarkable spiritual connection between Martinu and Antonín Dvorák, his successful Czech predecessor in America. As always the solo parts are highly virtuosic and rewarding to play. In April 1954, in a letter to his close friend the conductor Ernest Ansermet, Martinu compared his concerto in a humorous way to the Concerto for two violins in D minor BWV1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach, mentioning that his own is probably not as good as Bach’s but that it is not bad and perhaps the first of its kind since Bach (it is somewhat surprising that he seemed not to remember his own earlier Duo concertante).

Unfortunately there is no recording of the concerto by its dedicatees to explain the way it is composed—Martinu always reflected the characteristic attributes of his commissioners or performers of the premiere. It seems that the Beal twins were equally technically skilled with an inclination towards rapid passagework. The concerto consists of three more or less fast movements without a genuine slow middle section. The Poco allegro opens in a bright D major in 6/8 time, a metre Martinu liked for its potential for constant small rhythmical changes. The entrance of the two solo instruments returns to the material of the orchestral introduction; however, it is now presented with very intricate double, triple and quadruple stops, so that immediately Martinu creates his favourite effect of a full sound, here evoking a string quartet rather than just two violins. The second movement, Moderato, starts in B flat major, Martinu’s most favoured key in the music of his final decade. The first violin opens with a long-breathed melody accompanied by the harmonic figuration of the second violin, before the two soloists switch their roles. The third movement, Allegro con brio, returns—attacca—to D major, in 2/4. In a virtuoso cadenza both soloists get to demonstrate their technical skills and beauty of tone, before a fast Vivo (Presto) brings the piece to an end with Ševcík-like enthusiasm.

Despite the succesful premiere and several acclaimed performances throughout the first half of 1950s, the work never attained the popularity it deserves. This was at least partially caused by the troubles Martinu had to find a good publisher. He first offered it to Universal Edition in Vienna in 1953, which at first accepted it but for unknown reasons never published it. Four years later, in January 1957, Martinu proposed it to Eschig but nothing came of this either. Only at the beginning of 1959 did Martinuo finally find a publisher for this work: Bärenreiter. However, legal problems delayed the publication of this concerto until 1962, three years after the composer’s death.

Indeed, another reason for this concerto’s obscurity might be the very long period of exclusive performing rights the Beal twins reserved in the original contract. Even in July 1956 Martinu wrote to a friend, the oboe player Jirí Tancibudek, that the piece might become free only in a year or two. After the unexpected dissolution of ‘The Beal Twins’ the concerto fell into oblivion and was rediscovered only several decades later.

from notes by Aleš Brezina © 2007

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