During the 1940s, Martinu composed at least one new work for the violin every year: the Concerto da camera
of 1941 was followed in 1942 by the Madrigal Sonata
for flute, violin and piano, and a year later by the Violin Concerto No 2. The Czech Rhapsody
H307A was written at Cape Cod, South Orleans, Massachusetts, from 5 to 19 July 1945. In a letter from 10 July Martinu remarks to Miloš Šafránek: ‘… it is a form I thought I would no longer write in, and I am finding it rather difficult.’ This virtuosic composition, originally for violin and piano, was commissioned by the celebrated violinist Fritz Kreisler and is dedicated to him. As far as we know Kreisler never performed the piece. In fact it is difficult to imagine Kreisler, who by that time had reached the age of seventy, reckoning with the exceptionally difficult technical demands of this piece, which include double stops at the interval of a tenth as well as rapid runs and large intervallic leaps. The central key of the Czech Rhapsody
is B flat major, which appears in Martinu’s later works as a symbol of hope and happiness, which would fit into the atmosphere of the end of World War 2. It should be noted that another composition by Martinu also bears the title Czech Rhapsody
: a cantata for baritone, chorus, orchestra and organ dating from 1918, also composed in the throes of a world war, dedicated to the Czech writer Alois Jirásek.
Martinu had originally intended to write this work for violin with orchestral accompaniment. He wrote to his friend Frank Rybka (on 24 June 1945): ‘For Kreisler I’ve written a Czech Rhapsody, for the time being with piano.’ To a certain extent, then, the existing piano part was really conceived as a piano reduction, which Martinu then intended to orchestrate. With this in mind, the Martinu Foundation commissioned the composer Jirí Teml to orchestrate the work, which he did with the help of the violinist Ivan Štraus. Teml’s point of reference for the orchestration was the stylistically similar Rhapsody-concerto for viola and orchestra, H337, composed in the spring of 1952. The details of the premier of the original version for violin and piano have not yet been tracked down; the orchestral version here was heard for the first time at the Martinu Festival in Prague in December 2001.
from notes by Aleš Brezina © 2008