Hyperion Records

Piano Trio No 1 'Cinq pièces brèves'
1930; Paris

'Smetana, Martinů & Eben: Piano Trios' (CDA67730)
Smetana, Martinů & Eben: Piano Trios
No 1: Allegro moderato
No 2: Adagio
No 3: Allegro
No 4: Allegro moderato
No 5: Allegro con brio

Piano Trio No 1 'Cinq pièces brèves'
Bohuslav Martinu was in his thirties before he found his feet as a composer and began to attract international attention. He neglected his studies at the Prague Conservatoire, though he had enough talent as a violinist to earn a living, and went on to spend three years as a member of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He was already composing substantial works during the First World War, and after that he studied for a time with Josef Suk. But it was his move to Paris in 1923 that gave him the stimulation that he needed. He continued his studies there with Albert Roussel, was strongly influenced by the neo-classical ideas of Stravinsky, and was captivated by the rhythmic energy of jazz.

Over his lifetime Martinu composed a huge quantity of music in many different styles and forms, but, as he wrote to his biographer Miloš Šafránek: ‘In pure chamber music I am always more myself.’ He wrote his first Piano Trio, subtitled ‘Cinq pièces brèves’ in Paris in 1930: ‘I don’t know how I came to compose the Trio; suddenly, as if it were the work of another hand, I wrote something entirely new.’ The newness consists of a characteristic slant on neo-classicism, which was to become a hallmark of Martinu’s style: music built from small cells (a word Martinu himself used), with insistent rhythms that defy the regularity of the bar-line, partly through the influence of jazz, pungent harmonies, and an intricate network of counterpoint. The effect is to create a musical language which functions like a sort of cubist reconstruction of baroque techniques. A sculptor, hearing this Piano Trio for the first time, said that it was as if it were ‘carved out of marble’, a description that Martinu found ‘very apt’.

The first movement is in that brisk neoclassical style that Stravinky made so much his own—strong, staccato rhythms, with the little chunks of material used repetitively to build the movement, somewhat as in a baroque ritornello movement. The second movement is slow and reflective, with wide-spaced chords combined with lines that interweave in a cool and, again, Stravinskian manner. The third movement returns to the brisk mood of the first, but now faster and more obsessive in the way it works away at little motifs. The fourth movement is like a cubist scherzo, beginning and ending in ghostly pianissimo. And the final movement is a rapid piece full of syncopated rhythms and bravura piano-writing, strongly suggesting Martinu’s love of jazz.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2010

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