Martinů: Symphony No.6

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Fantaisies Symphoniques (Symphony No.6)

1. Lento - Andante moderato
2. Poco allegro
3. Lento

Like Stravinsky, Martinu was made an exile by war and revolution; first, forced to leave his native Czechoslovakia for America by the outbreak of the second world war, then, just as he was due to return in 1946 to take up a teaching post in Prague, stranded in the West as the Iron Curtain descended across Eastern Europe.

Martinu's first five symphonies were all written between 1942 and 1946, and like Dvořák's New World Symphony, they betray a nostalgic longing for the composer's homeland. Martinu was suspicious of the conventions of symphonic form, however, regarding the greater freedom offered by opera to be more suited to his temperament as a composer. When he came to start work on a new large-scale orchestral work in 1951, therefore, he took a new approach to the task, producing a sequence of 3 movements that, while closely argued, take a freewheeling approach to musical structure, concerned as much with creating a mosaic of textures as with the development of musical ideas. Martinu himself described it as being "without form", and spoke of his desire to escape the "geometrical relation to composition."

Fantaisies Symphoniques, largely composed in New York but completed in Paris in 1953, was written partly as a result of Martinu's desire to compose something for the conductor Charles Munch (an old friend of his from college days), but also from a deep-seated inner compulsion. What precisely this "story for Charles" beneath the suface is is not certain, but the fact that Martinu's original title for the work was "New Fantastic Symphony" suggests that, like Berlioz, he had deeply personal matters in mind. The suggestion of a hidden programme is boosted by the motif presented by a solo cello shortly after the beginning of the first movement, which derives from Dvořák's Requiem and forms the basis for most of the symphony.

Martinu also quotes himself; in the mercurial second movement there is a phrase from his Field Mass, associated with the idea of homecoming, while the finale features both the ancient Bohemian "St. Wenceslas Chorale" and a fourteen bar sequence from his opera Julietta, whose plot is a complex and surreal meditation on love, fantasy, and the relationship of reality and the imagination, the sort of tale one could easily imagine Terry Gilliam filming. The music in question comes from the scene in which the two protagonists, Julietta and Michel, first meet, and Julietta startles Michel by her insistence that the two are having an affair. The contrast between Julietta's fantasy and Michel's perception of reality forms the heart of the opera, and is further complicated by the suggestion that Julietta herself may be a product of Michel's imagination.

Martinu wrote that the reason for including this music was that "thinking that I shall never hear my opera again, I would listen once more to these few bars", but his admission in letters to close friends that there were deeply personal and private concerns hidden in the Fantaisies suggests there may be a greater significance. He never revealed precisely what these undertows were, and so it is left to the imagination of the listener to decide what is happening when Julietta's dream-music is gradually overtaken by the Requiem motif, and a final frenzied climax builds and is suddenly cut off, leaving a coda of quiet resignation.

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