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About this Piece

Composed: 1930; 1939; 1955
Length: c. 32 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum), strings, and solo cello
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance

For the first 11 years of his life, Bohuslav Martinů and his family lived atop a church tower in a small Bohemian town, where his father was a bell ringer. The sense of isolation and perspective he had there remained with him throughout life, influencing his idiosyncratic and eclectic bent for the stylistic sampling of everything from Renaissance polyphony to jazz.

A professional violinist himself, Martinů wrote nearly 30 concertos or concerto-like works. Composed in 1930, this Cello Concerto was one of the first works from a period when he was fascinated by Baroque music. Catalan cellist Gaspar Cassadó premiered it in Berlin a year later, with a small chamber orchestra. In 1939 Martinů rescored it for full symphony orchestra and dedicated that version to French cellist Pierre Fournier. Martinů revisited the work yet again in 1955, this time thinning out the orchestration. This version was also dedicated to Fournier, who played it often and revised the third movement cadenza.

Baroque impulses are not readily apparent in the confidently athletic music that opens the Concerto, which sounds more like Dvorˇák in his American period, or perhaps, Dvorˇák as imitated in film Westerns, with blue note hints from the soloist. The somber second theme seems also quite Czech in orientation, expressively sung by the cello in constant interaction with the woodwinds.

The equally austere, modally charged second movement also features much cello and woodwind interplay. It rises to an impassioned climax before subsiding with quietly noble restraint.

Rhythmically robust, the finale opens with a vigorous toccata-like section with the soloist in constant motion. Short cadenzas surround a slower reflection on lyrical memories of the second movement, and there is a brilliant surge to the final cadence.

— John Henken