Bohuslav Martinů

1 2003 Kultura English
obálka čísla

Born: December 8, 1890 Died: 1979


His childhood: The town of Policka - which is Bohuslav's youth had about 5.000 inhabitants -belonged then to a string of eastern Czech King's towns and the smallest one. It is situated on the Bohemian-Moravian Heights, right at the border between Bohemia and Moravia. It became great however because it was just in this town where one of the most momenteous Czech modern classical music composers, Bohuslav Martinu, was born. His birth happened precisely on the day when the holiday of Virgin Mary was celebrated. At that time also, the peals of all the church bells resounded throughout the streets.

His native small birthroom: Bohuslav was born amd brought up in the tower of a country church which bears the name of Saint Jacob. In order to get to Bohuslav's room, it was necessary to mount two hundred steps in that tower of a dark winding staircase. In doing so, one could fancy that this was a chance to go up to heaven. In fact, every such step meant moving away from the earth and its human beings. Every ascending step produced an impression of climbing a mountain. At the outset, moving upwards on the staircase, takes place on stone steps, followed afterwards by wooden ones, until one reaches the top. Yonder, we find the huge impressive bells, and we can rise to the tower's gallery. As a result, we have attained our destination. But the church tower continues in its slendering ascent to end up in a narrow sharp spike, surrounded by four smaller sharp spiked towers. Bohuslav's parents had been living there for years. The room was connected to a smalll kitchen. His father, Ferdinand Martinu, in addition to practicing the trade of shoemaker, was at the same time employed as keeper of the church tower where his duties included taking care of the bells and watching for fires in the town and countryside, in which case he had to sound the alam, and announce the fire's location by a speaking trumpet.

In such an event when the fire broke out in the course of the night, he was obliged to hang a red lantern in the tower's gallery.Small Bohuslav's world: Bohuslav was born in the small room. Moreover, he spent also his childhood there, separated from the real world. However, he had a feeling that he was much closer to the flying clouds in the sky above him. Here, he got lots of child's dreams of the endless space which surrounded him. Also, he was never tired of peering through the narrow star-shaped apetures with which the battlements of the stone tower's parapet was decorated, and watching from there the outside world below. This, though, was for him a too distant and inaccessible world. Bohuslav's very weak stature did not allow him to perform any stressful physical activity. Actually, the great number of stairs created an insuperable difficulty for him. That is why his father was carrying him on his shoulders whenever a need occurred for Bohuslav to mount the stairs. On Sundays, his father used to go with him to the church.

For Bohuslav, this was a big holiday indeed, especially as he had the chance to hear the real music of the church. In Bohuslav's early childhood two tiny wooden logs became his favorite toy, and he used them as if he were playing on his ,violin". Thereupon, his father bought him a small violin and a small drum at the annual local market. Of course, a small bow and two drum sticks were also part of the accessories. Bohuslav used to go frequently to the area of the tower's parapet in order to play there on his violin or beat the drum. In fact, those were his first musical phantasies of a composer, who was later and admired by the whole musical world.

At a later date, Buhuslav remembered his childhood thus: "I was completely separated from the world below. Sitting in the tower's parapet, I had nothing else to do than to record in my memory the variegated pictures. From the tower's height, I could discover new views, which were framed by the apertures of the parapet. The sky as well as the countryside were constantly changing. The white winter surfaces changed their appearance by and by into other season's surface colors, e.g. red fields, green meadows and blue woods. All the changes of individual seasons seemed to me as if they were reaching me first before the little people below me received them. Naturally, my observations of the people, working in the fields, belonged to those pictures as well. Moreover, I was watching the scenery of trees, woods and birds.

Only much later on, I also began to focus my attention to the groups of peoples activities on the town's square, below the church tower. I liked to watch the small trains, moving in a distance like small figures without having any knowledge whatsoever which way or why they were progressing to their places or destinations. It is my opinion that these childhood impressions have played quite a significant role in the whole spectrum of my views, which were later on reflected in my musical compositions.Remembrances of Marie, Bohuslav's sister: "Our whole family was lliving in the church tower. My father's workman, Svoboda, was living there with us too. We called him "Grandady".

He often helped us in our household, particularly in performing heavy duty jobs like pulling up coal or woods to the church tower by way of a winch, bringing up the drinking water from the well downstaris, i.e. from the house in the town's square. The winch was also used for lifting of shoes which our customers brought us to have them repaired. Considering that the winch rope had its ending in the belfry's space, it was necessary to carry out everything from there by hand. We used fresh rainwater as a utility water which we caught by the drain tubes of all gutters from the tower's spike roofs. of course, there was a really serious problem in such an occurrence whenever there was no rain for a long period of time.

Understandably, there was a big shortage of space for our wardrobes and chests to be used for foodstuffs. Very often, they were deposited under individual stairs, leading to the tower clock. A bell was used to communicate with the remaining world, which was placed in the small room.

Whenever any person wanted to visit us, she had to pull the bell at the entrance downstairs and then, the bell started to ring. ,Bohuslav's sister Marie continues to further relate her interesting story: "Our father was always a big joker and he never spoiled any fun. In the tower's spike, he breeded lovebirds. During the summer, his birds were closed in cages and placed on the parapet. Of all the birds, starling was especially very interesting. That is to say, my father taught him to whistle a firefigher's march. Sadly, one day this starling flew completely away. My father was trying to find him, so he was frequently walking throughtout the town while whistling that march. Luckily, one day this starling heard his whistle and flew on my father's shoulder down...

As for my mother, she was predominantly rather serious, energetic and strict. Nonetheless, she liked to sing throughout the day and this created a very pleasant ambiance. ,fremembrances of Bohuslav's mother: "When Bohuslav grew older, he got a new, beautiful violin and we arranged for him to take musical instuctions from the conductor Mr. Vintr. We all expected that by so doing, he will promtly improve his capabilities. After some time, I went to the conductor to ask him about Bohuslav's learning progress. The conductor told me that he would no more teach Bohuslav as his pupil. Well, I asked what happened? And he replied: ,My dear, he actually knows now more than I do, so it would be a wasting of both money and time to do so.

The best way for him is to exercise assiduously at home." Later on, I undertook a trip to Prague with Bohuslav, based on the urgent insistences of all our friends and acquaintances to show his first musical composition at the Conservatory of Music. As for his exams, their results were very good, and as soon as the consellors assigned a scholarship to Bohuslav, the matter was decided. As soon as Bohuslav finished his studies in Prague, he settled down in Policka, and established his musical school there. Subsequently, he was accepted as a member of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague, which meant that he left Policka and started a life of his own. ,Conclusion notes: Bohuslav worked further very hard and created mostly his musical works in France, then in the USA, and thereupon again in France, also in Italy and finally in Switzerland, where he died in 1979. He composed a set of piano concert, Sinfonietta giocosa, symphonies, Symphonic Poem, called "Lidice,, operas, The Miracle of Our Lady, Comedy on a Bridge, Juliette or The Key to Dreams. Life's Hardships, ballets, Isar, Who is The Most Powerful in the World, Spalicek, Le Raid Merveilleux, oratorios, Gilgames, chamber music, Seven String Quartets, and cantatas, Le Bouquet, Fountain's Opening, Legend from the Fumes of Potatoes Tops, Romance of Dandelions, as well as 400 additional compostions. If we study his compositions, created hy bim in a period of his later years, we can notice that he was tormented by homesickness.

In 1979, Bohuslav's remais were transported to his native town Policka, where they are deposited in the town's cemetery.

Zdenek Pavel
Translated by Charles Opatrny

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