Bohuslav Martinů: Oboe Concerto


One of the leading Czech composers during the 20th Century, Bohuslav Martinů wrote over 400 works, including 6 symphonies, 15 operas, 14 ballet scores and a huge body of chamber and orchestral works. After finding his feet in the style of Neoclassicism, Martinů used Igor Stravinsky as a model for his own works. Being taught by the likes of Josef Suk and being educated all over Europe, Martinů’s style encompasses lots of different styles and genres. 


The Music

Martinů’s Oboe Concerto was composed in 1955, and was written specifically for Czech-Australian oboist Jiří Tancibudek. After emigrating to Australia after escaping from Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s, Tancibudek was often asked to perform new works by Czech composers. Initially Martinů pushed Tancibudek back after he wrote to him asking for a piece to perform. The two had never met, so Martinů pushed it aside. However in 1954, Martinů wrote back to Tancibudek and the two worked on the composer’s only concerto for the instrument. 

The premiere happened in August 1956, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph sponsored the piece as a celebration of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Tancibudek was the soloist and was accompanied by the Sydney Symphony orchestra, conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. Tancibudek also gave a number of European premieres in cities such as London, Vienna and Hamburg. The concerto was performed at the BBC Proms on 24th August 1959, just four days after Martinů’s death. 

Set into three movements, the concerto is influenced by the stylings of Stravinsky.


Movement I – Moderator

Opening with a driving orchestral prelude, including a prominent part for a piano, the soloist appears with a sweet melody. The rich orchestral accompaniment dies away here, with the horns and a handful of strings remaining. The clear-cut oboe solo sits above the texture as the woodwind and strings create a warm ambience underneath. Martinů’s handling of the orchestra shows how deeply-rooted his style was in Neoclassicism by this point, with the solo exploration being just as important as the orchestral part. After a jaunty change in character, the music reaches its climax before reprising the opening theme once more.


Movement II – Poco Andante

The rich string opening lays the foundations for the atmosphere of this movement. Warm in character and full of passionate orchestral swells, the soloist is set up for triumph here. The soloist enters nearly 1.5 minutes after the movement starts, and is barely accompanied in the first instance. The highlight is on the lyrical soloist, who moves through a decorative main theme. As the theme is developed, the music reaches a level of dissonance which is led by the piano and lower strings. After revisiting the opening cadenza-like theme, the movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Poco Allegro

Opening with the lower strings and piano, the rest of the orchestra catch on to the driving rhythm. Littered with syncopated phrases, the energy of the finale is unmatched in the other two movements. The flourish that opens the soloist’s entry is the first hint that the soloist part is to become highly virtuosic. Through daring twists and turns, intricate writing and sheer stamina, the finale is a true test for any oboist. The fizzing excitement throughout is often led by the accompaniment, who create a whirlwind effect for the oboe to either stop or join in with. The cadenza stops the orchestra in its tracks and makes you stop and listen to the soloist. As the orchestra unite for the coda, the tempo picks up as the intricate lines from around the orchestra and the soloist come to the ultimate conclusion. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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