Bohuslav Martinů: Rhapsody-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

Commissioned by viola player Jascha Veissi in 1951, Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto was premiered in February 1953 by Veissi and the Cleveland Orchestra. Veissi had exclusivity to this concerto for a number of years after its premiere, and he premiered it in America and around Europe. After Veissi’s exclusivity expired, Rhapsody-Concerto became one of the most performed viola concertos of the 20th century. Set into just two movements, the music sees a subtle shift in Martinů’s style.


Movement I – Moderato

Based around the four-note motif of: Bb-A-Cb-Bb, the opening movement is set in the composer’s favourite key of Bb major. After an extended orchestral prelude, the viola soloist enters with a lyrical theme. Martinů’s writing is very balanced throughout, with the ‘Moderato’ marking ringing true throughout. Martinů’s rich orchestral writing complements the woody tone of the viola as the main four-note motif is explored. Although the main character of this movement is relatively calm and lyrical, Martinů also gives the violist time to show off their virtuosic technique. 


Movement II – Molto Adagio

The chromatic harmony used in the finale movement is a recurring theme throughout. The slow introduction once again sees the orchestra build the tension and atmosphere before the soloist’s entry. A similar character to the previous movement, Martinů soon moves on and marks the music ‘Poco allegro’. This second theme is simple but bold. The changes between the slow and more energetic sections creates a revitalised energy within the music which initiates the race towards the coda section. 

The central climactic section shows another side to Martinů’s style as the orchestra works together to bolster the frantic soloist part. The use of dramatic dynamic changes and rich textures harks back to Martinů’s older style. Throughout this movement Martinů utilises the percussion, who, by the end of the movement, have firmly cemented their power within the orchestra. The seemingly quiet end is decorated by the snare drum and woodwind chords.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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