Bohuslav Martinů: Sen o minulosti


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

Sen o minulosti (‘Dream of the Past’) was composed in 1920 and is a great example of Martinů’s early orchestral style. Regarded as a tone poem, Sen o minulosti tells of a dream land from the past, with Martinů using different voices from the orchestra to represent this effectively. The piece opens with a rumble from the timpani and a short theme from the double basses. As the woodwind layers into the texture with a number of different snippets of themes, the strings take us into the ethereal world of dreams. 

The music throughout this piece is explorative and expressive, with Martinů using the harp to create glittering glissandi above the texture. The woodwind take a principal lead in performing solos, with the flute, oboe, cor anglais and bassoon taking extended solos throughout. Rich textures from the strings creates a solid, but light foundation for these solos to flourish on. Intricate melodic lines and a chamber ensemble feel during the central section creates a completely different atmosphere to the music. 

Martinů’s explorative harmonic language is resonant of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and perhaps sits more in line with features of expressionism. The constant orchestral fluctuations creates an ebb and flow within the music that makes the climaxes seem even bigger than they are because they are following a quieter section. The main climax near the end of Sen o minulosti is full of rich orchestral sounds and is a real highlight of the work. The brass finally rear their heads fully here, which adds to the impact of the music. As woodwind soloist return to the mix, a small homage to the opening theme is heard once more. After a final soft chord, the piece is finished. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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