Mercoledi Musicale

Bohuslav Martinů was one of those composers I had heard about but never really paid too much attention to until the past five or six years.  I always figured his music would be too “modern” for me.  It wasn’t until I attend a performance of his The Greek Passion in Palermo that I began to understand him as a composer.  I came out of the Teatro Massimo that Sunday afternoon with tears streaming down my face, a complete and utter emotional wreck.  He had touched an emotional well and has continued to do so as I’ve explored his work.

Granted most of my exploration has centred around his vocal works – particularly The Epic of Gilgamesh and Hry o Marii (The Plays of Mary) I’ve started to listen to his symphonic and some of his chamber works.   Yes Martinů  broke with the romantic tradition but like Smetena, Dvořák, and Janáček is strongly influenced by the folk melodies of his Czech heritage.  And unlike many modern composers he writes vocal music to a language – it’s cadences, subtleties and rhythms.

First English edition
(publ. Bruno Cassirer)

The story of the opera is based on Nikos Kazantzakis‘s Christ Recrucified, a powerful novel that caused a stir when it was published in 1954.  It paints a painful and unflattering picture of the people of a Greek village, who turn away refugees from another village.  Their fear and bigotry is fuelled by the Church and their Politicians who incite them to murder a young shepherd who had been chosen to play Christ in their Easter Passion Play the following year.  His actions had become too Christlike and his association with the refugees threatening, particularly to their local priest.  The opera ends on Christmas Eve with his murder by the villager who was to play Judas.  As the bells ring and the Kyrie is sung by the devout villagers the refugees, lead by their priest Fotis, leave still searching for a place and people that will welcome them.

The final scene from that moving performance I saw in Palermo is available on YouTube but sadly not for embedding.  A left click will take you to the video – the quality is not the finest but it will give an idea of the performance that moved me so much and stays with me to this day.

“Toward midnight the bell began ringing, calling the Christians to the church to see Christ born. One by one the doors opened and the Christians hastened toward the church, shivering with cold. The night was calm, icy, starless.”

“Priest Fotis listened to the bell pealing gaily, announcing that Christ was coming down on earth to save the world. He shook his head and heaved a sigh: In vain, my Christ, in vain, he muttered; two thousand years have gone by and men crucify You still. When will You be born, my Christ, and not be crucified any more, but live among us for eternity.”

On this day in 1803: Thousands of meteor fragments fall from the skies of L’Aigle, France; the event convinces European scientists that meteors exist.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

6 thoughts on “Mercoledi Musicale”

  1. Dare I mention that you head a major Martinu symphony at the Barbican and liked it, I think? This composer is fast being recognised as one of the 20th century’s greatest. Indeed, he’s the last at that level who hasn’t truly been acknowledged as such. The Czechs rate him as highly as Smetana, Dvoak and Janacek, and anyone who loves the latter will love him too.

    I first heard The Greek Passion in an Edinburgh concert performance conducted by Belohlavek, and then twice at the Royal Opera under Mackerras, whose recording is still superb. Should have seen it in Prague, too, but the Smetana Theatre pulled it that night and replaced it with Rigoletto. Glad we went because the singer from Brno in the title role, one Pavel Kamas, was the best Rigoletto I’ve ever seen or heard on stage.

    1. I am starting to worry about my memory and ability to recall things. I wasn’t sure if that concert where we first met Diplomate and yourself had include Martinu or not and was unable to find the programme. For some reason I had it in my mind it was a Janacek piece. I do recall that you gave a talk and after the concet we had a lovely meal and an evening of wonderful conversation.

      1. It was certainly a Martinu symphony – the Fourth, I think – and I remember we ate at the wonderful St John’s afterwards.

        So wishing you could both come over for the Europe Day Concert on 9 May – my programme, my musicians, and it ends eith the final scene from Martinu’s Ariane, composed for Maria Callas (though she never sang it). Might be the last the European Commission in London is able to hold… We will all stand for Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as a final bonus, as usual.

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