The 4th Symphony and the Epic of Gilgamesh“: The Bohuslav Martinů Complete Edition begins with these two volumes. The aim of the edition is to make the Czech composer’s works, which are scattered throughout the world, available in exemplary editions.
Like so many artists’ lives in the 20th century, Bohuslav Martinů’s career is characterised by moving many times, and his works were assigned and published by various publishers.
Bohuslav Martinů lived and composed in many places throughout the world and his works are divided amongst almost twenty publishing houses. Most of his compositions are still reprinted from the original editions, now fifty or more years old and often inadequate, and containing editorial interventions that were not authorised by the composer. Some works are still being distributed by publishers in the form of reproductions of the autograph manuscripts. A significant number of Martinů’s compositions are publicly inaccessible. The source materials for most of his compositions are scattered throughout a number of private and public archives and institutions internationally. Since 1994 these have been collected and archived by the Bohuslav Martinů Institute in Prague, which is preparing The Bohuslav Martinů Complete Edition for publication on behalf of the Martinů Foundation.
Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 4, H 305, was written in the spring of 1945 during the last months of World War II. The work was officially commissioned by William Ziegler. The Zieglers had lived in Manhattan since their marriage in 1927, and as they were prominent patrons of the arts, it may be assumed that they were actively involved in cultural events. It is thus very probable that Martinů continued to meet with the Zieglers in New York even after the summer of 1943 and the commission could have been made at this time. The symphony was premiered on 30 November 1945 by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. This was followed by additional performances in December in various locations throughout the United States. Martinů attended the premiere, as shown from his correspondence with his family before and after the event. According to the author’s own words from his letter home, the premiere was a great success. A study of the available American reviews reveals a generally positive consensus expressing admiration for the praiseworthy musicality enhanced by compositional skill, and the ability to exploit the classical form while using new content. As far as we know, the work was performed once more in New York in 1948 by the Rochester Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf. As Bohuslav Martinů was still living in the US at the time, it is possible that he attended the concert.
In Europe the work became known thanks to the efforts of Rafael Kubelík. He conducted the European premiere with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague on 10 October 1946. Kubelík then conducted the symphony in other European cities and in Australia. Martinů sent different lists of corrections to his publisher, but it is uncertain whether Kubelík was ever informed of the alterations, and if he was, whether his later performances reflected the changes to the original score. All twenty-four performances that Kubelík conducted before his emigration from Czechoslovakia on 17 July 1948 were based on the autograph manuscript. However, the four performances that he directed in 1950 in London and the Netherlands may have been based on the published version of the score.
The symphony did not remain unaltered; before publication, Martinů decided to alter some passages, primarily concerning the piano. It is not possible to precisely date when he made the changes that appear in the printed score, due to missing scores and the fact that the symphony was not published by Boosey & Hawkes until 1950. The publishing history of the symphony attests to the diligence with which both Martinů and the editors from B&H strived for an accurate edition. Nevertheless, mistakes were made and the published score contains more than seventy errors. Due to the fact that Martinů completed all his alterations before allowing the symphony to be published, the main text of this edition follows the composer’s final authorised version. However, as performances from 1945 to 1948 used the autograph version, this period documents the original concept of the composition. Appendixes contain the diverging passages of its original version.
Sharon A. Choa / Sandra Bergmannová
The Epic of Gilgamesh
During his first post-war trip to Europe in the summer of 1948, Martinů spent two weeks at the Schönenberg Estate near Basel as the guest of Paul and Maja Sacher. During this visit he revived his plans for the composition of a cantata, and together with his host he decided on its topic. He decided to base his libretto on one of the oldest literary documents of history, the extensive Ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh from the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112–2004 BC), which draws on oral traditions. It was not until 30 August 1954, after another short visit to Schönenberg, that Martinů returned to the topic of Gilgamesh, and on 18 February 1955, Martinů reported that he had finished the piece that very day.
During the compositional process Gilgamesh evolved from a “Secular Cantata” into something that “is not an oratorio […] nor a cantata […], it is simply an epic”. Without resorting to historicist allusions, Martinů drew creatively from his intense interest in early music. The solo sections of the Epic reveal a knowledge of the “stile recitativo” of Cavalieri’s allegory La Rappresentazione di Anima, et di Corpo; the choral parts reflect his studies of the early ars antiqua period of the development of polyphony, especially the works of Pérotin and the Parisian School of Notre-Dame.
The archaic Elizabethan English into which Campbell Thompson had transcribed the Epic of Gilgamesh caused the composer many problems. Well aware of the difficulties that the language would pose to both the performers and the audience at the Basel premiere, Martinů suggested rehearsing a German translation variant to Sacher before the piece itself was completed. At Sacher’s request, the German poetic translation was undertaken by Arnold Heinz Eichmann the following year, and it is this translation that was finally used for the premiere of the piece.
The premiere of The Epic of Gilgamesh took place in Basel on 23 January 1958, with Paul Sacher conducting the Basel Chamber Orchestra and the Basel Chamber Choir. The Czechoslovak premiere of the work took place on 28 May 1958 in the Smetana Hall in Prague during the Prague Spring festival. After the Turin, Frankfurt and London productions, on 21 June 1959 the very prestigious Viennese premiere of Gilgamesh took place. Paul Sacher conducted the Philharmonia Hungarica and the Wiener Singakademie.
A short time before beginning work on the Epic Martinů was approached by Sacher and was asked to limit the role of the speaker to a minimum. Sacher’s later request that the speaker be removed completely and his text divided among the soloists resulted in the composer’s suggestion to split the speaker’s role between the solo bass and tenor. This critical edition assigns all spoken passages to the speaker (as was Martinů’s most probable original intention) and includes the composer’s authorised alternative solo tenor and bass designations in brackets.
Until recently it was not known that Martinů planned a semi-theatrical production of The Epic of Gilgamesh “halfway between a concert and an opera.” In April 1957 he wrote two proposals with suggestions on how “to represent the Epic and not an Oratorio” where “the singers should turn more towards each other than to the audience, and the choir must also participate in the action” in order to “liberate the concert stage. [...] it is not an Oratorio immobile. It is an old ceremonial and as such, it allows, even demands a certain liberty which otherwise would be out of place in Oratorio.” Sacher’s response to this unusual suggestion was wholly dismissive, nor did the publisher print the composer’s notes on the staging of Gilgamesh, so the notes were completely forgotten.
(from [t]akte 1 / 2015)