Bohuslav Martinů’s The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca
Notes by TŌN cellist Isaac Kim
The Composer and His Intentions
Although he was born in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, composer Bohuslav Martinů spent most of his life in France and the United States. This had a big influence on his compositions, which ranged from traditional Czech folklore to jazz music, and from being a Romantic to an Impressionist. The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca is one of Martinů’s late works, which was inspired by The History of the True Cross, a sequence of frescoes located in the Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo. Although the piece was inspired by these religious paintings, Martinů didn’t try to make the work descriptive or programmatic, but rather aimed to express the feelings that he got from viewing the artworks. In his words, “I tried to express in musical terms that kind of solemnly immobile calm and semi-darkness, that palette of colors creating an atmosphere filled with delicate, peaceful, and moving poetry.”
The form of the piece is seemingly free, but still structured, similar to jazz music. Martinů begins the work with a theme or motif which is followed by free development, eventually leading back to the main theme. Once that motif comes back, he takes listeners on another journey in a different direction before reaching the coda. The first movement, Andante poco moderato, was most likely inspired by the painting The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The second movement, Adagio, was inspired by The Vision of Constantine. The last movement, Poco allegro, one can assume was inspired by two battle paintings, The Victory of Constantine and The Battle of Heraclius and Chosroes. As a listener, it would be interesting to view the paintings and compare your own atmosphere and mood with that which Martinů displays in the music.