Bohuslav Martinů: Biography of Czech Composer of the 20th Century, Harmony in Diversity


Delve into the life and musical journey of Bohuslav Martinů, the prolific Czech composer of the 20th century. From his early years in Bohemia to the Parisian influence and his prolific output in exile, discover the unique blend of Czech folk, neoclassical structures, and modernist tendencies that defined Martinů’s rich and diverse musical legacy.

Bohuslav Martinů

Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) was a Czech composer of modern classical music. He is considered one of the leading composers of the 20th century and was particularly influential in the development of Czech music during the first half of that century.

Martinů’s music is characterized by its melodic invention, rhythmic vitality, and a blend of elements from Czech folk music with modernist compositional techniques. He wrote in a variety of genres, including symphonies, operas, ballets, chamber music, and solo works. His compositions often exhibit a lively and optimistic spirit, reflecting his belief in the expressive power of music.

Born in Polička, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), Martinů studied in Prague and later in Paris, where he was exposed to the avant-garde musical trends of the time. He spent much of his life traveling and working in various European cities, as well as in the United States.


Some of Martinů’s notable works include the ballet “La revue de cuisine,” the opera “Julietta,” and symphonies such as the Sixth and Symphony No. 1. His output is extensive and diverse, showcasing a wide range of styles and influences. Despite facing personal and professional challenges, Martinů’s music has continued to receive recognition and appreciation for its originality and craftsmanship.


Bohuslav Martinů was born on December 8, 1890, in Polička, a town in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). He showed an early interest in music and began his formal musical education at the Prague Conservatory in 1906. In Prague, he studied violin, composition, and music theory. After completing his studies, he worked as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1920, Martinů moved to Paris, a city that was a hub of artistic and intellectual activity during the early 20th century. In Paris, he continued his studies at the Prague Conservatory and also enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire. He became acquainted with contemporary French music and was influenced by the neoclassical and avant-garde movements of the time.

During his time in Paris, Martinů composed prolifically and began to establish his reputation as a composer. His early works were often characterized by a blend of Czech folk influences with modernist techniques. Some of his notable compositions from this period include the ballet “La revue de cuisine” and the opera “Julietta.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, Martinů faced personal and financial difficulties, including the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II. He lived in exile in the United States from 1941 to 1953, where he continued to compose and gained recognition for his music. His works from this period include symphonies, concertos, and chamber music.

After returning to Europe in 1953, Martinů settled in Switzerland and continued to compose until his death on August 28, 1959, in Liestal. His legacy includes a vast and diverse body of work, including six symphonies, 15 operas, ballets, chamber music, and numerous other compositions. Bohuslav Martinů is remembered as a significant figure in 20th-century music, contributing to the development of Czech music and leaving a lasting impact on the international classical music scene.


Bohuslav Martinů’s music is known for its distinct blend of Czech folk elements, neoclassical structures, and modernist tendencies. Throughout his career, he explored various genres and styles, producing a large and diverse body of work. Here are some key aspects of Martinů’s music:

  1. Melodic Invention: Martinů was praised for his melodic creativity. His compositions often feature memorable and expressive melodies that showcase his melodic ingenuity.
  2. Rhythmic Vitality: One of the striking features of Martinů’s music is its rhythmic energy. He incorporated rhythmic complexities and syncopations, infusing his works with a sense of dynamism and forward momentum.
  3. Czech Folk Influences: Martinů often drew inspiration from Czech folk music, incorporating folk melodies, rhythms, and dance forms into his compositions. This connection to his cultural roots is evident in many of his works.
  4. Neoclassical Elements: Influenced by the neoclassical movement of the early 20th century, Martinů embraced classical forms and structures. His music often exhibits clarity of form, balance, and a transparent orchestration reminiscent of neoclassical aesthetics.
  5. Varied Genres: Martinů composed in a wide range of genres, including symphonies, operas, ballets, chamber music, and solo works. This versatility demonstrates his ability to adapt his style to different musical forms.
  6. Operas and Ballets: Martinů composed several operas and ballets, showcasing his skill in writing for the stage. “Julietta” is one of his well-known operas, and “La revue de cuisine” is a notable ballet that combines jazz elements with classical forms.
  7. Influence of Paris: Martinů’s time in Paris significantly impacted his musical style. He was exposed to the vibrant cultural scene and the latest trends in contemporary French music, influencing his approach to composition.
  8. Expression and Emotion: While Martinů’s music often possesses a lively and optimistic character, he was also capable of conveying deeper emotions and moods in his compositions. His works can range from exuberant and playful to introspective and contemplative.

Some notable compositions by Bohuslav Martinů include Symphony No. 6, Sinfonietta Giocosa, Concerto for Double String Orchestra, and Duo for Violin and Cello. His extensive output continues to be explored and appreciated by performers, scholars, and audiences worldwide.

What is Bohuslav Martinů famous for?

Bohuslav Martinů is famous for several reasons, and his legacy is primarily associated with his contributions to classical music. Here are some aspects for which Bohuslav Martinů is well-known:

  1. Prolific Composer: Martinů was an extraordinarily prolific composer, leaving behind a vast and diverse body of work. His catalog includes symphonies, operas, ballets, chamber music, piano compositions, and more.
  2. Influence on 20th-Century Music: Martinů played a significant role in the development of 20th-century music. His compositions reflect a unique fusion of Czech folk elements, neoclassical structures, and modernist tendencies.
  3. Czech Folk Music Integration: He is recognized for incorporating Czech folk music into his compositions, infusing his works with the rhythms, melodies, and dance forms of his cultural heritage.
  4. Versatility in Genres: Martinů demonstrated versatility by composing in a wide range of genres. His ability to write effectively for symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, opera, and ballet showcases his mastery across different musical forms.
  5. Operas and Ballets: Martinů composed several operas and ballets, contributing to the repertoire of stage works. “Julietta” is one of his notable operas, and “La revue de cuisine” is a well-known ballet.
  6. Symphonies: His symphonic output, including six numbered symphonies, is highly regarded. Symphony No. 6, in particular, is often cited as one of his masterpieces.
  7. Exile and International Recognition: Martinů spent a significant portion of his life in exile, particularly during World War II when he lived in the United States. His compositions gained international recognition during this period, and he became an influential figure in the global classical music scene.
  8. Parisian Influence: His time in Paris exposed him to the cultural and artistic developments of the city, influencing his compositional style. The French capital played a crucial role in shaping the direction of his music.
  9. Melodic Invention and Rhythmic Vitality: Martinů’s music is celebrated for its melodic creativity and rhythmic energy. His compositions often feature memorable melodies and dynamic rhythmic elements that contribute to the overall vitality of the music.

Bohuslav Martinů’s impact on 20th-century music, his dedication to his Czech heritage, and his ability to blend diverse influences into a distinctive musical voice have earned him a lasting place in the classical music canon.

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