The absolute must-have Martinu record

The absolute must-have Martinu record


norman lebrecht

April 27, 2015

A man sidled up to me last week at an operatic season launch and gave the secret sign. I twitched my trouser leg and wiggled my elbow. One cult member had found another.

Those who like the music of Bohuslav Martinu don’t just like it. We are passionate devotees of some of the most compelling works of music written by anyone in the first half of the 20th century.

Go explain why to agnostics. And go persuade them to listen. The trouble with Martinu is he wrote so much that newcomers have no idea where to begin. Well, here’s where.

It’s my Album of the Week on

martinu dogs

There is an alternative picture for cat-lovers.

martinu cat



  • Max Grimm says:

    Thank you, Norman. Bohuslav Martinů is indeed a thoroughly underrated and utterly under-appreciated composer.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    Totally agree with you about Martinu. Belohlavek and the BBCSO did him proud a few years ago. The slight problem with the CDs is the same as you mention in your article, the acoustic of the Barbican, despite the best efforts of BBC engineers and Onyx. Good reason, then, to hang on to the Thomson, Neumann and Jarvi sets, to say nothing of Ancerl et al. The more the better! I shall certainly get the BIS disc as a complement to the Rivka Golani/Maag Rhapsody Concerto.

  • Ross Amico says:

    Inexplicably, Bohuslav Martinu remains the sleeping giant of Czech music. I have been completely in his thrall since hearing a Philadelphia Orchestra performance of his Rhapsody Concerto, with Joseph de Pasquale, back in 1988 (Riccardo Muti conducting). I too often cite his overwhelming output as the main impediment to his wider acceptance. What other explanation could there be? What’s not to like? He was the custodian of a Czech national sound codified by Smetana and Dvořák, though he lends it this crazy, mechanistic edge, with motor rhythms and churning flywheels. Nevertheless, his brand of “modernism” was never at the expense of broadening passages of great lyrical beauty. I recommend to anyone who enjoys Dvořák – or Czech music in general – that they do themselves a favor and give a listen to the Rhapsody Concerto.

  • Delbert Grady says:

    A great composer, who is slowly starting to come back into fashion (he was actually quite popular in the 1940s-50s). The problem with exploring him, as mentioned, is that his very prolific-ness works against him. There is not yet an established “greatest hits” list, although one may be in the process of formation.

  • Christopher Stager says:

    Norman – are you also a devotee of one of his most notable students? Burt Bacharach?

  • SC says:

    Yes. By coincidence, while trapped in the (entirely excellent) new ROH production of King Roger I found myself wishing I was watching Martinu’s The Greek Passion instead.