The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (121): Deathbed beauty

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (121): Deathbed beauty


norman lebrecht

July 14, 2020

Bohuslav Martinu wrote this Nonet in his final months of life. It is one of the most joyous pieces of chamber music that I know.



  • Peter San Diego says:

    An utterly lovable work. It’s been far too long since I’ve heard it, or thought about it. Thank you for posting it!

  • E says:

    Beautiful. It reminds me of Stravinsky (the drive), the textures, but with great sweetness of tone.
    Thank you.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Stravinsky, but with tunes, themes, harmonies….real ideas! Martinu had all that Stravinsky lacked, except self-promotion, commmercial drive and hard-nosed ambition!

  • david hilton says:

    Too bad you have illustrated this lovely post with an atypical photo of Martinu not smiling. I think he had the most engaging smile of any composer, an admittedly limited category I suppose.

    But thanks for the charming music!

  • So happy and grateful you paid this homage to Martinu. I owe the start of my career to him. Martinu accepted me as his student at Curtis when I was 17, and wrote me a number of amazing letters now held at the Martinu Institute in Prague. When the Institute asked to interview me, at first I turned it down, indicating that I never got to have a lesson from Martinu, that he left Curtis before I arrived in Philadelphia, but the Institute insisted because of what Martinu had written about me. Amazing. The story of what happened is also quite amazing. Martinu lived in NY and was also teaching at Juilliard. The train New York-Philadelphia was unreliable in the mid-50’s and took at least 4 hours, so sometimes Martinu would be late for
    classes at Curtis. He saw that his meager pay-checks
    showed discounts for lateness, petty amounts, but
    not acceptable. He resigned and decided to leave the US.
    He wrote me the most beautiful letter of apology for not remaining there to teach me, and left for Switzerland on a Guggenheim Fellowship. My teacher in composition, who also inherited Martinu’s Juilliard post was Vittorio Ginannini, a wonderful man.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Great story! A most lovable man, it appears. Like his Nonet.

      • buxtehude says:

        He was not what most would call lovable, outside of his music. He was on the highly-functioning end of the autistic spectrum and was not a “people-person” outside of a small number of friends; even to these he could display ingratitude, even a callousness that is hard to understand, and he failed to grasp the importance of gestures and acknowledgements — reciprocation in general — to other people.

        This personality disorder seriously impeded his career and Martinu was indeed lucky that he somehow attracted just the right people, at the right time, to save him variously from the Hapsburg’s army, from his casual failure to apply himself in at least three opportunities of a lifetime, any one of which would have proved ruinous to most aspiring musicians; from abandonment to impoverished fate in Prague (many times), serious poverty in 1920s Paris (his seamstress wife Charlotte), the Gestapo (by hours), a near non-recovery from a near-fatal fall, and more.

  • Martinu says:

    Written on the last weeks of his life, dying from cancer in Paul Sacher’s estate, in Switzerland, this is a sunny, optimistic and most beautiful work.
    Also written in his last days is a work in Hebrew – The Prophecy of Isaiah, commissioned by the Israel Festival.
    Martinu was one of the greatest of the 20th century composers – prolific, original. His works are life enhancing.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Beautiful work, neoclassical without the ‘neo’. It sounds a bit like Stravinsky but without the irony and the acid, replacing them with sunny mildness.

  • Paul Carlile says:

    One of the Best Noises….even from a composer who had many wonderful works. Martinu always has a strong emotional effect on me. Thank you!