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Thread: Parallel composers in different eras

  1. #1

    Default Parallel composers in different eras

    Zelenka and Martinu - parallel composers.

    What am I talking about? Zelenka was a baroque composer of the 18th century and Martinu was a post-Romantic composer of the twentieth century. So where is the parallel between them?

    - Both were "Czechs" more or less (Bohemia/Moravia).

    - Both "studied" in Prague.

    - Each spent a great many years away from his homeland.

    - Each has been labelled "different", i.e. not quite normal from a social point of view. (I'll return to this).

    - Neither of them composed music that was especially "easy on the ear". Some degree of work (= time?) is necessary in order to appreciate what they composed. In a nutshell, in both cases it is intellectually challenging.

    - Each appears to have been capable of incredibly speedy composition (or at least getting it down on paper). We know that Martinu had compositions virtually ready in his head, but we don't know too much in that respect about Zelenka, except that some compositions (e.g. ZWV 46 and 47) went very quickly.

    - Each composed successful music for the "stage".

    - Each was quite prolific.

    Of course, Zelenka had a strong religious slant to his music (perhaps mainly because of his employment circumstances, meaning that any instrumental music that he might have produced in later years did/could not come about).

    What I referred to above regarding Martinu's personality is that he is judged by a medical doctor who knew him (and whose parents knew him) to have had Asperger's syndrome. Such people have difficulties in relationships with others, for example in empathising. It would be entirely wrong to make any extrapolations to Zelenka in this respect, but who knows?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Parallel composers in different eras

    You have a good point there.

    I only know Martinu's fantastic First Symphony, which was written in the USA during World War II. The first three movements were used for a ballet called "In the Glow of the Night" by Choo-San Goh, a brilliant choreographer who died tragically of AIDS when he was about 40. I saw the ballet in Johannesburg in the mid-eighties and was completely blown away by the whole experience. The music by Martinu is wonderful, and I am ashamed that I have not explored his other symphonies and otherwise huge repertoire. As with Zelenka, the world (including me) will finally realise how great Martinu was.
    Last edited by Alistair; 27-11-2011 at 07:18 PM.

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    Default Re: Parallel composers in different eras

    Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony have just released on ONYX 4061 a marvellous 3xCD set of all six symphonies which is worth anyone's money for a powerful experience.

    If you're on the lookout for just 2 symphonies, I would recommend numbers 4 and 6, and any of the available versions would give a good idea of them. In total contrast, his short ballet Revue de Cuisine is enormous fun, with kitchen utensils dancing the Charleston!

    Martinu wrote a huge amount of music in widely [indeed wildly!] differing genres and much of it has been available on records for quite a long time. I would disagree in one respect over the parallels in that I have found, proportionately, more note-spinning in Martinu than in Zelenka. I could certainly never have embarked on, or continued to maintain, a survey of all available CDs as I have with Zelenka!

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    Default Re: Parallel composers in different eras

    I've always found Martinu's music to be strikingly original, and was listening to him years before my interest in Zelenka. From what I learned at the time he was curious and attentive about the music of the past, and sought inspiration from it, just like Zelenka. Martinu's music presents a real challenge for the listener, so this is a good observation paperMoon.

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    Default Re: Parallel composers in different eras

    And this is the rating of Czech/Moravian composers in order of worldwide importance:

    1. Dvořák
    2. Smetana
    3. Janáček
    4. Martinů
    5. Zelenka

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    Lightbulb Re: Parallel composers in different eras

    Speaking of parallel composers, I felt I should add that if anyone is interested in a "parallel" J.S. Bach, they should try the German composer Max Reger. Besides his Bachian organ music, Reger wrote wonderful chamber music, e.g. some cello suites (3), 7 sonatas for solo violin, string quartets etc., as well as sacred vocal works. When mentioning Reger as a parallel Bach, I should also mention Paul Hindemith, (also German) who was a "spiritual heir" of Reger. Hindemith is more modern and intellectual, but his music is absolutely great. Going further in time, one can find a "parallel" Mozart and Haydn in the face of the 20th century composers Dmitry Shostakovich and Mieczyslaw Weinberg, both of who had a kind of Haydn-Mozart relationship, and both of who were inspired by classical forms. Then further on, there are "parallel" Beethoven and Ries in the 20th century Rachmaninov and Nikolai Medtner, although here the analogs break up a bit, because Medtner was (with all due respect for Ries) a greater composer than his parallel counterpart. In any case, if anyone wants to explore some more late Romantic and/or modern music, broaden their scope of composers or just give some fantastic music a go, then I would highly recommend listening to the composers above!

    I can write out some recommended recordings if anyone wants me to give them.

    -- King Max

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