The Kennedy Center

Cello Sonata No. 3, H. 340

About the Work

Bohuslav Martinu Composer: Bohuslav Martinu
© Richard Freed

Martinu, whose seven splendid string quartets are only now easing their way into the general chamber-music repertory, began writing symphonies when he came to America as a refugee in 1940. Several of our big orchestras commissioned him for symphonies, and string players asked him for concertos, chamber works and solo pieces. He seemed to fulfil those commissions and requests as effortlessly as Camille Saint-Saëns described his own creative function: ?as naturally as an apple tree produces apples.? His three sonatas for cello and piano are in a sense markers of his American years. The earliest, composed in Paris in 1939 and introduced there the following year, was his last creative effort before leaving the city that had been his home for some 17 years and making his way, with his wife, to America. The second one was composed shortly after his arrival here, for another fellow Czech, a cellist who lived in Queens. The third and last was composed during the end of his American period, but not in America: he wrote it France in 1952, during his first trip back since his departure a dozen years earlier; he then returned to the United States just long enough to get his things together for a permanent return to Europe the following year. He never returned to America, and never saw his homeland again.

Actually, this work has a close connection to the setting in which it is performed this afternoon, as it was composed in 1952 in memory of Hans Kindler, the founding conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. The Dutch-born Kindler had been a cellist before he took up conducting; he served as principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, and he also had a successful solo career, in which he gave the premiere of Bloch's Schelomo and became associated with Ravel, some of whose works he either introduced or otherwise helped bring into existence. Either Martinu or the source of the commission evidently felt that the medium of Kindler's own instrument would give the musical memorial piece a more intimate significance than a work for larger forces. The premiere was given in New York in 1953 by the cellist George Ricci and the pianist Earl Wild.

Like Martinu's two earlier cello sonatas, this final one is laid out in three movements, but, while the two others follow a simple fast-slow-fast sequence, the first movement of this one is a somewhat restrained Moderato with a formal introduction marked Poco andante, and the succeeding movements are also rather less pronounced forms of slow and fast, respectively, being an Andante (in contrast to the First Sonata's Lento and the Second's Largo ) and a concluding Allegro bearing the cautionary ma non presto.