The Kennedy Center

La Revue de Cuisine for Violin, Cello, Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, and Piano

About the Work

Bohuslav Martinu Composer: Bohuslav Martinu
© Robert Markow

Bohuslav Martinu was born in the top of a fire tower (his father was the warden and fire watcher) in the picturesque little market town of Policka in eastern Bohemia, a region "steeped in folk art, soaked in moods and above all in local traditions," in the words of biographer Brian Large. He began composing early (at the age of ten), attended the Prague Conservatory, played violin in the Czech Philharmonic for several years, and then went to Paris in 1923 to study composition with Albert Roussel.

Martinu was already in his thirties when he made the move to Paris. Until then, he had been a productive, industrious but essentially undisciplined worker. Though he remained a prolific composer (his catalogue numbers more than 400 works), in Paris he abandoned the unfocused, Impressionistic and romantic tendencies of his earlier years, for there he discovered the neoclassicism of Stravinsky, the cubism of Picasso, the films of Charlie Chaplin, and jazz, which above all he incorporated into numerous works of this period.

La Revue de cuisine (The Kitchen Revue) is steeped in jazz. It is also steeped in the surrealist mentality that was current in French artistic circles at the time. In this short ballet, Martinu's first big popular success written in 1927, we see dancers impersonating various objects in a kitchen: a cooking pot, a saucepan lid (these two plan to get married), a whisk (who tries to thwart the marriage), a broom and a dishcloth (they have an affair too). A giant foot, belonging to a character who remains in the wings, also plays a short role near the end. The shenanigans of these characters provide the excuse for Martinu also to indulge in another of his special interests, dancing. A charleston, a tango and a foxtrot (in the finale) all find their places in the score. The six-piece ensemble of clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano was probably chosen for its similarity to Parisian jazz bands at the time. In January of 1930, Martinu introduced in Paris the four-movement suite he had drawn from the ballet. Brian Large sums up La Revue de cuisine as "entertainment pure and simple."