Martinů’s Letters Home: Five Decades of Correspondence with Family and Friends
The 121 letters collected here document Martinů’s life in his own words, beginning as a student in Prague and Paris, following his flight from Nazi-occupied France and charting his triumphs in American exile; the last letter is dated shortly before his death in 1959. They are addressed to his family and friends back home in the village of Polička, on the Czech-Moravian borders south-east of Prague. Kept at a distance by the German occupation and then by Communism, Martinů was never to return to Polička but, in a letter to the mayor, written as an gesture of solidarity after August 1938, he proudly described himself as ‘its native son who is far from his home but who constantly returns – if only in his thoughts – with gladness – to that dear land – the most beautiful on earth’.
The letters provided a detailed commentary on Martinů’s life and music, his contacts with some of the leading musicians of the day, his dices with death (narrowly escaping the Nazis and surviving a dangerous accident), his interaction with leading writers, and his concern with the practicalities of a composer’s life – not least, the location of his scores and performing material and the payment of his royalties – made much more complicated by his life in exile and the precarious position of his music with the Communist authorities after the Second World War. The individual who emerges from these pages is a simple man, in the best sense of the word, more concerned with the well-being of others than himself and accepting both adversity and triumph with remarkable calmness of mind. And an unusual appendix – the first-ever publication of a sequence of Martinů cartoons – reveals an impish sense of wit.