A lost work by Martinu turns up after 80 years

07-12-2005

It is the dream of every musicologist to rediscover a lost work by a great composer. This is just what happened to Eva Velicka from Prague. Four months ago while researching in the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen, she came across the lost original manuscript of the String trio no. 1 by one of the great 20th century Czech composers, Bohuslav Martinu. On Sunday the work was performed in Prague by the Zemlinsky Quartet - for the first time in eighty years. Eva Velicka, who works at the Bohuslav Martinu Institute in Prague, came into our studio to talk to David Vaughan about her fascinating discovery.

Eva VelickaEva Velicka "This composition is very important because it is the first composition that Martinu wrote in Paris. When he came to Paris in 1923 he began to study with the French composer Albert Roussel and this trio was his first composition."

Even if it's the first piece he composed in Paris, does it already bear the marks of the influence of the Parisian avant-garde?

"He had only been in Paris for two months, but in these two months he was already full of the Parisian inspiration and even in this first composition we can hear a lot of typical French inspiration, a lot of jazz music, also colourful instrumentation, typical for French impressionist composers like Debussy or Ravel."

And it must be like a dream come true for a musicologist like yourself, looking through archives, suddenly to come across an original manuscript like this. How did it happen?

"Actually I was looking for something else, for the score of the Martinu ballet The Revolt, and Martinu wanted to perform this ballet in Denmark. So I tried to contact some Danish institutions. After a month I also had contact with the Danish Royal Library, and they had the score of this ballet, and they asked me if I knew that they also had something else by Martinu. But they were not sure what it was. Was it really an original Martinu manuscript on not? They were not sure, and they sent us a copy of the work. We were very surprised in our institute because it was really Martinu."

It was performed for the first time in eighty years on Sunday. It must have been an amazing experience for you to going from seeing this manuscript in a library to have it suddenly brought to life once again after so many years.

"It was really amazing, because all of us at the institute were looking at the manuscript every day. We tried to play it on the piano and we tried to imagine how it could sound, but it was a very different experience at the concert. I think that not only the musicologists from our institute, but all the audience in the hall knew that they were witnessing a big experience. They heard how this music came to life after 80 years."

And you're still very young, so I wonder how many more discoveries you've still got up your sleeve!

"I don't know. I would be happy for one more!"

07-12-2005