General information
Title CZTre ricercari
Subtitle CZpro komorní orchestr
Title ENTre Ricercari
Subtitle ENfor chamber orchestra
Title DETre Ricercari
Subtitle DEfür Kammerorchester
CategoryOrchestral Music
SubcategoryWorks for Chamber or Small Orchestra
Halbreich number267
Parts of the composition (movements)1. Allegro poco; 2. Largo; 3. Allegro
Place of compositionParis
Year of origin1938
Initiation of composition01/1938
Completion of composition23.02.1938
First performance
Performer Nino Sanzogno (dirigent/conductor)
Sanzogno, Nino
Date of the first performance1938-09-06
Location of the first performanceVenice (Biennale)
Ensemble Orchestra del teatro la Fenice
Autograph deposition
InstitutionBritish Library
Deposition locationUnited Kingdom
OwnerBoosey & Hawkes
Note on the autograph depostitionDraft held by the Moravian Museum in Brno.
CopyrightBoosey & Hawkes, London-New York
Purchase linkbuy
References Related writings
Documents in the Library
Note String instruments can be expanded - Vl (3; eventually 8-12) and Vc (3; eventually 4-6).
About the composition

The Tre ricercari form a free trilogy of works, together with the Concerto grosso (1937), H 263, and the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras (1938), H 271, based on the principle of the concerto grosso with striking use of solo instruments. Martinů composed the Tre ricercari early in 1938, on commission for a Contemporary Music Festival in Venice. In the autumn of the same year, the work was performed there with such great success that an additional performance was immediately arranged for Florence.

The famous musical traditions of Venice were evidently the main reason why Martinů gave the work the Italian title, Tre ricercari. Certainly we do not encounter here a revival of the Baroque form of the ricercar, a formally looser precursor to the strict Baroque fugue. The only principles of the ricercar that inspired Martinů here were freedom of form and imitative contrapuntal technique. The piece is based on variational treatment of a short model. Already in his earlier compositions, Martinů avoided conflicts between two or more contrasting themes because he rejected duality as a formal principle. Continuous alternation of instrumental groups and the solo flute with its cantilena melody in the second movement strengthen the concertato character of the work. The chamber instrumentation (flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 violins, 3 cellos, and 2 pianos) and the "perforated" scoring underscore its subtle nature. A unifying element between the first and third movements is lively rhythmic motion, breaking down of the regular division of phrases, and short melodic motives, which are only suggested at the beginning then further elaborated as the music progresses.

This work, perfectly worked out in all respects, is rightly regarded as one of the pinnacles of Martinů's Parisian period; it was ranked by the composer himself among his "impersonal" works. In his private writings during his stay in Darien, Connecticut (USA) during a summer vacation, he said, "I am most satisfied with those works that are rather impersonal: Trio, Ricercari. Absolute perfection is impersonal!" Evidently, he had in mind the balance of the acoustical component and the polished form, because in terms of musical material the Tre ricercari are undoubtedly a work supremely personal and distinctive.

Aleš Březina, Bohuslav Martinů: Selected Masterpieces, © 2001 Supraphon Music a.s

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