Martinu's Mysterious Accident: Essays in Honor of Michael Henderson

Martinu's Mysterious Accident: Essays in Honor of Michael Henderson

Martinu's Mysterious Accident: Essays in Honor of Michael Henderson

Martinu's Mysterious Accident: Essays in Honor of Michael Henderson


"Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was one of the most prolific composers in the 20th century. Despite the fact that he lived for several years in the United States and had many of his works premiered in this country, he still stands as an enigma. This collection of essays by an international group of experts, is dedicated to the memory of Michael Henderson, who died in 1994 at the age of 47. Henderson was in the process of writing a biography of the composer."


Michael Henderson died more than ten years ago. That it has taken so long to get his memorial volume into print may be considered either a tribute to the fortitude and determination of the publisher and editor, or evidence of extreme neglect. Like all things, however, the delay has both its good and bad sides. All such volumes are to some extent attempts at resurrection. The two Ms, Michael and Martinů, are being reborn through their work, and through our attempts to understand it. But such attempts are always filtered through the haze of changing ideas and new contemporary realities.

Any attempt to understand the past in all its complexity is doomed. The data are simply gone. And yet that very attempt is one of the classic challenges to the human imagination. Swimming in the sea of the past is as confusing and complex as any investigation of distant galaxies or subatomic particles. Let us introduce this volume by trying to imagine a key moment in Martinů’s legacy.

The Return

On August 16, 1979, at 8:20 PM, a hearse arrived at the Rozvadov crossing on the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. It contained the remains of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů, who had died twenty years earlier in Switzerland. From Rozvadov the hearse went on to the composer’s birthplace, Polička, in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands.

Ten days later a ceremony took place at the Tyl theatre in Polička. Thousands attended, including an array of international dignitaries. The entire Czech Philharmonic came to this small town to play Martinů’s sixth and final symphony. Speech followed speech: Milan Klusák, the Minister of Culture, anointed Martinů as “a jewel of Czech national culture, an inseparable part of our cultural heritage.” The pianist and composer, Josef Páleníček, a close friend of Martinů, reminded the audience that “the final goal of his efforts was always to return to his native land.” Jan Hrdlička of the Municipal Committee in Polička noted that it had been less than a year since Martinů’s widow had been buried in this same cemetery, and continued: “On that occasion we expressed the hope that it would not take long to fulfill their mutual wish—that they would sleep their eternal sleep side by side.” The formal portion of the day closed with a performance of Martinů’s cantata, The Opening of the Wells* As the coffin was carried

*Otvírání studánek, also translated as The Opening of the Springs.

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