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Lake District countdown 5: Andrew on Martinů

In the next of our posts on the music featured in our upcoming concert as part of the Lake District Summer Music festival, bassoonist Andrew discusses Martinů’s colourful Nonet.

The piece which I am most looking forward to playing at LDSM this week is Martinů’s vibrant and colourful Nonet. Written for the same instrumental line-up as Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpetuels arrangement which we will also be playing (for wind quintet, string trio and double bass), the Nonet was one of Martinů’s final works, written near the end of his life in 1959.

Commissioned by the Czech Nonet (a long running Czech chamber ensemble) and premiered at the Salzburg Festival, this is in fact Martinů’s Second Nonet – the first dating from the mid-1920s was written for similar forces but with piano instead of double bass (perhaps this is a work which we should explore sometime…).

It’s neo-classical style is typical of Martinů’s output with him having been heavily influenced by Stravinsky, and the rich timbre produced by the nine instruments at times creates an almost chamber orchestral sound-world. Opening with a playful first movement, this is followed by a greatly contrasting and beautifully wistful central movement. The fun and energetic finale is full of folk-like melodies and rhythms, and at times is almost scherzo-like in character.

I first encountered the Nonet about 10 years ago with Ensemble 360, and I have been lucky enough to play the piece several times since then. This week will be the first time that the Berkeley Ensemble performs it, and I very much hope that my colleagues enjoy playing it as much as I do!