Martinů studied briefly at the Prague Conservatory (before being dismissed for "incorrigible negligence") and later continued to study on his own. He left Czechoslovakia for Paris in 1923, where he became a pupil of Albert Roussel, though he retained many links with his birthplace. When the German army approached Paris early in the Second World War he fled, first to the south of France, and then to the United States in 1941 where he settled in New York with his French wife. In later life he lived in Switzerland, never returning to his homeland.
Martinů was a very prolific composer, writing almost 400 pieces. He is less well known as his countryman, Leo Janáček, but many of his works are regularly performed or recorded, among them his choral work, The Epic of Gilgamesh (1955); his symphonies, a consistently fine modern cycle of six; his concertos, including those for cello, violin, oboe and five for the piano; and his chamber music, including seven string quartets, a flute sonata among other works.
Martinů's music displays a wide variety of influences: works such as La Revue de Cuisine (1927) are heavily influenced by jazz, while the Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani (1938) is one of many works to show the influence of the Baroque concerto grosso. Other of his works were influenced by Czech folk music. He also admired the music of Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky, among other composers.
One of Martinů's lesser known works is a piece featuring the theremin commissioned by Lucie Bigelow Rosen. Martinů started working on this job in the summer of 1944 and finished his "Fantasia" for the Theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano on October 1 and dedicated it to Mrs. Rosen, who premiered the piece as theremin soloist in New York on November 3, 1945, along with the Koutzen Quartet and Robert Boom.
In His Own Words
"The artist is always searching for the meaning of life, his own and that of mankind, searching for truth. A system of uncertainty has entered our daily life. The pressures of mechanisation and uniformity to which it is subject call for protest and the artist has only one means of expressing this, by music." – Bohuslav Martinů