Born in Polička, Bohemia, December 8, 1890; died in Liestal, Switzerland, August 28, 1959
La revue de cuisine (The Kitchen Revue), Suite for Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, Violin, Cello and Piano, H. 161
Composed in 1927; 15 minutes
Alexander Tcherepnin once remarked that the music of his Czech friend Bohuslav Martinu˚ was “completely free from sauerkraut”— it avoided German-style formalism. Nowhere is this gastronomic metaphor more apt than for Martinu˚’s experimental ballet, La revue de cuisine, a whimsical portrayal of love and jealousy between kitchen utensils. Martinu˚’s earliest works date from World War I, after which he spent five years as a second violinist with the Czech Philharmonic before settling in Paris in 1923. During the 1920s, Martinu˚ befriended some of the leading Parisian cultural figures of the day, including Roussel, Stravinsky and the composers of Les Six. Although he drew on the same popular-music inspirations as these colleagues, Martinu˚ wasn’t as convinced of jazz’s relevance to European composers. He wrote in 1925: “I often think of the amazingly pregnant rhythm of our Slavonic folk songs … of their characteristic rhythmic instrumental accompaniments, and it seems to me that it is unnecessary to have recourse to the jazz band.” Still, he toyed with jazz several times during his Paris years.
La revue de cuisine, the third of Martinu˚’s “jazz” ballets, was completed in 1927, and it overtly embraces American jazz in its forms, melodies, harmonies, rhythms and especially its instrumentation: an idiosyncratic combination of violin, cello, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and piano. An admirer of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat, Martinu˚ worked with similar economy on this score, perhaps also responding to criticisms that his earlier ballets were too ambitious. La revue de cuisine became his first popular success.
In Jarmila Kroschlova’s eccentric scenario for La revue de cuisine, dancers play the parts of the various kitchen utensils. The marriage of Pot and Lid is threatened by the suave Stirring Stick, while Broom challenges Dishcloth to a duel. Pot and Lid are eventually reconciled, and Dishcloth elopes with Stirring Stick.
Both the Prologue and Finale in this score employ a fanfare motif that could be a parody of Mahler’s second Wayfarer song, “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” Martinu˚ emphasizes the motif ’s jaunty, carefree qualities, spicing them with facile modulations and “wrong note” harmony. The dark, sultry Tango that follows leans more toward a habanera in style. The gruffly repeated opening phrase creates a tension that rises with the addition of a muted trumpet. The same dark timbres and key of the Tango continue in the next movement, but soon give way to a rollicking dance that is as close an imitation of the Charleston as any European composer ever achieved. The Finale quotes this Charleston tune, along with other popular melodies of the day, in a medley that cleverly mimics the rhythms and improvisatory qualities of Dixieland jazz.
© 2014, Luke Howard
Note: La revue de cuisine will be performed again at 92Y this season, during a Family Concert on Sunday, March 29, 2015, at 3 pm, with original choreography by Christopher Caines.
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