Cim lidé zijí (What Men Live By), opera, H. 336
Symphony No. 1, H. 289
Bohuslav Martinu emigrated from Vichy France to the U.S. in 1941 and despite various problems, including those caused by falling off a roof, established a flourishing career there. He composed the short opera "What Men Live By" in 1952, apparently intending it for television or radio broadcast, but outside of a performance at the Interlochen Academy in Michigan and a few other collegiate productions accompanied by a piano, nothing came of it. The work was revived in 2014 by the late Czech conductor Jirí Belohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; that concert is presented here, with a live performance from a different date of the composer's "Symphony No. 1" (not an especially relevant choice) to bring down the curtain. The English text is by Martinu himself, and an all-Czech group of soloists and the Czech Martinu Voices produce a remarkably idiomatic reading. It is based on a story by Tolstoy about a cobbler who knows people by their shoes and hears an annunciation of a visit from Jesus -- which he gets, but overlooks. The resolution and the setting as a whole are charming; Martinu called the work a pastoral rather than a religious work, and indeed that is the general mood. Each scene is introduced by a short spoken narrative. Sample Scene 1, where the tale is introduced. The harmonies are tonal even by Martinu's standards, and one wonders whether the work might have been influenced by the popularity of Copland in the composer's temporarily adopted home. As modernist restrictions on concert and recording repertories took hold, this little work was forgotten along with the rest of Martinu's American output, but it would seem ideally suited to university performances of the type it originally received, perhaps at holiday time.