What Men Live By, H 336

Scene 4 "My Dear, I say, my dear"

  • Recorded: 19th December 2014
  • Record Place: The Dvořák Hall of Rudolfinum, Prague
  • First Release: 2018
  • (P) 2018 SUPRAPHON a.s.
  • Genre: Vocal


  • music by: Bohuslav Martinů
  • libretto by: Bohuslav Martinů
  • námět: Lev Nikolajevič Tolstoj
  • baritone: Ivan Kusnjer
  • soprano: Lucie Silkenová
  • Narrator: Josef Špaček
  • chorus master: Lukáš Vasilek
  • conductor: Jiří Bělohlávek
  • musical group: Martinů Voices
  • musical group: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra


Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek

Martinů: What Men Live By, Symphony No. 1

Catalogue Number: SU 4233-2
Published: 19th October 2018
Genre: Opera
Format: 1 CD
This album has received following awards:
  • Recording of the Week, Presto Classical (2018)
  • Top 100 Recordings of the Year, Presto Classical (2018)
  • Diapason Découverte (2019)
  • Disc of the Month, Opera Magazine (2019)
Bohuslav Martinů - What Men Live By, Symphony No. 1 / Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek

What Men Live By H 336 (1952) - Opera-pastoral in one act. Libretto by Bohuslav Martinů after the novel by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy Where love is, God is (Martin the Cobbler). Symphony No. 1 H 289 (1942)

Ivan Kusnjer, Petr Svoboda, Jan Martiník, Lucie Silkenová, Ester Pavlů, Jaroslav Březina, Josef Špaček (narrator), Lukáš Mareček. Martinů Voices, choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek,Czech Philharmonic, conductor Jiří Bělohlávek

Jiří Bělohlávek (1946-2017) was an important worldwide ambassador of Bohuslav Martinů's music. For the Supraphon label alone he recorded nearly forty of Martinů's symphonic compositions, concertos, and stage works, and many of these were world premiere recordings. Despite large-scale plans, this recording also represents both the highpoint and the conclusion of Bělohlávek's noteworthy discography of Martinů's works. The premiere recording of the opera-pastoral What Men Live By was made from three concert performances in December 2014 (the production earned a nomination for the International Opera Award). Martinů composed it to his own libretto in America at the turn of 1951-52, and he had a clear idea concerning its performance: "It must not be played 'pathetically', but joyfully. ... The text strongly tempts one to come up with a very serious, 'deep' conception, but that is not what I had in mind. To me, it is a rather joyful work, and what the listener must feel is not some sort of religious moral (lesson), but instead joy. The moral is in fact in the joy." This recording of the Symphony No. 1 was made in January 2016, and it joins the earlier releases of Symphonies Nos. 3-6 (SU3631-2, SU4007-2). It was part of a planned but unfortunately unfinished complete set of Martinů's late orchestral works. Bělohlávek's tenure with the Czech Philharmonic during the last five years of his life was a very happy time for both parties, and it led to the development of new qualities in the orchestra's sound. This recording shall endure as living proof of what was a very special constellation of humanity and artistry.

Jiří Bělohlávek's final word on the music of Bohuslav Martinů


“The first documented performances were apparently given with piano only, which seems rather a pity given the inventiveness of Martinů’s orches­tration, but this fine premiere recording showcases the score’s vivid colours in all their glory… Bělohlávek gets the balance between solemn religiosity and rustic energy just right – witness the bucolic, whooping horns as day dawns on the frigid little workshop, or the pungent harmonica wielded by the cheeky apple-thief. The vocal soloists capture the speech-song quality which Martinů wanted to perfection rather than approaching the piece like scaled-down verismo (though the full-blooded lyricism which alto Ester Pavlů brings to the Old Woman’s little arietta is also a joy); that the English pronunciation (particularly from Ivan Kusnjer’s Martin) is idiosyncratic only adds to the overall atmosphere and charm.”
Presto Classical, October 2018

“Jiří Bělohlávek nimmt sich ganz zurück, das Orchester ziseliert fein, die Sänger (samt dem Konzertmeister als Erzähler) machen viel aus ihren kleinen Personen-Mosaiksteinchen. Das ist so eingängig wie scheinbar simpel verfertigt, doch atmosphärisch dicht und dramatisch stimmig. Und offenbart wieder eine neue Martinů-Facette. Und eine fein ausgehörte, spritzig schäumende erste Sinfonie gibt es als allerletzes Bělohlávek-Tondokument noch dazu.”
Oper! December 2018

“Martinů’s limpid score counterpoints and underlines the action with beautifully understated finesse and perfect pacing. This all-Czech performance from December 2014 uses the original English text and is enchanting… While this new, final account [Symphony No. 1] does not displace the older one, with this orchestra in that hall, it is something special. If I sound misty-eyed, well I am.”
Gramophone, January 2019

“Bien aidé par les lumineuses Martinu Voices de Lukas Vasilek et une Philharmonie tchèque qui, dans la grande salle du Rudolfinum, s’adapte parfaitement aux dimensions de ce théâtre intime, il peint une miniature vivante et superbement imagée… Mission accomplie avec beaucoup de justesse.”
Diapason, January 2019

“There is much to enjoy and much that will enrich one’s experience of Martinů’s desire to explore compact stage music in the early 1950s … The lighter, brighter Czech textures allow the music to sing and surge and dance (Symphony No. 1).”
MusicWeb International, January 2019

“Bělohlávek’s af­fection for the music shines through in every bar, and no one understood better where this oftenoverlooked score sits in the composer’s wider oeuvre. The veteran baritone Ivan Kusnjer is apt casting as Martin Avdeitch, creating a touching portrait of the conscientious old cobbler. Other singers include Jan Martiník (the old soldier Stepanitch, voiced in a resonant bass), Lucie Silkenová (Woman with a Child, her soprano carrying with Slavonic glint) and Ester Pavlů (Old Woman, with a warm-toned mezzo). Commanding the strongest English and a tenor of ringing heft is Jaroslav Březina as the Narrator, who makes the storytelling quite gripping. The chamber choir Martinů Voices fulfils its Greek-chorus-meets-Bach role strongly. Martinů wrote that he wanted the work to be performed joyfully and without either religious heaviness or operatic affectation—‘It should be sung like a folk song, devoid of pathos. I think that the text itself is beautiful and so it does not need to be in any way enhanced’—and this recording captures that tone perfectly.”
Opera Magazine, February 2019

“Martinů admirers and lovers of Czech music in general might be attracted to this world première recording of the one-act opera What Men Live By coupled with a first-rate performance of the First Symphony.”
MusicWeb International, February 2019

“The soft-grained Czech Philharmonic sound lends an air of luminous persistence to the ever-developing first movement, and the profoundly moving Largo feels totally organic, always a Belohlavek speciality. The first of a sequence written relatively late in Martinů's life, this symphony is as great as its most ambitious companions, the Third, Fourth and Fantaisies Symphoniques: mastery reasserted.”
BBC Music Magazine, March 2019

“The resolution and the setting as a whole are charming.”
All Music, October 2018

“Jiří Bělohlávek nimmt sich ganz zurück, das Orchester ziseliert fein, die Sänger (samt dem Konzertmeister als Erzähler) machen viel aus ihren kleinen Personen-Mosaiksteinchen. Das ist so eingängig wie scheinbar simpel verfertigt, doch atmosphärisch dicht und dramatisch stimmig. Und offenbart wieder eine neue Martinů-Facette. Und eine klug ausgehörte 1. Sinfonie gibt es auch noch dazu.”
Rondo, November 2018

“Bělohlávek's so­loists, not being native English speakers, have strong accents. But this is is in fact an advantage, because their accents emphasise the fundamentally Czech nature of this music and also the non-realism which Martinů was trying to achieve. They are all top-rank experienced singers, not students, and understand the idiom properly… Though here it (Symphony No. 1) is an add-on to the much rarer What Men Live By, it is a recording to be cherished.”
Opera Today, January 2019

“Magnifique version live, pleine de finesse et d’empathie, de Jiří Bĕlohlávek, entouré d’une équipe de chanteurs parfaite qui, fidèle au précepte du compositeur, se garde d’adopter le parti du grand opéra…”
Avant Scène Opéra, January 2019

“This is a real addition to the Martinu collection, but too even one not familiar with the composer would gain a nice introduction to his music. I recommend it strongly and happily.”
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, January 2019

“Les interprètes parviennent à un juste équilibre entre légèreté et gravité y compris dans les moments de tension, au profit du rythme de la narration. La qualité de la diction, dans les passages parlés comme dans les passages chantés, ou encore le jeu sur l’espace, notamment à la fin de la scène 2 où doivent être entendues des voix en coulisse, participe elle aussi à la clarté du récit.”
Classica, June 2019

“The performance is excellent: outstanding work from soloists, chorus, orchestra, and conductor. It appears that all the soloists are Czech, but their English is extremely good, with slight accents that add a touch of earthiness to the proceedings… This First Symphony is the best of Belohlavek’s Mar­tinu symphony recordings with the Czech Philharmonic. It is interpretively a little heavier than the fine BBC reading, but the Czech orchestra produces a string glow that the BBC Symphony never quite achieved. I blooms slowly and is by turns powerful, cheery, suave, and searching.”
American Record Guide, May 2019

“Jiří Bělohlávek modelliert mit der Tschechischen Philharmonie feinste dynamische Schattierungen heraus und ist ein behutsamer Sängerbegleiter. Dem Ensemble mit Ivan Kusnjer als Schuster im Zentrum gelingt es, auch den kleinen Episodenrollen Individualität zu verleihen. Der filigranen Oper steht die 1942 komponierte erste Sinfonie gegenüber. Man hört ein vorwärtsdrängendes, rhythmisch pulsierendes, orchestrales Breitwandgemälde mit Anleihen an tschechische und amerikanische Musik. Bělohlávek lässt es in seiner ganzen Größe erstehen, ohne je die Transparenz aus dem Auge zu verlieren. Die Aufnahme, ausgestattet mit einem lesenswerten Begleittext und dem Libretto, ist nicht nur künstlerisch, sondern auch klanglich herausragend.”
Klassik.com, August 2019

Bohuslav Martinů
What Men Live By, H 336
1. Overture 00:59
2. Scene 1 " In a certain town there lived an old man" 02:46
3. Scene 2 "His wife and his child had died" 07:33
4. Scene 3 "The morning, Avdeitch rose before daylight..." 08:11
5. Scene 4 "My Dear, I say, my dear" 06:49
6. Scene 5 "Let him go!" 12:43
Bohuslav Martinů
Symphony No. 1, H 289
7. Moderato 10:01
8. Scherzo - Allegro 07:32
9. Largo 09:48
10. Allegro non troppo 09:29

Linked video