The Epic of Gilgamesh (Martinů)

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Nice and Mont Boron

Gilgameš (English: The Epic of Gilgamesh) is an oratorio by Bohuslav Martinů composed 1954–1955 near Nice in France[1] and premiered in 1958[2] in Basel, Switzerland, with a title and text in German, as Das Gilgamesch-Epos.[3]

Title page of The epic of Gilgamish by R. Campbell Thompson, 1928

However, Martinů wrote his text in English, based on the translation of in hexameters by Reginald Campbell Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamish (1928),[3] in his own style, choosing freely what would fit his music best.[4] Martinů would have preferred to compose it to a text in Czech and, according to his biographer Miloš Šafránek, he regretted hearing too late about the recent Czech translation of the Epic by poet Lubor Matouš.[5] Later, Ferdinand Pujman translated Martinů's text on the basis of Matouš' work for what became Epos o Gilgamešovi.[6]

The text comprises a sectional portrait of the original Epic of Gilgamesh in three parts.[7]

The premiere of the oratorio took place on 24 January 1958 with the Basel Chamber Orchestra and the Basel Chamber Choir conducted by Paul Sacher.[8] The United Kingdom premiere in 1959 was conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, who had been very impressed with it on hearing during a visit to Prague. Alvar Liddell was the narrator. This was recorded. Vernon Handley conducted the work in Guildford in 1970. [9] Jiří Bělohlávek conducted a performance in the Festival Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jack Shepherd as narrator in 1995, issued on CD by the BBC.

In 2014, Aleš Březina's critical edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh was published by Bärenreiter within the Bohuslav Martinů Complete Edition.


  1. ^ Charlotte Martinů: Mein Leben mit Bohuslav Martinů, translated from Czech into German by Štěpán Engel, Presseagentur Orbis, Prague 1978, pp. 129-131.
  2. ^ Theodore Ziolkowski - Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters With the Ancient Epic 2011 Page 75 "In 1954–55, only a few years before his death, the enormously prolific Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959), along with Leoš Janáček one of the two leading Czech composers of the twentieth century, wrote his oratorio The Epic of Gilgamesh."
  3. ^ a b Ines Matschewski: "Fragen der Freundschaft, der Liebe und des Todes: Das Gilgamesch-Epos von Bohuslav Martinů", in: Texte zur Chormusik: Festschrift zum zehnjährigen Jubiläum des Internationalen Chor Forums ICF, edited by Gerhard Jenemann. Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 39-230-5394-0, p. 41–47
  4. ^ Bo Marschner: „Das "Gilgamesh-Epos" von Bohuslav Martinů und die Oper "Gilgamesh" von Per Norgård“, in: Colloquium Bohuslav Martinů, His Pupils, Friends and Contemporaries: Brno, 1990, edited by Petr Maček and Jiří Vyslouvžil. Ústav hudební vědy filozofické fakulty, Masarykova Univerzita, Brno 1993, S. 138–151.
  5. ^ Miloš Šafránek: Bohuslav Martinů: his life and works, Wingate, London 1962, S. 304–308.
  6. ^ Catalogue data in the library of Institut Bohuslava Martinů. o. p. s., Prag
  7. ^ F. James Rybka Bohuslav Martinů: The Compulsion to Compose 2011 Page 258 "Synopsis of Martinů's “Gilgamesh” - In his approach toward molding this classical epic into an oratorio, Martinů immediately realized that he could not incorporate many passages of the metaphorical, extant story that is dispersed over the twelve tablets. Even the most coherent versions are disconnected. He anticipated including the Great Flood (tablet IX), but eventually had to eliminate it. Instead, he composes a sectional portrait of Gilgamesh in three parts."
  8. ^ F. James Rybka Bohuslav Martinů: The Compulsion to Compose Page 259 2011 -"Although he completed the work in 1954, the premiere of The Epic of Gilgamesh took place on January 24, 1958, by the Basel Chamber Orchestra and Choir conducted by Sacher. This event had a profound personal connection to all ..."
  9. ^ The Musical Times - Volume 111 Page 723 JSTOR (Organization) - 1970 "Martinu's Epic of Gilgamesh was given its British premiere in Guildford on May 2; the occasion was also Vernon Handley's 100th .."