Czech point: "Half-Time" by Bohuslav Martinu

In 1924, Bohuslav Martinu wrote "Half-Time", an orchestral movement inspired by the atmosphere during the half-time break at a football match he had gone to see.

Czech point: "Half-Time" by Bohuslav Martinu
Music and football, © Getty / TommL

Half-Time is an orchestral movement written in 1924 by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. While he was in Paris for a year studying composition with Albert Roussel, he went home for the summer holidays and, in one week, composed this rondo for orchestra, inspired by a football match he had gone to see some time earlier. At the time, he was sharing accommodation with the sports journalist Ondrej Sekora, correspondent for the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny, who regularly took him to see matches (this same Ondrej Sekora introduced rugby union into Czechoslovakia).

Martinu was more interested in the behaviour of the crowd in the stadium: "In Half-Time, I portrayed the spectators' tension during a football match." And to convey this tension, he scored the piece for winds, brass, percussion and piano obbligato. Composed almost entirely from a repeated rhythmic motive, Half-Time immediately calls to mind Stravinsky’s works from the same period. Martinu himself acknowledges that he was directly inspired by The Rite of Spring and its irregular ostinato rhythms (some passages of Half-Time actually border on plagiarism!).

The work's theme is also characteristic of the avant-garde of the time and in particular the aesthetics of Czech Poetism (an artistic movement very similar to surrealism). Half-Time thus leads the way for Martinu's subsequent works, such as La Bagarre (1926) or La Revue de cuisine (1927). Vitezslav Nezval, one of the main proponents of Poetism, stated three years later in the foreword to the publication of a ballet by Martinu, that he wanted to import music "into the street, the boxing ring and dance halls, wherever movement occurs naturally".

Half-Time was first performed in December 1924 in Prague by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Vaclav Talich. The audience's reactions were strong but starkly different. While some members were very enthusiastic, others hated the work from the start, and part of the audience even came to fisticuffs after the concert.

Michael Crump, one of Martinu's biographers, aptly sums up the significance of this work in Martinu's output: "It has to be admitted that Half-Time is no masterpiece, despite [...] its obvious plagiarism and the plainness of some of its materials, [...] Nonetheless, for the first time in Martinu's music there is a genuine symphonic current, a sense of urgency and clear argument".