Martinů has written many works that happen to have intriguing, mysterious names ('The Strangler', 'Legend of the Smoke from Potato Fires', 'Comedy on the Bridge', 'Inconstancy of the Life', 'Alexander Twice', 'The Kitchen Revue'....and of course The Butterfly That Stamped!) Yes, the title of Martinů's early one-act ballet makes me smile a bit, it just sounds so odd without the actual story of the winged friend. This is one of my favorite Martinů discs, and it's a real rarity at that. Martinů based it on an exotic story by Rudyard Kipling, employing a wordless female choir to further enhance the 'oriental' atmosphere. The score is full of Eastern spice and Martinů pulls it all off convincingly and to beautiful effect, with a sense of floating sonically, as if in a dream.
"The Butterfly that Stamped" (Motýl, který dupal), H. 153, has never been performed-as far as I know. Martinů completed the Ballet in Paris on March 9, 1926, a time when the composer was still finding his voice; it is safe to say however, and easy to hear-that his was unique from the very beginning-with avant-garde outings such as "La Bagarre" or "Half-Time" as well as otherworldly, enchanting and impressionistic tinged scores such as "The Butterfly that Stamped". The ballet is charming and fresh, delicate in it's orchestral color and musical narration, providing a finely contoured version of the humorous tale of a butterfly and his quarrelsome female companion. Martinů took the story from Kipling's "Just So Stories", several short and fantastic accounts of how various phenomena came about. The stories typically have the theme of a particular animal being modified from an "original" form to its current form by the acts of man, or some magical being.
In "The Butterfly That Stamped", we join King Solomon, his lovely wife Balkis, his other nine-hundred ninety nine wives, and two charming but quarrelsome butterflies. Solomon (who mainly goes by Suleiman bin Daoud in the story) is a very wise man, but is very annoyed with his surplus wives and all their quarreling. He thinks they are very loud and ungrateful. He refuses to use his magic to do anything about it because he believes it is just showing off, something he will not do. One day, when walking in his forest, Suleiman bin Daoud stumbles upon two butterflies arguing. The male butterfly tells his wife he could stamp his foot and the huge palace and garden would disappear. The king hears the butterfly's story and finds the claim amusing, and so calls the butterfly over. The king asks the butterfly why he lied, to which the butterfly replies that it was to silence his quarrelsome wife. The King tells the butterfly that if he has to, he can 'help him'. Meanwhile, Balkis has a talk with the butterfly’s wife, who says she is only pretending to agree with him, because "you know how men are." Balkis tells her she should dare her husband to stamp his foot, as he must be lying, and then she can argue with him again. Really, she is hoping the disappearance of the palace will shock the other wives into obedience.
The female butterfly dares her husband, and the butterfly prevaricates by telling her the king called him over to ask him not to, because he is afraid of the butterfly. The wife insists he stamps, and he goes to the king, who tells him he will make it happen to help control his wife, sympathizing with the butterfly's plight. The butterfly stamps and the palace disappears. This makes the butterfly's wife scared, and she promises never to argue with him again as long as he brings it back, leaving Solomon in fits of laughter. But when the garden vanishes, Solomon's less pleasant wives are deathly afraid, believing that the king is dead and the heavens are mourning the news. Balkis claims it was the butterfly who was angry at his wife, and they realize that if the king will do this for the sake of a tiny butterfly, 'what will he do to us, we who have been making him miserable with our quarreling', and they in turn become scared of Solomon's powers, and are nice and quiet from then on.
There's a bit more but this is likely already more of the story than most of you bargained for ;)
I hope everyone enjoys this rather unusual Martinů gem as much as I do!