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Ein Totentanz zu Basel

22 June 2024 | 20:30 - 21:30

Frank Martin Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943

On the occasion of the Geneva Music Festival, The Geneva Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Arie van Beek, will be joined by the Knabenkantorei to celebrate Frank Martin. Together, they will perform the music from the ballet Ein Totentanz zu Basel, a significant work that faded into obscurity after its premiere in 1943.

Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943 (A Dance of Death in Basel in 1943) is a piece of ballet music composed by Frank Martin for boys’ choir, string orchestra, jazz ensemble and Basel drums. Inspired by the sight of German soldiers on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, the idea for this work originated from Martin’s niece, the dancer and choreographer Mariette von Meyenburg.
Set against the backdrop of the horrors of war and anonymous mass extermination, this composition delves into the existential question of our mortality as individuals. Employing archetypal figures such as ‘the old man’, ‘the child’ and ‘the young woman’, it deliberately avoids contemporary or political references. For Frank Martin, the figure of death serves as a compassionate and empathetic mediator between two worlds: our own, symbolized by jazz and percussion, and the Kingdom of the Dead, evoked by a string orchestra and a boys’ choir.
This piece belongs to a longstanding tradition of dances of death that have captivated the European imagination since the fourteenth century, with contributions from artists such as Hans Holbein, Albrecht Dürer, Camille Saint-Saëns, Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Honegger.
As the site of the iconic Basel Dance of Death, one of the most renowned pictorial representations of this tradition, Basel Cathedral Square proved the perfect setting for the creation of Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943.
Despite its significance, this piece of music faded into obscurity for decades.
As part of the Geneva Music Festival, The Geneva Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Arie van Beek, will bring it to life once more in the majestic setting of the Palais de Justice courtyard, in a spectacular new rendition featuring the Knabenkantorei.


22 June 2024
20:30 - 21:30


Geneva (CH) | Cour du Palais de Justice
Place du Bourg-de-Four 1
Geneva, 1204 Switzerland
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l’Orchestre de Chambre de Genève
Arie van Beek conductor
Members of the Knabenkantorei Basel