Frank Martin – Composer
(1890 – 1974)
(1890 – 1974)
Frank Martin was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15 September 1890. He was the tenth and youngest child of a clergyman’s family. He played and improvised on the piano even before he went to school.
By the age of nine he had composed charming children’s songs that were perfectly balanced without ever having been taught musical forms or harmony. A performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, heard at the age of twelve, left a lasting impression on the composer, for whom J.S. Bach remained the true master.
He attended classical languages high school and, to please his parents, went on to study mathematics and physics at the University of Geneva for two years. Simultaneously he started studying piano and composition with Joseph Lauber, who initiated him in the “craft”, especially in instrumentation. Between 1918 and 1926 Frank Martin lived in Zurich, Rome and Paris, working on his own, searching for a personal musical language.
In 1926 he founded the “Société de Musique de Chambre de Genève” which he led as pianist and harpsichord player for ten years. He taught improvisation and theory of rhythm at the “Institut Jacques-Dalcroze” and chamber music at the Geneva Conservatory of Music. He was artistic director of the “Technicum Moderne de Musique” from 1933 to 1940 and president of the Swiss Association of Musicians between 1942 and 1946.
In 1932 he became interested in the 12-tone technique of Arnold Schönberg. He incorporated certain elements into his own musical language, creating a synthesis of the chromatic and twelve-tone techniques, without however abandoning the sense of tone – that is, the hierarchical relations between notes. Le Vin Herbé (1941) was the first important work in which he completely mastered this very personal idiom. Together with the Petite Symphonie Concertante (1944-45) it established his international reputation.
Martin’s many musical activities in Switzerland interfered with the peace and concentration his compository work required. Consequently he decided to move to the Netherlands in 1946. For ten years he lived in the centre of Amsterdam before finally settling in the little town of Naarden in 1956. Between 1950 and 1957 he taught composition at the “Staatliche Hochschule für Musik” in Cologne.
After that he ceased all teaching activities, preferring to work at home and to make occasional tours with the Swiss cellist Henri Honegger and to accept invitations to conduct his own music at many important musical centres, including those in the United States.
He received many honours and awards from all over the world.
In the extensive “oeuvre” of Frank Martin oratorios play an important part. In May 1973 he conducted the world première of his Requiem in the Cathedral of Lausanne which left a deep impression on the large audience.
His compositions kept the same vitality until the end of his life. He worked on the cantata Et la vie l’emporta until ten days before his death on 21 November 1974.