About this Recording
FECD-0020 - MARTIN: Violin Concerto / Cello Concerto

Frank Martin

Frank Martin


In the visceral manner that people are drawn to campfires, I am among those drawn to Frank Martin’s (1890-1974) compositions. My introduction to Martin was through the oratorio Le vin herbe (1941), and Le petite symphonie (1944-5), the earliest Martin masterpieces that fused tonality and 12-tone writing into a unique style that might be called “tonal atonality.” Although these compositions predate the non-dodecaphonic cello and violin concerti, they demonstrate the open-mindedness and inclusiveness evident in all of Martin’s work.


Years later, the First Edition Music recording of Martin’s 1965 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra renewed this attraction, and that same performance, paired with Martin’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1950-1), comprises the present compact disc reissue of these world-premiere recordings. Martin lovers welcome it: contrary to the befuddled (and probably apocryphal) university dean who announced that a plan “solves a much-needed problem,” this release fills a much-lamented gap in our cd Martin collections.


Other admirers of Martin’s work include Yehudi Menuhin, who wrote that he approached Polyptyque (1973), with “the same responsibility, the same exaltation” as he did J. S. Bach’s Chaconne. Doubtless, this remark pleased Martin who, by age ten, had already chosen Bach as his mentor.


In a similar vein, in the autumn of 2003, eminent flutist, pianist, composer, and co-founder of the Marlboro Music Festival Louis Moyse remarked about Martin’s 1938 Ballade for flute and piano (dedicated to Louis’s similarly eminent father, Marcel) that, “From the very beginning, one can feel the grandeur and the depth of the work; the undercurrent is amazingly organic, and you cannot help but be taken by this force of nature.”


“Organic,” defined as “having essential properties associated with living organisms,” aptly describes Martin, his work, and our responses to his work; while providing a key to understanding all three. Martin unfailingly applies his deepest essence to his work, and in so doing encourages us to do likewise. Possibly, we are drawn to Martin’s music because we are ourselves largely organic.


Martin’s compositions encompass what other less visionary composers see only as opposites. Examples of Martin’s insight include the abovementioned “tonal atonality”; and his use of the alto saxophone in the surprisingly-classical cello concerto, an instrument that most composers considered (and consider) to be suitable only for jazz. Martin’s is not cookie cutter music. Instead, this freewheeling music breathes, experiments, explores, and partakes in the world of which it is part.


Organic moments suffuse these concerti. The examples cited can be easily found within the disc’s six brief movements. First, harmony held a life-long interest for Martin, and harmony is itself organic: chords are built and resolve based on principles of the natural overtone series. The third movements of both the cello and violin concerti include moments of special harmonic surprise and interest. Second, Martin’s organic orchestration hews to the same eternal principles that govern harmony. The results are challenging yet characteristic, and thus playable, as evident in both solo parts. Third, Martin was preoccupied with rhythm, itself a component of everything that is alive. His association with the Institut Jacques-Dalcroze, both as a student and as a teacher of improvisation and Eurhythmics, reflects this preoccupation. The first movement of the cello concerto, and the first and third movements of the violin concerto are highly rhythmic.


Simply put, Martin’s music moves us. Few listeners fail to be touched, for example, by the first and second movements of the cello concerto, and by the second movement of the violin concerto. What could be more organic than that?


- David M. Kaslow


The following is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


The passionate search for the absolute in art is extraordinarily dangerous; it is the exact counterpoint to the religious search with the aid of a magic formula, so as to gain Paradise without creative effort. Admittedly composers are in a difficult position, being constantly confronted by two cliffs, the two contrary demands for originality and perfection. Both spring from an attitude that, being familiar and pleased with the works of all earlier epochs, at once discovers in each new work every similarity with past manifestations; such similarity troubles us, Thus it is only through novelty, through originality that contemporary music can find its justification. Doubtless a truly genuine attitude would cause a composer to create only what he would truly love to produce.


Today - let us admit it - only a few do so, and it is the most difficult task to accomplish. Especially, it requires much courage; for fashion is both puissant and enticing, and whoever believes himself independent of her obeys her at will. In view of such extreme and contrary demands, a work of art reflecting creative serenity will be achieved only rarely and with great difficulty. Rather, it will reflect struggle, struggle within, with the public, and, above all, with those inordinate and contradictory demands. But the composer is powerfully stimulated by this situation, for in his heart the hope springs eternal to reconcile or encompass those two opposites, i.e. originality and fierce turbulence on the one hand and calm beauty and serenity on the other…the new and classic work that the public expects. How wondrous and how impossible.


- Frank Martin



Concerto for Violin and Orchestra


If I have here adopted the traditional pattern of a concerto, it has not been for some vain purpose of I know not what neo-classicism…but simply because, wishing to write a rather broadly developed work, I quickly saw that the classical cut of a concerto corresponds to certain necessities of the genre. For instance, this requires tuttis opposed to the soloistic portions, in order that the orchestra can from time to time deploy its power and likewise lend significance to the re-entry of the soloist. In the same way, the disposition of the three movements has, in itself, nothing arbitrary, neither has the linking of the second and third movement, contrary to my first intention.


Begun directly following the composition of the Five Songs of Ariel (after The Tempest of Shakespeare) the violin has retained from it – especially at its beginning – the same kind of mysterious and somewhat fairy tale-like atmosphere; it even borrows from them a motif, introduced by the horns at the sixteenth measure. Other elements enter, more lyrical and even emotional; yet always the character of Ariel reappears, distantly mysterious, at the end of the first movement as well as the entrance of the violin in the second; or else live and fantastical, as at the beginning of the Finale. Here, however, there is nothing ‘concerted’: I had simply remained somewhat spellbound by the charms of Prospero’s island.


- Frank Martin



Concerto for Cello and Orchestra


The following is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


Contrary forces are set in motion at once in the slow introduction. A prologue for cello alone outlines two divergent threads of musical discourse. Strings, harp and piano fasten quickly upon a sober chorale idea in even notes, while the more flexible and personal material stated at the outset is extended by the soloist as though the restless spirit of the creative imagination finds itself supported and constrained by the more severe textures of the accompanying harmonies. Once the allegro proper is begun, soloist and orchestra find themselves in a more cooperative frame of mind; the skipping tune announced by the flute is quickly passed on to the clarinet and cello, and an answering idea is given from the soloist back to the oboe in return. The middle section combines elements of the traditional development with an extended fantasia based on material first heard in the introduction. But now the orchestra is not content to remain in the background; line by line it repeats and expands fragments of the cello’s part, until the soloist breaks his enforced silence with a return of the allegro idea. He takes up the answering tune as well and after a brief and powerful tutti for the orchestra, goes on to have the final say in an epilogue based on the opening measures of the concerto.



The slow movement, an Adagietto in an even and stately triple meter, is similar in spirit to the many passacaglia movements from the composer’s earlier years. The quiet pulsing of strings and winds provides an austere frame for a variety of new ideas in the cello part. At the high point the orchestra adds its weight to the expansive writing for the soloist. But all anxiousness is past soon enough, and in the closing moments the movement winds down in a leisurely and thoughtful manner. If all of this seems a trifle old-fashioned form the description, the listener should rest assured that the resulting music is far from antiquarian in its effect.


The striking chromatic harmonies are rich with possibilities for a more angular linear style, and the first pages of the finale realize implications with a vengeance. The rapid tempo is made much more exciting by the incisive staccato textures and the intricate counterpoint among the piano and the low strings. As the wind instruments contribute to the general chatter, the surprising sound of the alto saxophone can be heard chirping its merry way above the rest. Finally the cello makes its voice known, with a string of buzzing repeated notes balancing off the leaping pizzicatos of its initial statement. A second episode of whirling trumpets recalls the material from the first movement, even as the accompaniment in the strings touches upon the passacaglia fragment of the Adagietto. These reminiscences seem to be only passing fancies, however, for soon the soloist finds himself in a more lyrical frame of mind and the finale settles down to a brief but compelling middle section. The previous ideas return one by one with the reprise of the chromatic triplets being given over to a cadenza for the soloist. The orchestra is unable to resist having a go at this lively tune, and soon enough with a flourish of trills, tremolos, and pizzicatos in the strings, the concerto leaps to a close.


- Robert McMahan

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