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(1874 - 1934)

Henri Marteau’s performing career began at an early age. His father was a well-known amateur violinist, and his mother an excellent pianist who had studied under Clara Schumann. They often entertained prominent musicians and it was on one of these occasions that Ernesto Camillo Sivori (Paganini’s sole pupil), much taken by the aptitude and enthusiasm of the young Marteau, gave him a violin and encouraged his parents to allow him to pursue a musical career. Lessons from Bunzl and subsequently Hubert Léonard, professor at the Paris Conservatoire, led to Marteau’s début as a ten-year-old child prodigy and to his entering Jules Garcin’s class in 1891.

Aged only thirteen, Marteau was invited by Hans Richter to play Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 at a concert of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Music-lovers) in Vienna; he fascinated the audience, which included Johannes Brahms. By the age of twenty-six Marteau was a professor at the conservatory in Geneva and after Joachim’s death he succeeded him at the Musikhochschule in Berlin.

Marteau met Max Reger in 1904 and their friendship was strong, Marteau supporting the young composer’s work. They played together in more than fifty concerts throughout Europe and Reger dedicated many of his compositions to Marteau, among them the Violin Concerto, Op. 101.

Marteau’s playing on record is a curiosity. It has great strength and clarity: he uses very little vibrato, which makes his electric recordings of great interest because they testify (without the dimness of acoustic recordings) to what is now an unfashionable means of tone production. His 1913 unaccompanied Bach recordings listed here suggest Joachim’s influence, which is surprising given that Marteau had no direct pedagogic links to the elder player. His clean, pure sound is carefully phrased and even the rather emphatic chords which characterise Joachim’s playing can be heard here. Sarasate’s Concert Fantasy on Carmen (1927) shows off his sonorous G-string tone. Yet there is something a little eccentric in his playing. This is very evident in the Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dance No. 6 (also 1927), where exaggerated tempo changes and, indeed, dubious intonation render the performance oddly frantic in character. Nonetheless, Marteau’s historical interest and the unusual nature of his playing make his recordings well worth hearing.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

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