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Faith, Fate and Family: finding the influences of Frank Martin

4 September 2020

Artists must have their muses and composers are no different. The music of Bach is always listed as one of the first and major influences of the late composer Frank Martin but here, Welsh National Opera explores what else made the maestro tick. We’ve read up on books dedicated to him, listened to interviews, even one with his wife, and explored his extensive back catalogue to see what made the man make the music.

Born the youngest of 10 children, with music already in his blood it's no surprise he was musically gifted and went on to become who he did. All his siblings were encouraged to play instruments or sing and his grandfather had been the treasurer for the Geneva Conservatoire and was also Second Bassoon for the Geneva Orchestra. Martin studied Physics and Mathematics as music wasn't seen as a career choice by his parents; however, he never graduated, choosing composing instead and aren't we lucky he did.

Raised as a Protestant you may be surprised his early pieces were for vocal Mass based on Catholic texts which were very different from his traditional upbringing. He worked on one particular piece for a long time, finishing it 40 years later and calling the composition ‘an affair between God and myself.’ Although it wasn't just Catholic music but indeed any sacred music that he felt, ‘moved the listener to believe in something which points beyond him’. You can see his own relationship with religion was more personal and he was interested in faith as a private individuality rather than a universal idea, 'religious feelings should remain secret and removed from public opinion.’

His influences could have also come from his travels after the First World War. He visited many places such as the Far East and Ireland, which in turn contributed to his interest in subjects as wide and varying as Indian, Bulgarian ancient music and Irish folk music. He also continued his studies in European cities such as Zurich, Rome and Paris. His interest in rhythm had a huge influence on him, as he said: ‘rhythm is an element of connection between our spirit and our body.’

Death as a theme was a major influence on his work so it seems rather fitting that he died on the exact day he told his friends that he would finish his last piece of work.

To witness all these fascinating influences and admire Martin’s score watch our sharp, minimal production of Le Vin herbé to appreciate the master coming into his maturity.