Der Sturm (The Tempest) / in three volumes with German libretto
Der Sturm (The Tempest) / in three volumes with German libretto (1952-1955)
(b. Geneva, 15 September 1890 – d. Naarden, 21 November 1974)
The music of Swiss composer Frank Martin reflects his country’s dual cultural heritage. Over the course of his life he developed a compositional style that blended French and German traits. Martin claimed that composition never came easy to him, however, and it was only after completing the secular oratorio Le vin herbé at the age of fifty that Martin felt he had found his mature voice.
Despite this lifelong struggle to reconcile contrasting musical values, Martin began composing early, as a child of eight. Three years later he heard Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which left a profound effect on him. By age sixteen Martin knew he wanted to be a composer and began studying privately with pedagogue Joseph Lauber. To please his parents he also began formal studies in mathematics and physics but his lessons in piano, harmony, and composition with Lauber continued until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
After the war Martin lived first in Rome and then in Paris before returning to Switzerland in 1925 to study under Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. After being trained in the Dalcroze eurhythmics method Martin became an instructor of improvisation and rhythmic theory at the Geneva Institut Jaques-Dalcroze from 1927-1938.
Martin remained in Switzerland during World War II, afterwards moving to the Netherlands in 1946. He became an instructor at the Cologne Hochschule für Musik in 1950, commuting from his home in the Netherlands to teach in Cologne until 1957. His later years were spent traveling widely, often as a performer of his own music.
Martin’s musical style reflects a sustained attempt to bring together the sensuous beauty of sound characteristic of French Impressionism with the rigorous compositional practices employed by Bach and other German composers. His opera The Tempest represents another attempt at a seamless artistic blend, this time of text and music. Shakespeare’s play had fascinated Martin for many years and he considered it an ideal model upon which to base a new type of theater. This ideal drama would intertwine accompanying music with spoken text so as to produce an organic synthesis and not merely a musical “backdrop” to poetic recitation. Martin eventually abandoned this idea, instead setting The Tempest as a more traditional opera. Even when the result was no longer experimental, it was still a remarkable achievement. Claiming that he was more comfortable in the language of Goethe than that of Shakespeare, Martin crafted his libretto from a German translation of The Tempest by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. Schlegel’s translation remained as faithful to Shakespeare’s original as possible, even to maintaining the same spoken rhythms and meter. It is thus considered a masterpiece of German literature in its own right.
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