Frank Martin – Ballade for trombone or tenor saxophone and piano (1940)
orchestral version (1940)
(b. Geneva, 15 September 1890; d. Naarden, Netherlands, 21 November 1974)
Frank Martin and Arthur Honegger are the towering figures among Swiss composers of the twentieth century. Both hailed from Francophone Switzerland, both espoused a seriousness of purposes rooted in their Calvinist surroundings, and both excelled in large-scale works for chorus and orchestra that owed much to the example of Bach. At a time when Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic method was known only to a few close disciples and initiates, Martin undertook a deep study of the technique in the early 1930s and adapted it to his own compositional needs. The results were triumphantly presented in his oratorio Le Vin herbé on the Tristan legend (1938-41), the work which first brought him to international attention. If his fame today mainly resides in this and other large-scale vocal works, especially the oratorio Golgotha (1945-8), he nevertheless brought forth a large body of superior instrumental music, of which the Ballades, one each for alto saxophone, flute, piano, trombone (or tenor saxophone), cello and viola with orchestral accompaniment, are supreme examples.
Martin’s Ballade for trombone was commissioned for the 1940 Geneva Competition with the understanding that it should be no more than seven minutes long. This was the first time that the famous international competition had included the trombone among the competition instruments, and it seemed natural to commission a test piece from a local composer, even if largely unknown outside his native Switzerland. Martin, then in the process of composing Le Vin herbé, sought the advice of the trombonist of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande to exploit the new techniques of trombone playing developed earlier in the century. The resultant version for trombone and piano was quickly recognized as a masterpiece at its première in 1940, and efforts were made to produce a version with orchestral accompaniment. Although Martin had written well for the orchestra before, he felt slightly unequal to this task and sought the help of his friend, the outstanding Franco-Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, to work out some of the details. The new version was completed in 1940 and immediately established itself in the concert repertoire, acting as a focal point and stimulus for later works for trombone and orchestra and generally being regarded as the work that “led the trombone into our own time” (Christian Lindberg).
Bradford Robinson, 2005
For performance material please contact Universal Edition, Vienna. Reprint of a copy from Universal Edition, Vienna.
German preface not available …