The Colburn Orchestra Play Martin - 'Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments'

For the full performance, which includes Martin, Verdi & Tchaikovsky, click here.

Frank Martin (1890-1974)
"Concerto for Seven Winds" (1949)

Benjamin Lash

Swiss composer Frank Martin was a unique man in many regards. He came from a large religious family and was the tenth and youngest child of a Calvinist minister. To please his father, he studied mathematics and physics at the University of Geneva for two years, only to realize that his musical studies proved to be more interesting and compelling to him. Martin was musically active both in composition and in teaching. He taught at the University of Geneva, the Institut Jacques-Dalcroze and later at the "Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik" in Cologne. He was also the president of the Swiss Association of Musicians and founded the "Société de Musique de Chambre de Genève."

The 1949 premier of Martin's "Concerto for Seven Winds," Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra in Berne, Switzerland was wonderfully successful. The concerto highlights Martin's creativity and imagination as a composer and though the piece has some neoclassic characteristics, such as the reduced orchestra size, it is distinctly modern. The "Concerto for Seven Winds," Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra features not just one soloist like most concertos, but eight soloists, some coming from unexpected sections of the orchestra. At times, he reverses the traditional trends of instrumental roles, such as by having the orchestra accompany a timpani solo.

The first movement introduces the main soloists - the oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, and trombone - who all pass around a mischievous allegro theme. The final solo instrument, the timpani, will make its major appearance in the third movement. The Concerto's first theme is introduced by the oboe and then logically moves on to the clarinet. Rather than immediately passing the theme to the woodwind neighbors, the flute and bassoon, Martin decides next to introduce the horn, trumpet, and trombone playing in canon with each other. The flute then enters accompanied by a pulsing bassoon and shortly after, the bassoon steals the spotlight. The pairings are initially more traditional, such as that of the bassoon and flute and of the brass instruments. Martin quickly moves on to experiment with different instrument combinations, such as the duet between trumpet and flute. He also teases the audience with a short timpani solo, only a glimpse of what is to come later on.

The second movement, Adagietto, opens with a soft steady pulse in the strings followed by a mysterious and almost exotic sound presented shortly thereafter by the violin section. The pulse continues throughout the movement as the exotic theme is passed around the orchestra. This movement showcases the unique timbre and character which each instrument can bring to the soundscape, such as the broad grandness of the brass, the longing sound of the bassoon and oboe, and the delicate beauty of the flutes.

The final movement, an Allegro Vivace, alternates between upholding a serious mood and a playful one. Martin explores a more extensive use of percussion using the snare drum, cymbals, and bass drum to create a march-like character and the timpani makes its major solo appearance about half-way through the movement. The movement's momentum continues to build; the winds and strings flurry about as the orchestra moves into an exciting and almost chaotic state with interjections of percussion, until the final pointed note of the brass section concludes the piece.

~By Katalin LaFavre, who is a percussionist and a junior in the Bachelor of Music program in the Colburn Conservatory.

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