Joseph Szigeti, the legendary Hungarian violinist and The New York Philharmonic conducted by it’s then-Music Director Dimitri Mitropoulos in the American premier of Frank Martin’s Violin Concerto – broadcast live on Sunday Afternoon, November 16, 1952.
The Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974), who was one of the bright lights of 20th Century Classical music, was influenced by the music of Arnold Schoenberg, but sought to find his own musical voice. It wasn’t until 1945 that his music achieved an international reputation. Prior to that, much of his work and activities were centered around Zurich, where he had founded a Chamber Music Society in 1926 as well as teaching at the Geneva Conservatory. One of Martin’s earliest champions was the conductor Ernest Ansermet, and he was responsible for many premiers of Martin’s work, going back to 1918.
Frank Martin’s music has fallen off the musical radar of late, for no good reason. Many of his recordings are now out of print. However, the Violin concerto does have two recordings currently in the catalog, but this U.S. premier performance hasn’t been reissued.
Martin has always been underrated to a certain degree; falling well behind the Bartok’s and Prokofiev’s of the music world. But like another composer whose work has been neglected and underrated over time, Karol Szymanowski, the music of Frank Martin is enjoyed by those people who take the time to seek it out. Unfortunately, that’s the case with a lot of Classical music – it is either over-performed and over-recorded or it’s neglected and waiting to be discovered, and those people just getting interested in Classical music don’t have a wide palette to make discoveries from. Sadly, the economic dictates of record companies and concert halls make adventuresome programming an iffy proposition, unless the performer is an attraction by themselves. Fortunately we’ve had, in recent years, some very popular Music Directors who have injected new and rarely performed works into their orchestras repertoires. And that’s what keeps this genre of music alive.
So for all the pessimism there is a degree of optimism to be had. Perhaps those underrated and under-appreciated voices will finally get some just deserts. In the meantime, we’re doing our bit to keep you aware of what you might have missed and this weekend’s entry is certainly one of them.