Martin is not a crowd-pleaser. Had he been born in
the UK he would have been viewed as part of the benighted Cheltenham
generation. Performances in Cheltenham would have been in the 1940s
and 1950s but as the 1970s progressed he and his music would have lost
its precarious footing and slipped from view. The music of Martin is
known for sincerity, earnest qualities and sobriety; not for brilliance
or ecstatic statement. The closest British parallel might be Rubbra.
While Rubbra was a symphonist with eleven in his catalogue Martin had
only one. Rubbra was Roman Catholic and Martin Protestant. However their
music tends towards dour and dedicated. The uninitiated might brush
it aside as dull. Neither Martin nor Rubbra wrote a great deal of music
for solo piano but in this field the comparisons strain. Rubbra's piano
music is of lowish profile - devotional rather than brilliant. Martin's
piano music is wide-ranging in character. There are certain catalogue
similarities however. Rubbra wrote a Sinfonia Concertante for
piano and orchestra (with a middle movement dedicated to Holst in his
death-year) as well as a single Piano Concerto (discounting a very early
concerto). Martin wrote a Ballade for piano and orchestra and
two piano concertos.
Spiegelberg is not a familiar name but his range and
imagination seem well matched to Martin.
The Danse Grave is an early work which derives
its character from the 'dompes' of Dowland and weaves this line with
the Pavanes of Fauré and Ravel.
Guitare is a four movement suite written originally
for Segovia but then transcribed by the composer for orchestra and for
solo piano. Not at all surprisingly the music carries the stamp of the
guitar. The first movement's ombrageous hispanicisms contrast with dazzling
brightness. The Air recalls Danse Grave. The strumming
of the Plainte is a direct tell-tale of the work's instrumental
origins. The Gigue is gawkily insistent. The suite would go well
with Lionel Sainsbury's Spanish pieces.
The quadripartite Flamenco Fantasy ends the
disc and it too looks to Iberian origins. While Martin's son provoked
in his father a delight in the bass tones of the electric guitar (surfacing
in one of his last works) his daughter’s love of flamenco gave birth
to a winter year’s immersion in recordings and concerts. The Fantasy
was the result. The rhythms clash and struggle in this work with a complexity
that others, pre-eminently Nancarrow, have solved with resort to the
player-piano. Martin liked a challenge and passes his victory on to
the pianist. The last two of the four sections are termed Soleares
and Petenra and here the crabbed tension of the early stages
of the dance are dissected in ominous steady grumbling and grunting
impacts - quiet and loud.
The Eight Preludes are caring and grave. They
in part pair neatly with Rubbra's piano music and with Rawsthorne's
Bagatelles. This is Chopin refracted, pensive and jangling (allegretto
tranquillo), dancingly like Rachmaninov in the fourth Prelude, in
another deploying constant pearling runs of notes vivace; at one time
satisfied with the stillness of Debussy crossed with Schoenberg (rather
like the isolated Clair de Lune piece) and finally jazzy, clear-headed
and gawkily angular. A steady all-elbows awkwardness extends to the
Etude Rhythmique and the Esquisse.
I started by making comparisons with Rubbra. We should
also look at another Swiss composer who is something of a Gallo speciality.
Richard Flury was born six years later than Martin and died seven years
earlier. Flury was an ultra-conservative musically coloured by his masters
Hans Huber and Joseph Marx. Martin took a quite different route - prizing
his own rather matte expressive language, much taken with Bach and choral
music. His music still struggles for recognition with an armoury that
lacks the qualities that instantly beguile. From the perspective of
the twenty-first century Martin, blessed with a name that sounds too
English and ordinary to be intriguing, is known by comparatively few
yet is well respected and even loved by connoisseurs. His music carries
the fibre and sincerity that will make it a natural target for the sort
of revival that Bach had from Mendelssohn. Flury has the sincerity and
as the generations roll forward the wholesale use of nineteenth century
German romanticism will matter less and less. However I doubt, on the
evidence of the two Gallo discs I have heard, that Flury has the intrinsic
memorability and sense of the special that will make his music stand
prominent in 2200.