This research paper aims to understand Frank Martin’s Huit préludes pour le piano (1948) as a summary of his compositional styles, by demonstrating common elements between the preludes and Martin’s compositions of other genres.
Swiss musician Frank Martin (1890-1974) composed in many genres, from theatrical and symphonic works to vocal, chamber, and solo works. Huit préludes pour le piano, his best-known piece for solo piano, merits more recognition in the modern repertoire than it currently receives, as it encompasses a wide range of pianistic techniques, colors, and atmospheres to challenge the mature pianist. This set of preludes represents Martin’s unique compositional sound and style, in which Martin retains a sense of tonal functions despite the intense chromaticism in his music. Featured elements in the Huit préludes include the use of the B-A-C-H motive and its alterations, chromatic yet triadic writing, gliding tonality, baroque elements, dodecaphony, stratification, extreme range and registral shifts, octave doublings and displacements, percussive rhythmic drive, large-scale crescendi, and hidden cyclicism. Martin also uses the 12-tone row as a chromatic tool, but rejects atonality and applies the concept without strict enforcement. Influences of music from past eras are evident in the Huit préludes through various compositional techniques and practices such as contrapuntal lines, chant-like declamatory melodies, imitation, toccata, and pedal-points. This research project explores these various techniques within and between the preludes and his works of other genres, and thus identifies the Huit préludes as a consolidation of Martin’s mature sound and style.