15 November 2008

Ondes Martenot

Now for something different!

I have been writing programme notes for a recital of music by the French composer, Olivier Messiaen, whose centenary we celebrate next month.

Some of Messiaen's music, notably his Turangalîla-Symphonie of 1948, requires a rather strange electronic musical instrument called the Ondes Martenot, invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot who was a cellist.

The Ondes Martenot has a traditional keyboard, and also a sliding ring which can produce glissandi. These are normally played with the right hand. The left hand is used to control the volume, attack and timbre. The keyboard is capable of moving sideways a few millimetres when played, producing a vibrato which can be controlled by the performer.

Wikipedia has an article about the Ondes Martenot.

Here are some links to YouTube videos where you can find out more:

A good introduction to the Ondes Martenot in English

Another in French

If you want to take it a bit more seriously (but watch your bandwidth - this one is 131MB) there is an Ondes Martenot lesson given by Jeanne Loriod on the website of the ondist, Claude-Samuel Lévine. Jeanne Loriod (1928-2001) was the first well-known ondist and was also Messiaen's sister-in-law.

The Ondes Martenot has a large repertoire of 20th century music, most of which is French.

Another strange musical instrument which has fared less well since its invention in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin, is the glass harmonica, for which Mozart wrote a number of pieces. It fell out of favour, largely due to rumours that playing it would drive you mad, though this was without foundation.

An introduction to the glass harmonica

A less sophisticated form of the same instrument and also dating from the 18th century, known as the glass harp, consisted of wineglasses either permanently tuned or with water added to control the pitch.

Thanks to those who made these videos available.

No comments:

Post a Comment