Sunday, March 3, 2013

Henri Marteau


Henri Marteau was a French violinist, teacher, and composer, born (in Reims, France) on March 31, 1874.  He was a child prodigy and was similar to Felix Mendelssohn in that both of his parents came from wealthy families; however, Marteau’s parents were musicians as well – his mother was a pianist (and former pupil of Clara Schumann) and his father was a violinist and President of the Philharmonic Society of Rheims.  After hearing Camillo Sivori play a concert at the Marteau residence at age 5, Marteau began his violin studies with his father.  One usually reliable source states that Sivori himself presented the child with a violin.  Sivori would have been about 64 years old at the time.  Marteau later proceeded to study with a Swiss violinist named Bunzl (a pupil of Wilhelm Molique) and after three years went to study with Hubert Leonard at the Paris Conservatory.  He was 8 years old.  Leonard may have been Marteau’s uncle but I am not certain of that.  He made his debut at age 10 in Reims, playing for a very large audience – possibly more than 2000.  At age 13, on December 14, 1887, he played a Bruch concerto (probably the one in g minor) in Vienna, with Hans Richter on the podium.  Brahms was in the audience - it has been said that he was fascinated with the young violinist.  Grove’s Dictionary of Music says this took place when Marteau was 10 years old but that is probably quite incorrect.  In 1888, he made his debut in London, England.  He was 14 years old.  He then studied with Jules Garcin at the Paris Conservatory beginning in 1891.  In 1892, he was awarded first prize by the conservatory.  By then he was already an established touring artist.  In 1893, he toured the U.S. and again in 1898.  He also played in the U.S. in the years 1894, 1900, and 1906.  I don’t know if those appearances were part of a broader concert tour.  Marteau was a sensation each time.  It has been said that when he performed in Boston on his first U.S. tour, he played the Bruch g minor concerto with the Boston Symphony without rehearsal.  Arthur Nikisch was on the podium and Marteau had 12 curtain calls.  On March 3, 1893, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic playing the first Bruch concerto.  Anton Seidl was on the podium.  His last concert with this orchestra was on March 18, 1906.  He played Vieuxtemps' concerto number 5 on that occasion.  He was 31 years old.  On November 28, 1894, he premiered Theodore Dubois’ violin concerto in Paris.  That work has probably not been heard from since, except, perhaps, in France.  Marteau toured Russia in 1897 and 1899.  By age 26, he was professor of violin at the conservatory in Geneva, Switzerland.  Seven years later (1907), he was called upon to take over Joseph Joachim’s position at the Advanced School of Music (Hochschule fur Musik) in Berlin, where he remained until 1915.  There was some grumbling over this appointment because he was not German and it was rumored he had even been asked to renounce his French citizenship if appointed.  He supposedly refused and, being an international celebrity of the violin, was appointed anyway.  However, being French, he was placed under house arrest in Lichtenberg in 1916 because of hostilities between France and Germany in World War One (1914-1918.)  He eventually settled in Sweden and became a Swedish citizen in 1920.  Marteau eventually also taught at the music conservatories in Prague (1921), Leipzig, and Dresden.  Max Reger and Jules Massenet composed violin concertos for Marteau.  In fact, Marteau was a champion of Reger’s music and played dozens of concerts with him throughout Europe.  It has been reported that it was over a dispute over Reger’s music that Marteau’s first string quartet ensemble broke up.  The quartet probably had a name but I don’t know what it was.  He later re-assembled another quartet in Berlin.  In April of 1894, Marteau played a piano quartet concert with Anton Hegner (cellist), Jan Koert (violist), and Aime Lauchame in New York.  It wasn’t the first time so it would appear that he played chamber music concerts on a regular basis though his ensembles are not reported (in any sources I found) to have been well-established or even well-known.  He played a Giovanni Paolo Maggini violin which had belonged to his teacher, Hubert Leonard, and had previously been in the possession of the Austrian Emperor.  He also owned and played a 1709 Stradivarius violin which now bears his name, a 1720 Guarnerius Del Gesu (one source says from 1731) which also bears his name, an 1827 J.B. Vuillaume, and a 1925 Gaetano Sgarabotto violin.  These last four violins together were valued, in Marteau’s day, at approximately $15,000, or $175,000 in today’s dollars.  They are now worth approximately $7,000,000.  In 1920, one could buy a Stradivarius for less than $5,000.  An average person in 1920 could buy one if he worked 25,000 hours or 12 years at minimum wage and saved every penny for just that purpose.  An average person today could buy one if he worked 400,000 hours or 192 years at minimum wage.  It has always been my opinion that those old violins are simply not worth the trouble.  Their values have been hyper-exaggerated by dealers.  Marteau’s tone was said to be large and brilliant and his style warm and charming.  One reference (E.N. Bilbie, 1921) claims that Marteau, prior to 1914, played six concerts at intervals of one every two weeks and that he played three concertos at each of them – 18 different concertos altogether.  Besides a substantial amount of chamber music, Marteau composed an opera, a cantata, two violin concertos, and a cello concerto.  Marteau died (in Lichtenberg, Germany) on October 3, 1934, at age 60.  In 2002, his home in Lichtenberg became the site for part of the tri-annual Henri Marteau violin competition which was established in that year.  

1 comment:

  1. I own a xir Roth violin with this man's name on it. I am trying to find someone that can assist me with determining the authenticity and value of it . Thank you

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