The Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) spent time in Paris in the early 1920s, where he is sure to have become acquainted with the music of Debussy. Over the course of his career, Martin composed a series of what he called ballades – one-movement works featuring a solo instrumental part. The Ballade
(1939), one of the earliest, was composed after Martin returned to his home town of Geneva, having spent time exploring different musical styles in Zurich and Rome as well as Paris. The piece was written as a compulsory work for the inaugural Geneva International Music Performance Competition. It was written for flute and piano, with the orchestral accompaniment of strings and piano added later.
In the early 1930s, Martin became acquainted with Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, which was to influence much of his subsequent work. Elements of the twelve-tone form can be heard in the Ballade, although the piece is largely tonal and Neoclassical in style. It poses many challenges for the performer: it is filled with wide harmonic leaps, which the performer must tackle while also maintaining a lyrical melodic line; and the work tests the full range of the instrument, not least with a memorable section for the low register, accompanied by an effective ostinato in the orchestra.
from notes by Femke Colborne © 2013