So terrified was Martin of being considered in the same critical light as his great musical idol, Bach, that he deliberately avoided writing in the same genres. It is no surprise, therefore, that he composed only one work for solo organ – an instrument indelibly associated with Bach – although in his old age he began to appreciate its flexibility as an ensemble instrument, going so far as to give it a substantial solo part in his 1972 Requiem. It is more of a surprise, however, that this one work was modelled on Bach’s C minor Passacaglia, generally considered one of his greatest organ works although, ironically, one conceived for pedal clavier rather than organ. Martin wrote his Passacaille
for Kurt Wolfgang Senn who gave the first performance in Berne Cathedral on 26 September 1944. Not satisfied at that stage with the organ’s ability to create the range of colours he wanted for his music, Martin arranged the work first for strings (in 1952) and ten years later for full orchestra. He subsequently instructed organists playing the original version to use ‘registration as close as possible to my arrangement for full orchestra’. While the most powerful influence over Martin’s music was undoubtedly Bach, Martin’s mature style did not evolve until he had studied closely Schoenberg’s twelve-note system of composition. He first came across this in 1932 and while he totally rejected Schoenberg’s serial methods, he used the chromatic scale as the basis of many of his most important melodies.
from notes by Marc Rochester © 1998