Haupz Blog

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Electronic Music

2022-12-20 — Michael Haupt

Let’s talk about electronic music a bit. Or, its earliest proponents. This is obviously not going to be about 18th century baroque music, right? Nope, it’s the 20th century. I would like to point out two combinations of pioneering inventors, their creations, and composers.

The Ondes Martenot, invented by and named after Maurice Martenot, is, simply put, an electronic string instrument. One single piece of electrical wire, making contact in different places, will produce sounds with different pitches. On the surface, the Ondes Martenot looks like a keyboard instrument, but the keyboard is just a crutch to make the instrument more playable - the wire itself can be manipulated directly to produce all kinds of effects, including glissandi and vibrato.

French composer Olivier Messiaen has made frequent use of the Ondes Martenot throughout his entire oeuvre. One of his earlier works using the instrument is a composition commissioned by the organisers of the 1937 Paris Exposition - it was to be the soundtrack of a modernist light-and-water show (ergo, a successor in kind, albeit more wet, to Händel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks). Messiaen composed a score for no less than six Ondes Martenot: Fêtes des belles eaux. And what a marvel this music is! Imagine the impression it must have made to the ears of people in 1937 who weren’t used to hearing such sounds. Take, especially, the way the music audibly describes the glittering of water droplets, and the joy of the final fountains.

Friedrich Trautwein (German only) invented the Trautonium in 1930. This, plainly spoken, was an early analogue synthesizer, already using many of the techniques that would later be applied by giants like Moog. Trautwein was soon joined by Oskar Sala, who grew to have considerable success as a virtuoso on and composer for the instrument.

One of Sala’s most remembered works is the score to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. It deserves special mention: not a single actual bird is heard in the movie. It’s all Trautonium sounds. Remember this when you next watch this movie.

Composer Harald Genzmer wrote large-scale concertos in the classic tradition for Trautonium and orchestra. Here’s one.

Does this all sound a bit odd? Still?

Tags: music