Frank Martin (1890-1974) , the greatest Swiss composer besides Arthur Honegger, spent two periods of his life intensely reflecting on death: the decade centered in World War II and the half-decade before his own passing at the age of 84. The resulting nine compositions are internationally recognized as featuring among Martin's masterpieces. In terms of their spiritual approach, they each address the subject of death from a different angle. Far from morbid or dejected in his attitude, Martin uses his very expressive musical language to ponder the many ways in which humans seek to understand the finitude of their earthly lives. In mid-life, Martin ponders death as a longed-for repose after a long life of fatal passion and anxieties in the chamber oratorio Le Vin herbe (1938), as a fulfillment of a brief moment of glory in the orchestral song cycle Der Cornet (1942-43), as the judge of personal conscience in Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann (1943-44), as a power exhausted after a terrible war in the armistice oratorio In terra pax (1944), and as a human boundary spiritually overcome in the oratorio Golgotha (1945-48). By contrast, Compositions from the last years of the composer's life show death met with sinister wittiness in the Poemes de la mort after Francois Villon (1970-71), accepted with serenity in his Requiem (1971-72), awaited in faith in Polyptyque, his violin concerto for Yehudi Menuhin (1973), and finally welcomed with a victorious spirit in the chamber cantata "Et la vie lemporta" (1974).
Frank Martin's Musical Reflections On Death