What's Ondes Martenot? Takashi HARADA

Takashi HARADA
Maurice Martenot, a French electrician, was mobilized to the army as a telegrapher for World War I.
He directed his attention to the sound from an oscillation circuit with triode tubes, and thought the possibility to make use of this sound to the music.
He had a profound knowledge and affection for music as he had taken an active part in playing the violoncello and conducting in the orchestra organized on the Rhine under occupation by French troops.

Manual of Martenot, Click Photo
After the war, he had continued probe and investigation over ten years, and invented a new musical instrument named "Ondes Musicales" (musical waves). It was made public in the first presentation concert on May 1928 at the Paris Opera, and the concert was a sensational success.

This musical instrument, afterwards would be called "Ondes Martenot" or simply "Ondes" (that means "waves" in French), uses a heterodyne circuit as its sound generator.
Its principle is to set up the tune and the volume by reading the difference between the frequencies from two oscillators, and some other musical wave instruments based on this principle were worked out in those days of Europe.
In the trial stage, Ondes Martenot was only one of these simple machines.

Theremin :Yuki YANO
(Photo:Phillia Hall)
Theremin is also one of these musical instruments. It sets up the tune and the volume by reading the distance between player's hand and antenna, that is, player must control the distance in a space of nothing. Players had to have incredible practices, and after all, except a few cases, hthey had not grown into excellent players.

Mrs Mitsuko YORICHIKA(Photo:Phillia Hall)
In Germany, there was a musical instrument named "Trautonium". Engineers had put new technologies in it one after another, so it became more complicated as a machine, and finally its concept was taken over to many electronic musical instruments of today. Sphaeraphon is also invented in Germany. People attached importance to its structual concept that it played chords on the keyboard, so they drawed a line between sphaeraphon and ondes Martenot that is monodic. Maurice Martenot had pursued the possibility that ondes Martenot would be used same as many other monodic instruments in the orchestra.

Takashi HARADA
It is an excellent idea by Maurice Martenot that the functions of the bow and strings on a string instrument are transferred to this instrument electrically; keeping the performance of the violoncello in mind inventions of a string(or ribbon) to set up the tune, and a sensitive key called "touche" to make expressions like articulations, dynamics, and so on.
It is also the important fruit for completion as a musical instrument that he realized a very acoustic idea on the speaker, which corresponded to a body of the acoustic musical instrument. He made not only normal types but also speakers which vibrate strings or a gong.

Maurice Martenot and sister Ginette
in Japan 1931
Ondes Martenot had already attracted people's attention as a musical instrument which kept incomparable possibility in itself.
In the season 1930-31, Maurice Martenot and his sister Ginette, one of the first ondes-player, visited the United States at the invitation of Leopold Stokowski. They enthusiastically welcomed at every concert in the States, including the one at Carnegie Hall. After that, by way of Hawaii, they came to Japan on February, 1931.

Maurice Martenot and Ginette(center)
While in Japan for a month, they had many opportunities to meet with japanese culture, especially, they were deeply impressed with Bunraku puppet show. Besides their impressive concerts to the public, they were invited to the Court of Japan. It is said that a princess got interested in this new musical instrument and played it.

Mrs. Reiko HONSYO,first Ondist of Japan
There is a steady increase in the number of people who study to play this instrument. Ginette Martenot had given the first performances of the important pieces by the energetic composers, like Messiaen, Jolivet, Milhaud, and Honegger. Of course, many people have found its fascination also in movies, chansons, and many genres.

Maurice Martenot had always continued developping his invention. For example, to carry easier, to play easier, and to expand its range of expression (an original keyboard that could play vibrato by vibrating player's finger added afterwards). But its only functional drastic change is the transistorized version presented in 1975. He had positively followed his personal policy that Ondes Martenot had to be an musical instrument that was played by human beings.

Today, taking over Messiaen's will, a plan making Ondes in Japan has started. Now we are in progress with analysing the genius of Maurice Martenot. There are technique and labor of the high-level artisan that even a newest digital technology can not overtake. No one can make even a replica by only analysing its electronic circuit simply.
I heard Maurice Martenot said that musical instrument itself is a work of art. A profound affection and appreciation for music had created this one and only art. Art is to find your own words.
(translated by Yasuhiko Goteau)
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