Henri Marteau, born in France in 1874, was an internationally renowned violinist. He performed on major stages worldwide and taught in Geneva and Berlin, among other places.

Henri Marteau with his first Wife Agnes and Son Jean
Henri Marteau admired Johann Sebastian Bach so much that he named his first son after him. (Photo: Lacroix fils)
The Path to World Fame
Henri Marteau and his Mother Clara
Henri's musical talent was recognised and encouraged by his parents at an early age. (Photo: unknown)

Henri Marteau was born in Reims on March 31, 1874. Through his parental home he came into contact with music at an early age – his father Charles Marteau played the violin, his mother Clara, born in Dresden, was a talented pianist. Numerous musical events and evening parties at his parents’ house, as well as early contact with musicians, shaped his childhood. He received his first violin when he was only five years old.

Initially taught by the Swiss August Bünzli (1820-1901), he studied from 1881 in Paris with the famous violin pedagogue Hubert Léonard (1819-1890). The latter arranged the ten-year-old’s debut in front of an audience of 2,000 in Reims in 1884. Henri Marteau’s breakthrough for his world career came in 1887 in Vienna, where he delighted the press and public with the Violin Concerto by Max Bruch (1838-1920) in the presence of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). In 1891/92 he studied at the “Conservatoire National de Musique” in Paris, where he won the internationally important prize of the conservatory. Subsequently, his first two American tours in 1893 and 1894 brought him world fame and exorbitant fees for the time.

Personal Environment

In 1900 Henri Marteau married Agnes von Ernst (1878-1960). This marriage produced their son Johann Sebastian (Jean) Marteau (1903-1970). Also in 1900, he became a professor at the Geneva Conservatory, where he taught a master class for violin. Finally, in 1908, he succeeded Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) as professor of violin at the Royal Academy of Music in Berlin. Two years later Henri Marteau moved into a prestigious apartment in Berlin with his new partner Blanka (Blanche) Felicitas Hirsekorn (1887-1977). The wedding with Blanche in February 1910 was followed by their four children Raymonde (1910-2012), Marcelle (1911-1953), Blanche (1919-1964) and Eugen Henrik (1922-1942) until 1922.

In addition to his activities as a pedagogue and his family life, Henri Marteau’s acquaintance with numerous important musicians and composers was significant. Among them were, for example, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), Christian Sinding (1856-1941) and Max Reger (1873-1916), among whose most important patrons Marteau was.

Henri Marteau and his Wife Blanche
Henri Marteau and his second wife Blanche lived in a flat in Berlin from 1910. (Photo: Aura Hertwig)
Consequences of the First World War
Henri Marteau and Max Reger
Henri Marteau and Max Reger had a close friendship for many years. (Photo: unknown)

The First World War was a major turning point in Henri Marteau’s life. As a French reserve officer, he had to give up his professorship in Berlin at the beginning of the war. He was interned and, from February 1917, placed under house arrest at his home in Lichtenberg. After the war, he was unable to continue his previous glory days, either as a professor or as a concert artist.

After the end of the war Henri Marteau worked as a soloist, conductor and pedagogue mainly in Sweden. In 1920 he took Swedish citizenship. A Swedish diplomatic passport allowed him to move freely around the world. He also intensified his editing activities with well-known music publishers, continued to give private lessons, and composed.

In the summer of 1934 – just a few months after his 60th birthday – Henri Marteau fell seriously ill and died in Lichtenberg on October 4 of the same year.

Henri Marteau and his Wife Blanche
The prestigiously furnished villa provided an appropriate backdrop for the work of the internationally celebrated artist in the early 1920s. (Photo: Wilhelm Müller)