As early as 1890, at the age of 16, Henri Marteau composed his first work: a vocal piece with orchestral accompaniment. Thus, he did not only compose for his own instrument.

Plaster Cast of Henri Marteau's Hands
As was customary for famous people at the time, plaster casts of his hands were made after Marteau's death. (Photo: Frank Wunderatsch)
Bösendorfer Grand Piano
Marteau once composed many of his pieces on the grand piano in the "Master Room". (Photo: Frank Wunderatsch)
Henri Marteau's Works
Camille Saint-Saëns
Marteau met Saint-Saëns at the age of twelve and remained friends with him throughout his life. (Photo: Ignatz Julius)

In addition to works for violin, Henri Marteau also wrote compositions for orchestra, chamber music, piano and organ works, songs, and an opera. Henri Marteau’s oeuvre as a composer includes 45 works with opus numbers, as well as 15 works without opus numbers. In addition, there are numerous arrangements of classical violin works.

Stylistically, his works can be located between late romanticism and modernism. His compositions were also influenced by connections to numerous musicians of his time, such as Charles Gounod (1818-1893), Jules Massenet (1842-1912), Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), Christian Sinding (1856-1941) and Max Reger (1873-1916).

Contemporary Reception

During his lifetime, Marteau was not very successful with his compositions. He had no unified style, little originality, high technical difficulties – these are some of the shortcomings that critics of the time accused him of.

Very sweepingly, a critic in the Berliner Tageblatt of May 26, 1906, after hearing op. 10 by Marteau, judged:

“Good friends should advise the excellent violinist against composing. He has no skill for it.”

However, it was not all negative criticism. The Vogtländische Anzeiger published in January 1921 after three concerts with works by Marteau:

“If one surveys the abundance of compositions by the industrious musician that was offered in the two days, the string quartet and the violin concerto stand out as highlights. For me, there is no question that these are the highlights of Marteau’s work to date, and that with these two works he has given the world music that is entitled not only to dissemination and universal attention, but also to endurance.”

Henri Marteau and Tor Aulin
Marteau had a long-standing friendship with Tor Aulin. (Photo: A. Jonason)
Review Volume 1906-1908
Blanche Marteau kept numerous reviews of her husband's concerts and collected them in albums. (Photo: District of Upper Franconia)
Legacy as a Composer
Henri Marteau – Entdeckung eines Romantikers – Vol. 5
Henri Marteau's works are brought to new life. (Photo: unknown/CD: Bezirk Oberfranken/Solo Musica)

Unfortunately, Henri Marteau’s compositional work was largely forgotten after his death in 1934. To change this was a concern of Prof. Dr. Günther Weiß (1933-2007), the first artistic director of Haus Marteau since the early days of the International Music Centre. Already at the opening of the house in 1982, a first record was recorded by Musica Bavarica, which included op. 13 by Henri Marteau (Clarinet Quintet in C minor) as well as op. 130 by Max Reger (Ballet Suite). The friendship of the two artists was also commemorated in subsequent vinyl records.

Since 2016, the district of Upper Franconia, in cooperation with Solo Musica, has been releasing works by Marteau in the CD series “Henri Marteau – Discovery of a Romantic.” The CDs were recorded by various artists, including lecturers from Haus Marteau.

Regarding op. 20 by Marteau, Giselher Schubert wrote in the Orchestra 05/2019:

 “This is an enjoyable, buoyantly-impressively played composition that combines, as it were, ‘German’ compositional solidity with ‘French’ playfulness and elegance.”

Dirk Kruse (BR-Klassik, 30/10/2018) titled the Clarinet Quintet op. 13 “perhaps Marteau’s most beautiful composition” and “absolutely worth hearing.” On Henri Marteau, he judged overall: “This composer deserves to be heard and played.” This is exactly what the Bezirk Oberfranken would like to achieve: That Marteau’s works are heard and played again.