Art Lange, from Fanfare 34:1 (September-October, 2010), Review of Martin's Selected Piano Music, with performances by Hilary Demske, Albany Records TROY1171.
In case you've not yet made his acquaintance (this recording is my introduction to his music), Henry Martin is currently a professor of composition, theory, and music history at Rutgers, has written scholarly studies on counterpoint, jazz, and Charlie Parker, composed for every conceivable classical format, and recorded two volumes of his own preludes and fugues for piano (Bridge); his teachers included David Del Tredici and Milton Babbitt. Several of the works on this disc were commissioned for academic conferences, competitions, and festivals, and yet if "academic" has come to be thought of as dry, dull, conventional, and pedantic, Martin's music doesn't fit the bill. From this small sample of his work, I'd characterize him as a craftsman, in the best possible sense, that is, according to Webster, "one who creates or performs with skill or dexterity." For example, the compact Inventions (1996–97), though based upon recognizably Bachian counterpoint, comport themselves through contrasting meters and a lithe harmonic disposition reminiscent of Hindemith or Reger into a diverse sequence of evocative moods. The Four Jazz Scenes (1980) are in the nature of Copland's Four Piano Blues, but exhibit their own brand of wit and style, such as the ornamented, swaying blues of "Blumen" and the tongue-in-cheek ragginess, with just a smidge of Gershwin, of "Bistro." Both Pippa's Song (1999) and the Sonata No. 4 (2000) draw inspiration from poetic texts and are eloquently melody-driven—the former brisk and playful, the latter formidable and fluent, with seamless transitions from one episode to another.
Hilary Demske has an impressive grasp of the varied textures and temperaments of Martin's music, whether it's idiosyncratic jazzy nuances, lucid contrapuntal logic, or the sonata's restless surge. A composer couldn't ask for more committed or convincing peformances.
Edward Reichel, Deseret News, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, Review of Martin's Selected Piano Music, with performances by Hilary Demske, Albany Records TROY1171.
Henry Martin is an American composer whose music is defined by the use of divergent styles. He deftly combines jazz, pop, and classical together, generally within classical forms, and the resulting mix is melodic and accessible.
The music Hilary Demske has chosen for her CD is demanding. It takes a pianist of rare technical finesse and musicality to make it work—and Demske, who teaches at Utah Valley University, is just such a performer.
She obviously relates to Martin's music. She plays these pieces as if they were written for her. She captures the intricacies and rhythmic variety of the scores wonderfully. Her playing is also very lyrical and effusively expressive.
Among the works on the album are several that stand out. In the Sonata No. 4, from 2000, one feels the spirit of Chopin within the realms of jazz. And Demske gives a finely crafted reading of this captivating piece that captures this duality wonderfully.
In the Inventiones from 1996–97, Martin tries to reinvent the J.S. Bach inventions and does so successfully. These seven pieces are more baroque than jazz, but they're infused with a hip attitude that makes them interesting and vibrant. Demske picks up on this and does a stellar job with them. Her account is lucid, articulate, and lyrical.
One of the most interesting works on the CD is the 1980 "Four Jazz Scenes," which sounds like a mix of progressive jazz and Milton Babbitt (who, incidentally, was one of Martin's teachers). It's sophisticated music, and Demske plays it with passion.
Karen Rice, Beyond Third Stream: Henry Martin's Preludes and Fugues for Solo Piano, D.M.A. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2009.
Taken as a set, the musical language is a deft synthesis of the textures and moods of the nineteenth-century Romantics, the bitonality and free-floating sonorities of the Impressionists, the quartal and crunch voicings of Bill Evans, the "Americana" of Aaron Copland, and the atonality of Shostakovich and even Schoenberg. Jazz and pop elements are noticeable but are perhaps not the overridingly apparent aspects of the whole group. Rather, Martin abstracts these jazz and pop features in much the same way as Picasso depicts a bowl of fruit or a nude reclining: as aural or visual elements that are cubistically reconfigured. Martin is no more a composer of jazz fugues than Picasso is a painter of portraits. The Preludes and Fugues go beyond Third Stream (94-5).
But perhaps Martin's greatest achievement in this work is the sense of unity that somehow emerges from the amalgam of stylistic influences. Each prelude and fugue is much more seamless than sectional, and the noted variety of influences, far from detracting, greatly enhances the total effect of the work. Amazingly, despite the diversity within the entire set, Martin's own compositional voice is always present, authentic and daring (149).
Henry Martin's compositional gaze backwards is relevant to present-day audiences because of his success in synthesizing multitudinous stylistic influences. He reminds us of the seemingly endless value of the music of J. S. Bach, while simultaneously entertaining and stimulating auditors with his imaginative compositional dexterity. With Martin's Preludes and Fugues, an eighteenth-century magnum opus has become the basis for a major and novel contribution to the solo piano repertoire of the twenty-first century. While the Third Stream aesthetic contributed to Martin's musical outlook and Gunther Schuller, who coined the term "Third Stream," helped disseminate the Preludes and Fugues, Martin's set goes beyond anything yet produced under the Third Stream rubric. The Preludes and Fugues consolidate almost three hundred years of music history yet radiate freshness (149).
Geoffrey Kiorpes, Henry Martin: The Composer, His Music, and In His Own Words..., D.M.A. dissertation, Manhattan School of Music, 2007.
Again, earlier styles of music are easily recognized within [Fuga I]: Impressionism, Romanticism, jazz, and New Age. But Martin is in complete control of these elements, never allowing any characteristic of a particular genre to overshadow the composition as a whole. All the elements come together to form a perfect and complete whole, without sacrifice or artifice (77).
The analysis of the Prelude and Fugue... revealed the workings of a composer as accomplished and educated as any: in this piece, the machinery is subordinate to the music (78).
Michael Barone (of Minnesota Public Radio), Rutgers Magazine, vol. 86, no. 2 (spring, 2006): 42-43.
We get shades of Debussy's impressionism, the vibrant jazzy riffs of Art Tatum, the spacey harmonies of John Coltrane, and the sophisticated improvisations of Bill Evans. What a stew, but Martin's own individual genius shines brightly.
The New York Times
Henry Martin - Mannes College composer, pianist, teacher, jazz scholar - was wearing all his hats at his engaging recital there on Friday evening. He started well, with a cheering ragtime piece by Artie Matthews, "Pastime Rag No. 3." As he pointed out, ragtime is generally thought of as baby jazz, but just as important, socially and musically, were the connections with European high and popular culture. Ragtime was the first, innocent crossover commodity, and crossing over was where Mr. Martin wanted to be. After Gershwin and Bix Beiderbecke, he concluded the first part of his program with Carleton Gamer's "Piano Raga Music," which spends a little while hesitating between the worlds of its two dedicatees, Ravi Shankar and Milton Babbitt, before plunging into an immense, flamboyant mix.
Pianist Performs Broad Range of Works
LOGAN SKELTON, PIANO, Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
It's been tradition for years now to have several of the judges at the Gina Bachauer competition presented in recital the week prior to the start of the competition. On Tuesday, it was pianist Logan Skelton's turn to perform. For his recital in the Assembly Hall, he played a program of 20th century music that was eclectic in the sense that it offered the audience a broad range of works written within the past century and which showed the infinite variety of contemporary music.
In addition to works by Bela Bartok, Federico Mompou, William Bolcom and Sergei Prokofiev, the recital also featured the premiere of Henry Martin's "At Midnight's Hour." Martin's work was a Barlow Endowment commission of a few years back. The title is from a poem by Henry David Thoreau and intended to evoke a specific atmosphere. "At Midnight's Hour" is a lushly romantic and tonal work. In its harmonic and thematic language it's reminiscent of early Scriabin, while its kinetic energy and restlessness calls to mind Prokofiev's piano music. The two elements are skillfully combined and the work is quite expressive in content. Skelton played the piece fabulously, wending his way deftly through the score's complex textures and rhythms.
April 30, 2004 Splendidmagazine.com
Reviewed by Christian Carey
Skeptics have been counting fugal writing out for centuries; even J.S. Bach was thought of as a hopelessly old-fashioned composer during his lifetime for writing in such a relentlessly contrapuntal style. Time and again, the fugue has come back strong, even in the works of Twentieth century composers such as Bartok and Hindemith.
Composer Henry Martin, a Rutgers University professor and pianist, makes a case for the fugue's continued relevance in the Twenty-first century with this persuasive collection of his own fugues. Martin's writing can,in many ways, be compared to that of Paul Hindemith in his own mammoth collection of fugues, Ludus Tonalis. Both composers use tonal centers as strong reference points, but feel free to engage in rather chromatic flights of fantasy during often-digressive journeys away from tonic and back again. This is particularly true of Martin's prelude and fugue in F#-minor, with its rollicking bass motive and dizzying counter-subject. Other pieces adopt a kind of Coplandesque "Americana" sound, like the pastoral fugue in G Major.
Martin is heavily involved, both as scholar and performer, in the world of jazz. As such, it is no surprise that some of the album's strongest fugues retain elements of jazz style. The "Praeludium et Fuga XIII in G-flat Major (Slow Drag)" is the most blatantly jazzy of these; Martin plays this contrapuntal rag with aplomb.
New American Piano Music
(In German) 02. Mai 2005 | Ruhr Nachrichten Dortmund
Variationen einer Kvnigsform
Seit f|nf Jahrhunderten gibt es Fugen, und die Komponisten aller Epochen hat diese strenge, handwerkliche Kvnigsform herausgefordert. Der amerikanische Pianist David Andruss - dem Publikum noch gut bekannt aus dem "Ring des Beethoven" - hat ein spannendes Programm ausschlie_lich mit Praeludien und Fugen von Bach bis zur Moderne zusammengestellt. In dem von den RN prdsentierten "Hvrder Konzert" zeigte der 36-Jdhrige in der Bezirksverwaltungsstelle, wie sehr sich Schostakowitsch und Ravel an Bach orientiert haben und was f|r ein stilistisch vielseitiger und kluger Interpret er ist. Ein Analytiker mit viel Fingerspitzengef|hl f|r den schvnen Anschlag und Sinn f|r musikalische Ausdruckszusammenhdnge ist Andruss. Die drei Fugen aus dem 2. Teil von Bachs "Wohltemperierten Klavier" legte er schnell, klar und transparent in Klang und Rhythmik an. Wie kunstvoll Bach die Fuge, deren Thema er aus den Buchstaben seines Nachnamens gebildet hat, mit Trillern und Spielwerk umgeben hat, zeigte Andruss in seiner geschmackvoll phrasierten Interpretation. Ein Prdzisionsmeister ist der Amerikaner, ein Pianist, der Ornamentik in schnellen Tempi zierlich entfaltet und kraftvoll zupacken kann. Gut 200 Jahre nach Bach hat sich Schostakowitsch von den Fugen des Barockmeisters inspirieren lassen. Andruss verband wunderbar den barocken Charakter der Werke mit den ausschweifenden, k|hneren Epilogen und machte die drei Fugen aus op. 87 mit viel Ausdruck zu kleinen, traurigen oder wilden Charakterst|cken. Weiter fortgef|hrt hat Ravel das in seinem "Grabmal f|r Couperin" mit einer anmutigen Fuge, aus der Andruss franzvsischen Charme und Eleganz klingen lie_. Der Amerikaner Henry Martin ist ein Wandler zwischen all diesen Stilen. Er hat Andruss beauftragt, alle Erstauff|hrungen seiner Werke in Europa zu spielen - am Sonntag zwei Priludes und Fugen. Komplexe Werke sind diese Kompositionen aus dem Jahr 1991, zum Teil versonnene R|ckblicke auf eine Gattung, die Martin auffrischt mit Ragtime-Rhythmen und impressionistischen, dichten Kldngen. Bei David Andruss sind diese Werke in den besten Hdnden, weil der Amerikaner ein so stilsicherer und wandlungsfdhriger Interpret ist. - JG
Sara Davis Buechner, Bearding Bach, Piano & Keyboard, March/April 1999, 28-33
Henry Martin's remarkable Preludes and Fugues for piano solo [is] a large and important work, and as strong in its American assertiveness and ingenuity as any ever written. It might be added that it is a work as unashamed of its roots in Germanic contrapuntal tradition as its expression through that most unmistakable of American urban idioms, the language of jazz (28).
I could sense the minute attention to craft, one of those qualities that, for me, separates great and enduring music from music with only temporal appeal. It can be argued whether a work of art moves you or not—a healthy discussion of one's emotional response to art is part of the process—but even if a good composition is rendered badly, its worth will be obvious with the passage of time and examination. Henry Martin's music will stand up (28-9).
The pianist also will enjoy the immense wit that Martin brings to this oeuvre, which expresses itself in playful rhythms, complex finger-twisting (some of these works, such as the Fugue XII in F-minor, push piano technique to its very limit), and ironic harmonic surprise (32).
What most impresses me about this marvelous collection of pieces is its courage. It takes great personal integrity to create music that is honest, original, with both bravura and heart. . . . Despite the often backbreaking digital and harmonic demands made on the player, these Preludes and Fugues are music of speech and song, accessible to the listener, yet intriguing to the mind and spirit. It is logical music, by which I mean it unfolds in a way that leaves you knowing it could not have been done otherwise (33).
(from) The Times Herald Record
"Shadows of the Moon" by Henry Martin is a tone poem for solo violin and orchestra. Violinist Carole Cowan was the soloists and gave a brillia\ nt performance of this interesting piece. The sonorities called for an orchestra with full percussion section, string, brass and wind instruments plus the less usual addition \ of contrabassoon, bass clarinet, English horn and harp.
(from) The Oregonian
Opening the program with Henry
Martin's "Preludes and Fugues" (1990-91), Buechner immediately
unleashed a stunning barrage of 16th note chordal\
phrases played at breakneck speed.
(from) New York Newsday
The Program opened with three preludes and fugues by Henry Martin. At times languid and jazzy, placid and spiky, they were effective and well \ received.
The Washington Post
Henry Martin: Preludes and Fugues. These 24 short piano pieces are a wholehearted tribute to Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier," but under the ancient forms their spirit is distinctly modern with traces of bebop, tango, stride piano, etc., popping up unexpectedly. David Buechner's performance brings out all the music's considerable attractions.
Martin: Preludes and Fugues
Among the composers inspired to
create homages to Bach's monumental The Well Tempered Clavier, a
collection of preludes and fugues in all key s\
ignatures, were Chopin, Shostakovich, and Castelnuevo-Tedesco (for the
guitar). Now comes composer/pianist Henry Martin, who studied with
Milton Babbitt but specialized in ton\
al composition and jazz. The jazzy flavor of many of Martin's
preludes and fugues might be expected from a musicologist whose latest
book is Charlie Parker and Thematic Improv\
isation (Rutgers University and the Scarecrow Press). One critic
described Martin's music as "Bach meets Jelly Roll Morton." Some of
the pieces here are straight homages to B\
ach's models, some are inspired by Chopin, and the
contrapuntal/rhythmic intricacy of others reminds me of Conlon
Nancarrow's superhuman exercises for piano rolls. Scott Jopli\
n's spirit is not a stranger to certain pieces, and other
references-from Beethoven to Schumann-will be heard. And unlike
Bach's original preludes and fugues, these are not al\
l single-line progression; many explode in passages of octaves and big
David Buechner was the first to hear Martin's first group of Preludes and Fugues soon after their composition in 1990, and immediately decided he wanted to play. Henry Martin obliged by composing a second group in 1991/2 and dedicated them to Buechner. Henry Martin is a composer and music-theorist of some repute and specializes in jazz and Western tonal traditions. He has written quite a number of works along with books, and articles in leading jazz and theory journals.
Henry Martin's notes allude to Bartok, Scott Joplin and Ray Noble, and his gift for percussive writing is often stunning but never eccentric or harmonically awkward. I do not think this is the greatest piano music I've heard from the USA, but I would balso be the last to deny Mr. Martin his emphatic, sparkling, and tumultuous ideas, his style and sheer panache. In David Buechner he has found a pianist of exceptional merit (Buechner's five CDs for Connoisseur Society represent some of the finest recordings we have heard drom the USA in recent years), a musician of evident integrity, with an all-encompassing technique and a natural sense of the composer's propulsive style. Add to this a fine and full sound, immediate and full-toned.
Preludes and Fugues for piano:
The Boston Globe
By Antony Tommasini
Oldfather played three of Henry Martin's recent Preludes and Fugues for solo piano. Martin's style mixes elements of intensely chromatic contemporary harmony with subtle elements of jazz. There are moody blues preludes, toccata-like preludes, perpetual motion, finger-twisting fugues and eruptive episodes of chords and octaves. It was impossible not to be impressed by his [Oldfather's] conquering of the work's staggering difficulties.
Four Jazz Scenes for piano:
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By Nancy Malitz
Weinstock also did delightful work in Henry Martin's Four Jazz Scenes, which received a world premiere at this concert. Martin is an imaginative composer with a well developed contemporary language and a taste for the smoky colors of American jazz. His music is very virtuosic, and plenty complex, but to the listener it is always straightforward and often fascinating. The first movement, "Bopper," is an especially fine showpiece for both composer and performer. I look forward to hearing it again.
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat
By James Wierzbicki
From time to time the audience heard the work of a composer, usually of the younger generation, who dipped into the vast treasury of American folk music and emerged with something as fresh as it was substantial - Henry Martin's Four Jazz Scenes for piano is well worth hearing again, for example.
Perspectives of New Music
By Daniel Warner
Musical performances throughout the festival were excellent, nowhere more apparent than in the faculty concert presented on the festival's opening day. Most memorable was Henry Martin's Four Jazz Scenes, lovingly recrafted by Frank Weinstock, convincing of and highly sensitive to its synthesis of the jazz and non-tonal worlds, and jazz world filtered, as it were, through the non-tonal.
Piano Sonata No. 2:
The New York Times
The Sonata demands a considerable amount of concentration from the listener, but there are ample rewards. The piano writing is in the grand virtuoso tradition, the textures are consistently engrossing and the musical argument proceeds with taut logic.