At a glance

One of the very first electronic musical instruments, the Ondes Martenot appeared on the music scene in France in 1928. From that moment on, Maurice Martenot never stopped improving on his ground breaking invention, capturing the attention of contemporary composers. It has become the only electronic instrument in the classical tradition. Its repertoire includes solo pieces, chamber music, electronic music, concertos and many orchestral works into which the Ondes is integrated. Today, it is played all around the world and ondists are constantly commissioning new works. Olivier Messiæn, Darius Milhaud, André Jolivet, Giacinto Scelci, Tristan Murail, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Edgard Varèse, Toru Takemitsu, Gilles Tremblay, Claude Vivier, Walter Boudreau, Michel Gonneville, Serge Provost, Denis Gougeon, Bruce Mather, Jean Lesage, Jacques Hétu and Gilles Gobeil are only some of the composers who have written for the Ondes Martenot.

(Photo Estelle Lemire)

Like the flute or the violin, the Ondes Martenot is a monophonic instrument. Its range spans over seven octaves from the double bass register up to the piccolo’s. It can be played using either the keyboard or the “ring”. The keyboard is mobile, thus providing agility and vibrato expressiveness. The ring or “jeu à la bague”, sounds reminiscent of the human voice or string instruments. It provides all the possible variations and subtleties of the glissando, vibrato and intonation. The “dynamic control key” (la touche d’intensité) acts just like the bow of a cello or breath in a wind instrument. All forms of attacks or articulations combined with a wide range of nuances are then possible. The instrumental colors can be modulated by a series of timbres using a conventional speaker and different acoustic resonators: the “metallic” or the “gong”, the “springs” and the “palm”. Therefore, the Ondes Martenot allows the performer to have full control of its resources, making it possible to combine all musical parameters in real time. This makes the Ondes unique among all the electronic instruments.

Document Estelle Lemire