Ondes Martenot

Ondes Martenot. Electronic instrument invented by the Frenchman Maurice Martenot in 1928 and introduced to Canada in 1950 by Andrée Desautels, who invited to Montreal the inventor's sister Ginette Martenot to give a recital and demonstration on CBC radio.

Ondes Martenot

Ondes Martenot. Electronic instrument invented by the Frenchman Maurice Martenot in 1928 and introduced to Canada in 1950 by Andrée Desautels, who invited to Montreal the inventor's sister Ginette Martenot to give a recital and demonstration on CBC radio. The latter returned to Canada to tour 1958-9 for the JMC (YMC). The instrument is based on the physical phenomenon of beats occurring between two high-frequency waves. An audible frequency that consists of the difference between the two high-frequency waves is produced. The pitch of the instrument is controlled by means of a keyboard similar to that of a piano, or by a ribbon to which is attached a metal ring worn on the performer's middle finger. Movement of the ribbon to the right or the left produces a sliding upwards or downwards in pitch. The keyboard may be moved laterally as well, producing a vibrato effect. The sound may be barely audible if desired; the volume is controlled by a very sensitive key which also permits many effects, such as staccato.

The instrument was used for the first time in the theatre in Montreal when Andrée Desautels performed on it her incidental music for a 1954 production of Molière's Dom Juan at the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde. Desautels wrote an article about the instrument in Jmc (vol 3, Apr 1957). Jean Laurendeau, an ondist and clarinetist who graduated from the Paris Cons and the École normale, took part in four JMC tours 1965-9, performing works for ondes with piano and/or percussion. In 1970 he conducted an ondes Martenot class at the CMM, the first in North America. Laurendeau is the author of 'Un instrument au son électronique: l'onde Martenot,' (VM, no. 5-6, 1967), and also published Maurice Martenot, luthier de l'électronique in Montreal and Paris in 1990. Among other Canadians who have written on the subject, is Silvester Vicic whose MA thesis is entitled 'The Ondes Martenot: a survey of its use in selected French compositions 1928-1950' (University of Western Ontario 1984). In 1976 Laurendeau formed the Ensemble d'ondes de Montréal with ondists Suzanne Binet-Audet, Marie Bernard, Lucie Filteau, and Johanne Goyette. In addition to its appearances in Montreal, the group also performed in Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, New York (1981) and Amsterdam (1985). It premiered, among other works, Richard Boucher'sBegonia Rex (1977), José Evangelista'sCarrousel (1979), Walter Boudreau'sAmon-Râ (1980) and Michel Gonneville'sSolidaires (1982), and made recordings (see Discography for Laurendeau).

Other Canadian composers who have used the ondes Martenot in their works include Michel-Georges Brégent, Claude Champagne, François Dompierre, Gilles Gobeil, Denis Gougeon, Jacques Hétu, Alain Lalonde, Estelle Lemire, Jean Lesage, Michel Longtin, Lubomyr Melnyk, Clermont Pépin, Serge Provost, John Rea, Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux, Petros Shoujounian, Gilles Tremblay and Claude Vivier. Gabriel Charpentier, Jean-Marie Cloutier and Georges Savaria also have used the instrument in incidental music for the stage or as an accompaniment for dancing.


Further Reading

  • Gingras, Claude. 'Les 50 ans des ondes Martenot,' Montreal La Presse, 21 Apr 1979