sideNotes: Frank Martin

50 years after his death, Geneva embarks on a musical odyssey to celebrate Frank Martin

In October 1944, Radio Geneva commissioned a choral work, to be performed and broadcast at the end of the war. The selected composer was Frank Martin, renowned as one of Switzerland’s most remarkable composers to this day. Reflecting on the commission, Martin shared his sentiments:  

“It was 1944, and the war continued; Mr René Dovaz, director of Radio Geneva, asked me to write a piece which would be broadcast immediately after the cessation of hostilities was proclaimed. Naturally, it could only be a religious work. I complied with his request gladly, but perhaps even more with anxiety; I was obliged to confront the images of war and peace and the expression of all the suffering and joy, but also the peoples’ emotions at the moment of that enormous relief, the flash of exhilaration that the wonderful news would unleash. Even more, it was utterly impossible to foresee the form that great event would take. Only one thing was certain; the hostilities would cease. So, in the summer of 1944, I was to evoke the overflowing joy of the longed-for moment amidst the anxiety for the future, the immeasurable sorrow, everywhere the ravages of the war”.

On 7 May 1945, In Terra Pax was premiered and broadcast by Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the night after Germany signed its unconditional surrender. This magnificent oratorio, one of Martin’s most recorded works, captures both the devastation of the war and the hope for renewal and peace.

This spring, against the backdrop of wars, unrest and polarisation dominating our daily news, the inclusion of In Terra Pax for the opening of “L´Odyssée Frank Martin” – a three-year concert series of rediscovery (2024-26) to remember the legacy of the Swiss master, 50 years after his death – lent poignancy to the series. The brainchild of the Geneva-born conductor Thierry Fischer and directed by Didier Schnorhk, this extraordinary musical journey will feature choral works, concertos, staged music and chamber music – the entire oeuvre of the composer. Most Geneva ensembles will include some of Martin’s music in their upcoming seasons, and the series will even have its own orchestra, the Orchestre Frank Martin, a high-calibre ensemble comprised of musicians from major orchestras in the Lake Geneva region.

The opening concert of the series highlighted the breadth of Martin’s work: from the simple beauty of a children’s song composed at age nine, to the intense lyricism and overwhelming emotions of In Terra Pax. It quickly became evident that this musical odyssey of exploration and discovery will be nothing short of extraordinary – a journey
to remember.

Florian Riem

To discover more about “L´Odyssée Frank Martin”, visit