Electronic Musical Instruments 1870-1990

Invention: The Ondes-Martenot
Inventor: Maurice Martenot
Year of Invention: 1928
Country of Origin: France
Brief description:
As a result of his meeting with Leon Termen, inventor of the Theremin cellist Maurice Martenot designed an amazing electronic instrument still used today.

Like the Theremin, the Ondes-Martenot used a vacuum tube oscillator and was monophonic. Later versions encorporated a standard keyboard, which separated it from the annoyingly non-fixed sliding scale of the Theremin.

Some versions of this instrument included a unique finger ring which eventually became a strip control used for glissando and vibrato. It also had expression controls, which enabled the modification of timbre and the produced sounds' "colour".

It was pretty widely accepted, and Martenot taught Ondes-Martenot lessons some twenty years after its invention. It is still used in some orchestras today, and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame has been using one recently, both on Kid A and related live shows (listen to The National Anthem or live versions of How To Disappear Completely.)
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The Ondes Martenot was invented by Maurice Martenot (1898-1980), professor at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and later director of the Ecole d'Art Martenot. Martenot, a cellist, manned a wireless station during WWII and became interested in the sounds made by radio tubes. He met Leon Termen, the inventor of the theremin, in 1923, and several years later produced the Ondes. It was the first keyboard-based electronic instrument, and rapidly became popular amongst experimental composers of the time, including Milhaud and Honegger. One of the early virtuosi of the Ondes was Martenot's sister, Ginette Martenot.

The Ondes combined great responsiveness to touch with distinctively eerie and ethereal electronic tones and worked well as a solo instrument, for example, in Marcel Landowski's chilling Jean de la peur. It was also used as part of an orchestra, as in Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie. Messiaen also composed an ensemble for eight Ondes featuring his wife Yvonne Loriod, another virtuoso Ondes player. There are still a few surviving instruments and a few modern players, Tristan Murail (who studied composition with Messiaen) being the most notable.

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