Donald Martino

Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on May 16, 1931, Donald Martino began music lessons at nine–learning to play the clarinet, saxophone, and oboe. He started composing at 15. A graduate of Syracuse University, he studied composition with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt at Princeton and with Luigi Dallapiccola while on a Fulbright Scholarship in Florence. Although he cringed when labeled a “serial” or “12-tone” composer, Martino was an unabashed modernist who favored an atonal harmonic system and the rigorously determined compositional procedures of the serialists. Yet his music was often leavened with jazzy flavors that carried over from his experience playing in dance bands and by vivid internal dramatic conflicts. There were also demonstrations of wit and irony such as that in Das magische Kabarett des Doktor Schoenberg (Dr. Schoenberg’s Magic Cabaret), a chamber music movement in which he envisioned Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, “and maybe Egon Wellesz,” forced to play in a cabaret quartet for eternity–”the pit band in Hell.” Martino’s 12-tone settings of 16 pop tunes showed how that infernal soundtrack might have played out.

Martino, like many composers of his generation, held numerous university and conservatory positions, including such prestigious appointments as the Irving Fine Professorship at Brandeis University and the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professorship at Harvard. At NEC, he was appointed by President Gunther Schuller to head the composition faculty, and during his tenure here he wrote Notturno, the now classic chamber work for flutes, clarinets, violin/viola, cello, piano, and percussion. That piece won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize and has since been recorded numerous times.

Donald  Martino died on December 8, 2005, of a heart attack. His death came while cruising the Caribbean to Antigua, a vacation trip in which Martino continued to work happily on a new Concertino for Violin and 14 Instruments commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center.