19 Jun 2013
Steve Martland 1959-2013 
Steve Martland 1959-2013

In celebration of the life of Steve Martland who sadly passed away on 6 May 2013 we present a full transcript of the Factory Classical promotional sheet for Steve which contains a mini-biography, a short piece by long-time collaborator Stevan Keane, Martland's own musings on Wolfgang and "The Critics" (plus a resumé of his output for the Factory Classical label).

Steve Martland

Steve Martland studied composition with Louis Andriessen in Holland and Gunter Schulier in the United States. His refusal to conform to the received stereotype of what a composer should be, and Martland's inclination to regard cameras as an invitation to strip, have raised more than eyebrows among classical critics. Similarly, his strong political views and outspoken criticisms of the British musical establishment hove made him a controversial figure.

Rejecting classical institutions (Martland has described the symphony orchestra as a mausoleum), he has chosen to work with such diverse artists as the post-punk band Test Department; the British jazz orchestra Loose Tubes; the Dutch street orchestra do Voiharding; the experimental Maarten Altena Ensemble and the ex-Communards singer Sarah Jane Morris, for whom Martland wrote the song cycle Glad Day. (Glad Day is available on CD single format by Factory Classical, Facd 306).

Drill, a work featured with Babi Yar on Martland's first recording for Factory Records (Facd 266), was choreographed by Graeme Murphy for the dance work Soft Bruising. It received its premiere at the Sydney Opera House. True Colour, an evening of dance and computer graphic art choreographed to Martland's music, toured Holland to great acclaim. His Re-mix won an international award after being choreographed by Aletta Collins for the BBC Dance House series. it follows the success of the Channel 4 commission Cult, a dance video filmed at Manchester's Hacienda club and screened In September last year. Other television projects have included the BBC commissioned Albion which, directed by Peter West, is a sustained attack on the cultural and social legacy of Thatcherism. Like Glad Day, and the video theatre work Terra Firma, Albion was the result of a collaboration with the writer Stevan Keane.

Steve Martland is a body builder.

Crossing The Border

The first recording of Martland's astonishing new composition for twenty-six strings, Crossing The Border was premiered on October 10th 1991 by the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra In Gdansk, conducted by the composer.This album includes four other Martland compositions made available for the first time; Principia, American Invention, Re-mix and Shoulder To Shoulder.

The use of procedures found in earlier music, for example, the Baroque orchestration principle of instrumental families remaining in fixed groups, the medieval feature of repetition of melodic and rhythmic material, the locket techniques, the canonic and strict contrapuntal writing, the playing 'on' tonality, the rhythmic drive, and a preference for instruments and an attitude to performance outside the classical tradition, are all features common to the music on this recording. Anti-romanticism in concert with a self-conscious rejection of traditional classical ensembles is at the heart of the composer's musical/political stance.

Popular forms of music certaInly have an influence on his work. Witness the simple verse chorus structure of Principia. Without imitating — and thereby eviscerating — jazz Itself, jazz (and pop) instruments are used simply for their sound quality. This music demands hair-raising rhythmic accuracy, the capacity to count irregular meters, the ability to play in unison, and, not least, the stamina to sustain an almost constant loud dynamic. It Is therefore no accident that Re-mix, Principia and Shoulder To Shoulder were originally written for radical Dutch ensembles. That these ensembles prefer to perform in venues other than concert halls is in keeping with the composer's own desire to extend the audience beyond a privileged elite.

Compositionally the string orchestra piece Crossing The Border is a response to the Chaconne In D Minor for Solo Violin by Bach, one feature of which is a constant acceleration of rhythmic activity over a steady pulse. The title Crossing The Border, however, reflects a preoccupation with the social function of the artist. For Steve Martland, all stages of composition— production, reproduction and consumption—are as political as they are inextricably entwined. His ideal: to make the world a better place.

© Stevan Keane, London, February 1992.


The Steve Martland Band perform Mozart's Serenade in C Minor K388, Serenade in E-fIat Major K375, and Martland's distinctive arrangements of six arias from Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, and The Marriage of Figaro. in the 18th century life for a jobbing musician was as financially viable as it is now. To supplement their lamentable incomes, orchestral players would often form 'Harmonie' (wind) bands. Like human juke boxes, they'd perform operatic hits outside taverns and at court dinners. With arrangements by contemporaries of Mozart, such as Joseph Tribensee and Johann Wendt, they played some of the best music ever written to an audience that would otherwise never have heard it.

Wolfgang is my attempt to do the same thing, but having looked at Tribensee and Wendt's adaptations I realised they now had nothing to offer. Wind players I spoke to agreed so I made my own arrangements of six arias from three Mozart operas. In the circumstances it seemed irrelevant to be faithful to the original instrumentation. Consequently, each aria employs a different combination of eight instruments Including cor anglals, bass clarinet and soprano saxophone.

I hadn't actually heard half the numbers so I made piano reductions of the full scores and then re-scored the material for the band. Simple string parts found themselves becoming fiendishly difficult bass clarinet parts and the original vocal parts were often split between several instruments. The stratospherically high horn parts in the first aria of the recording — La ci darem la mano — would have been unheard of in Mozart's day. But all in all, with not a single note changed or excluded, the Mozart style is maintained.

Steve Martland. London, February 1992

The critics

'He looks like a construction worker—but isn't. He could be a nightclub bruiser, until you speak to him. He might be in a band named Incendiary Devices or Waspish Malefactors, yet he's not. Martland is a classical composer.'

A girl having a sexual fantasy

'Martland has become champion for a new generation of composers out to change the classical world.' The Scotsman

'A major talent.' The Guardian

The catalogue...

'The coupling of works by Martland for orchestra and for two pianos must be one of the strongest New Music records of the decades'

The Independent (on Babi Yar/Drill)

'... the most exciting two piano work since Messiaen's Vision de L'Amen.'

Q magazine on Drill

'One of the most gripping works the post- minimalist aesthetic has produced.'

New York Village Voice on Drill

'Someone should Drill a large hole and bury Steve Martland and his so-called music now to save posterity the troubl& Letter to Classic CD


Babi Yar/Drill; A Factory Classical Album, Compact Disc and Cassette; Fact 266, Facd 266 and Fact 266c. Glad Day: A Factory CIasscal Compact Disc Single; Facd 306.

Crossing The Border

A Factory Classical Compact Disc and Cassette; Facd 366 and Fact 366c.

Wolfgang: A Factory Classical compact Disc and Cassette; Facd 406 and Fact 406c.


With thanks to Mark @ The Record Peddler for the Martland info sheet

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