Martin - Clair de Lune


Frank Martin was a 20th Century Swiss composer whose life as a musician was relegated to a background role until early into his adult life.

As a child he enjoyed improvising and became fascinated with music on first hearing Bach's Sainbt Matthew Passion at the age of 12. Despite this keen interest in music his parents steered a course for him in mathematics and physics until later he studied music more formally and, for a time, working with the famous Émile Jaques-Dalcroze.

Pupil Match & Suitability

A delicate and haunting piece, this music requires careful control and assured technique to play at these very quiet levels with evenness of touch.

A certain level of musical maturity is needed to interest students and to sustain them through the learning of this piece. It is likely that a stumbling block will be the amount of chromaticism and the unappealing visual appearance of the score.

This is an introspective and fairly intense piece. Therefore it is likely to help if your student has the personality to empathize with the mood of the piece.

There are no real difficulties associated with stretches or chords which would effect this choice for a player with small hands - despite some RH octaves in the closing section.

Style & Tempo

It is fairly obvious, from the harmonic dissonances and moto perpetuo feel of the LH semiquavers, that this is 20th Century music with hints of dissonance yet an underlying tonal centre around C and finally of C major.

Phrasing & Articulation

With the exception of bars 17 – 19 (RH), the marking is legato throughout.

Staccato touch with slur indications usually suggests a gentle gong like sound, sustained in the pedal.

There are few phrasing indications to guide the performer. Even the overall level of dynamics has not been stipulated. This is good because it allows for a range of different dynamics, noting that the dolce at the opening suggests a larger dimension to the tone that in bar 17 where dolcissimo indicates a quieter mood.

Overall it should have a gentle quality, the poco forte, in bar 14, emerging sufficiently to brighten the moment from its surrounding quiet ambience, but little more.

Tone should be enough to allow for dropping, in stages to the final pp of the last bar.

Beauty of tone in the RH will account for a lot by way of getting the long lyrical lines across. Overly fussy phrasing should not come into play.

Tone & Texture

The effect of this piece hinges upon the capacity to create sensitive textures between the hands. An interpretation without reliance upon pedal is possible, although the musical result is then very different. Either way, the need to sustain a beautifully even and quiet LH semiquaver line will be the taxing factor here.

When using substantial amounts of pedal a very hushed tone is called for, but the effort required will yield a rewarding musical result, and one from which the RH cantabile can more readily emerge.


It is a mistake to only consider fast pieces as technically challenging !

The challenge here is to ensure a consistent and even level of tone, especially in the LH semiquaver flow.

Avoid a rigid arm and stiff fingers. Instead, go for a looser feel in the arm and fingers - one which controls the heaviness of the key more from the key surface than by tapping or executing a single finger action alone.


Choice of fingers, especially in the LH, is crucial here to the achievement of a reliable even and quiet tone.

In the openeing bars do not use 5 - 4 - 3, but experiment instead with 4 - 3 - 1 or 3 - 2 - 1. It will depend on the individual hand.

Extra care needs to be taken when working at bar 20 where the chromatic movement between hands is awkward.


Plenty of pedal is called for.

The hazy effect relies upon a good cover of pedal but also a good finger control in the LH so that the niggling chromatics figures are very subdued and that no notes stick out in the texture.

Work out where most pedal is needed and where rather more thought and more frequent changes may benefit.

Teaching Strategies

It may not be many student’s first choice, but it is always interesting to explore new music, especially if you can create a sense of something unique and meaningful. This is not just another piece. It is a world of meaning, of colour and emotion. This comes about as a consequence of the harmony and stillness of mood.

It is a very different Clair de Lune than that of Debussy, much less sentimental in its feeling, yet intense.

Why not explore the world of Clair de Lune ?

Where does the title come from ?

Can you get your students to make up their own story about Clair de Lune ?

Invoking the creative elements from within the student always helps to light a spark of motivation. Notes and timing are meaningless in a vacuum.

Practice Tips

Getting your head around the chromaticism is a real challenge. Work out good ways to remember what the notes are. This can often be accomplished by thinking about the visual clues and shapes of the note patterns. Don’t rely solely on reading work from the notation to remind you.

Think about the kind of movement needed to create the delicate and even LH sounds necessary. The harder you try to control the sound just with the fingers, the harder it will become to get the notes even. Be certain to read the advice in the technique section and understand that it will take to get used to the best way of achieving the sound quality you are after.

Remember, too, that you will find the benefits of practice accumulate quicker when you practise frequently in smaller bits than if you practice less frequently, but for longer periods of time.


Two aspects are likely to give rise to problems:

1/ keeping motivation up for learning the notes really thoroughly.

2/ achieving a consistent quiet level of tone.

Refer to suggestions on musical aspects in other sections for the former.

Playing quietly in a comfortable and confident way is something which will develop with practise, and especially is something which needs performance practice on a variety of different instruments, to really get used to adjusting when in performance.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will draw out many different colours. The mood will be hazy with a wash of pedal yet distinct RH melodic phrases and a sense of wistfulness.

A good performance will communicate the languid and distant qualities of mood but may not capture the detail of all the quieter nuances or always be as consistently controlled.

A secure performance will go some way to expressing the mood although may yet be limited in the range of colour brought to the textures.

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