l’Odyssée Frank martin


Ein Totentanz zu Basel

Saturday 22 June 2024 8.30 PM

On the occasion of the Geneva Music Festival, The Geneva Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Arie van Beek, will be joined by the Knabenkantorei to celebrate Frank Martin. Together, they will perform the music from the ballet Ein Totentanz zu Basel, a significant work that faded into obscurity after its premiere in 1943.


FRANK MARTIN, String Quartet

IGOR STRAVINSKY, Three pieces for String Quartet

FRANK MARTIN, Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943

Performance running time : 60 minutes

Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943 (A Dance of Death in Basel in 1943) is a piece of ballet music composed by Frank Martin for boys’ choir, string orchestra, jazz ensemble and Basel drums. Inspired by the sight of German soldiers on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, the idea for this work originated from Martin’s niece, the dancer and choreographer Mariette von Meyenburg.

Set against the backdrop of the horrors of war and anonymous mass extermination, this composition delves into the existential question of our mortality as individuals. Employing archetypal figures such as ‘the old man’, ‘the child’ and ‘the young woman’, it deliberately avoids contemporary or political references. For Frank Martin, the figure of death serves as a compassionate and empathetic mediator between two worlds: our own, symbolized by jazz and percussion, and the Kingdom of the Dead, evoked by a string orchestra and a boys’ choir.

This piece belongs to a longstanding tradition of dances of death that have captivated the European imagination since the fourteenth century, with contributions from artists such as Hans Holbein, Albrecht Dürer, Camille Saint-Saëns, Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Honegger.

As the site of the iconic Basel Dance of Death, one of the most renowned pictorial representations of this tradition, Basel Cathedral Square proved the perfect setting for the creation of Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943.

Despite its significance, this piece of music faded into obscurity for decades.

As part of the Geneva Music Festival, The Geneva Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Arie van Beek, will bring it to life once more in the majestic setting of the Palais de Justice courtyard, in a spectacular new rendition featuring the Knabenkantorei.

Free admission upon reservation

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Comprising 37 passionate and virtuosic musicians, the Geneva Chamber Orchestra is dedicated to providing audiences with a diverse and emotionally rich programme. Renowned for its unwavering energy and innovative spirit, the orchestra regularly participates in festivals and artistic events, both locally in the Lake Geneva region and on the international stage, with recent tours taking them to China and the Middle East. Acclaimed by critics and the media alike, their performances are broadcast regionally and nationally by Léman Bleu and RTS, and internationally by Arte and TV5 Monde.

Each year, the orchestra collaborates with esteemed artists such as Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Gautier Capuçon, Sonya Yoncheva, Maxim Vengerov, Natalie Dessay, and Nemanja Radulović, as well as guest conductors including Gábor Takács-Nagy, Pierre Bleuse, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Thierry Fischer, and Gergely Madaras. The Dutch conductor Arie van Beek served as the orchestra’s artistic and musical director from 2013 to 2022.

Founded in 1992, the orchestra now performs nearly 50 concerts annually. Its repertoire, spanning the Baroque period to the twenty-first century, reflects its boundless curiosity and versatility across different musical eras and styles, with a particular focus on Classical composers such as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, for which it boasts an ideally suited ‘Mannheim’ line-up.

Guided by strong humanitarian values, the orchestra is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of music lovers through educational initiatives and inclusive concerts. Committed to making music accessible to all, it collaborates with regional social organisations such as the Association pour le Bien des Aveugles et malvoyants, Fondation Village Aigues-Vertes for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and the Partage food bank.

Advocating for a collaborative cultural landscape, the Geneva Chamber Orchestra engages with a diverse array of players and institutions, ranging from jazz to opera, including the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Opéra de Lausanne, AMR, Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève, Contrechamps, Conservatoire populaire de musique, danse et théâtre, Concours de Genève, and Eklekto.

Supported by the Canton of Geneva, the City of Geneva and various sponsors, institutions and private donors who share its passion for excellence, commitment, and innovation, the Geneva Chamber Orchestra looks forward to a promising future under the artistic and musical direction of Raphaël Merlin, beginning in the 2023-2024 season.



Born in Rotterdam, Arie van Beek worked as a percussionnist before he turned to conducting. From 1994 to 2010 he was the chief conductor of the Orchestre National d’Auvergne, from 2011 to 2022 chief conductor of the Orchestre de Picardie and from 2013 to 2022 chief conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Genève. He also was, from the age of 19 and during 48 years, conductor, teacher and concert programmer at Codarts – Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Rotterdam. He is permanent conductor of the Doelen Ensemble in Rotterdam and guest with various symphony orchestras throughout Europe, conducting a wide repertory starting from the baroque time through music of living composers. Arie van Beek is Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic. He has also been awarded the Médaille of the City of Clermont-Ferrand as well as the Elly Ameling-Prize in regognition for his contribution to the artistic accomplishment of the City of Rotterdam. He has also been awarded the Erasmus Prize of the city of Rotterdam.

Knabenkantorei Basel


The Knabenkantorei Basel stands as a true musical ambassador not only for the Basel region but for the entirety of Switzerland. Comprising approximately 40 boys’ voices and 35 men’s voices from across north-western Switzerland and neighbouring countries, this concert choir rehearses twice a week on Basel’s Cathedral Hill. Their performances range from orchestral concerts and opera productions at the Basel Theatre, to radio and TV recordings and religious services of various denominations, as well as tours throughout Switzerland and abroad.


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