Drums fall silent for unlikely Marlboro Man

English composer Steve Martland has died suddenly at the tender age of 53. The cause of death is not reported, and it comes to me as a bit of a shock.

Martland first came to my attention in the early 1980s with his large orchestra piece Babi Yar. I had grown up listening to art rock and new wave music, and was then delving into modern classical and jazz, with Frank Zappa as the gateway drug of choice. Given my left political leanings and the cultural milieu in which I moved, I gravitated naturally toward this ultra-modern new music that somehow managed to combine popular tonality with Schönbergian serialism.

Martland was then a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed composer nestling under the wing of his mentor Louis Andriessen, the Dutch composer who founded the politically-oriented wind ensemble Orkest de Volharding. Andriessen was and is associated with a rhythmical and percussive style of music, very urban and edgy, which Martland subsequently took and made his own.

As time went on Martland’s music was not entirely to my taste, but I always had a positive regard for the music and its creator as an integral part of my musical education.

Martland was never at ease with the cultural establishment. This middle-class English geezer, for want of a better term, made a uniform out of shapeless white t-shirts, had a fondness for Marlboro cigarettes and Stella lager, and during his all too short life was slagged off by those who sniffed at the shameless exploitation of pop music instrumentation and marketing devices. Now that he is dead we can expect to see those same people claim Martland as a Great British Composer.

Artistic snobbery aside, Steve Martland was indeed a great composer, and he leaves behind a considerable musical legacy.

RIP Steve Martland (1959–2013).