Composers Datebook®

Henry Martin's '48'

Composers Datebook - Feb. 23, 2024


Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is a collection of 48 preludes and fugues for solo keyboard in two sets, each covering all 24 major and minor keys. This music has become a bible for pianists, as well as a challenge for subsequent composers to try to imitate. In the early 1990s, American composer and pianist Henry Martin tossed his hat into the ring with the completion of his first set of 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, and soon after published a second set of 24.

On today’s date in 1992, at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., pianist Sara Davis Buechner performed three of Martin’s Preludes and Fugues for broadcast on NPR and later made recordings of all of Martin’s “48.”

One enthusiastic reviewer of those recordings, Michael Barone, host of American Public Media’s Pipedreams organ program, wrote of Martin’s music, “We get shades of Debussy's impressionism, the vibrant jazzy riffs of Art Tatum, the spacey harmonies of John Coltrane, and the sophisticated improvisations of Bill Evans … but Martin's own individual genius shines brightly.”

Barone’s enthusiasm resulted in his commissioning Martin to compose another set of 24 preludes and fugues — this time for organ! We think Bach would have approved.

Music Played in Today's Program

Henry Martin (b. 1950): Prelude & Fugue No. 1; (Ken Cowan, organ) Pipedreams 1004

On This Day


  • 1648 - (or possibly 1649) Baptismal date of English composer and organist John Blow, in Newark, Nottinghamshire;

  • 1685 - German-born British composer George Frideric Handel, as "Georg Friedrich Händel," in Halle (Saxony);

  • 1900 - American composer Elinor Remick Warren, in Los Angeles;

  • 1920 - American composer Hall Overton, in Bangor, Michigan;


  • 1704 - Austrian composer and organist Georg Muffat, age 50, in Passau, Germany;

  • 1934 - English composer Sir Edward Elgar, age 76, in Worcester;

  • 1983 - English composer Henry Howells, age 90, in London;


  • 1732 - Handel: oratorio “Esther” in London at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, by an ensemble including the Children of the Chapel Royal, on the occasion (in England) of Handel’s 47th birthday (Gregorian date: Mar. 5);

  • 1835 - Halévy: opera "La Juive" (The Jewess), at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1854 - Liszt: symphonic poem, "Les Préludes," in Weimar, conducted by the composer;

  • 1882 - Chadwick: Symphony No. 1, by the Boston Symphony;

  • 1903 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Preludes Nos. 1, 2, and 5, from Op. 23 and “Variations on a Theme of Chopin,” Op. 22, in Moscow, by the composer (Julian date: Feb. 10);

  • 1913 - Schoenberg: "Gurre-Lieder," in Vienna;

  • 1916 - Griffes: "White Peacock" for piano, by Winifred Christie in New York City;

  • 1923 - Ernest Schelling: "A Victory Ball," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1945 - Villa-Lobos: Choros No. 12 for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony with the composer conducting;

  • 1956 - Leon Kirchner: Piano Concerto No. 1, in New York City, composer at the piano;

  • 1962 - Stravinsky: "A Sermon, A Narrative and A Prayer," in Basle (Switzerland), conducted by Paul Sacher (to whom the work is dedicated).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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