The project of the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) to set the Tristan saga to music in a fundamentally new form sixty years after Richard Wagner was idiosyncratic and thoroughly courageous. A different Tristan was created, whose genre designation as a secular oratorio seems like a clearly set compositional "counter-program" to Wagner's music drama. In contrast to the overpowering, music-dramatic model, Martin limited his score to solo voices, a vocal ensemble - whose part in this production is exceptionally taken over by the choir of the Frankfurt Opera - six solo string players and piano. Martin also differs from Wagner in his choice of model, referring not to Gottfried of Strasbourg but to Le Roman de Tristan et Iseut by the French medievalist Joseph Bédier from 1900. From this, the composer created an objectified narrative style in which the action is narrated and commented on by the vocal ensemble and individual protagonists, such as Tristan, Iseut or King Marc, emerge soloistically.
In 18 pictures with a prologue and an epilogue, Martin created the story of Tristan and Isolde from the crossing to Cornwall, where Isolde is to marry King Marc against her will, to the death of both. The work was premiered in concert in French at the Tonhalle Zurich on March 26, 1942, and its first staged presentation was in German at the Salzburg Festival on August 15, 1948. In Frankfurt, Martin's secular oratorio is only now in a new production after corona-related cancellation of the premiere in 2020