Sal Martirano and the Sal-Mar Construction

About Salvatore Martirano

The Salvatore Martirano Memorial Composition Award is an international composers’ competition held annually in memory of Mr. Martirano who was a faculty member at the University of Illinois from 1963 to 1995.

The award which was established in 1966 consists of a first prize of $1000 and a second prize of $500 plus performances of the winning compositions by the University of Illinois Modern Ensemble at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Zack Browning who is an Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois directs the competition.

Salvatore Giovanni Martirano, internationally acclaimed American composer, was born on January 12th, 1927 in Yonkers, NY, a son of Alexander and Mary Mazzullo Martirano. He died at the age of 68 on Friday, November 17th, 1995. Professor Martirano studied composition with Herbert Elwell at Oberlin College (1947-51), Bernard Rodgers at The Eastman School of Music (1952), and with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, Italy (1952-4). From 1956 to 1959 he was in Rome as a Fellow of the American Academy, and in 1960 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. At this time he had works commissioned by the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations. He was professor of composition at the University of Illinois from 1963 until his retirement in 1995. During the Illinois years he also accepted residencies at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Sydney in 1979, IRCAM in Paris in 1982, and The California Institute of the Arts in 1993.

Martirano was among the very first composers to use and invent new computer technology for composition. He created two electronic music systems, the first being the Sal-Mar Construction and later the YahaSALmaMac. The Sal-Mar Construction was called “the world’s first composing machine" by the Science Digest and Composers’. Forum President Joel Chadabe noted that “The Sal-Mar Construction is a historically important musical event and a stunning and classical display of individual American invention. It must be seen and heard!” Martirano toured the world with the performing/composing music machines and described his live performances in the following manner: “The composer, in performance, interacts with the machine as it composes, creating spontaneously four melodic lines which move throughout the concert space via a network of 24 overhead speakers.”

Martirano’s most famous piece is “L’s G.A.” (1967) for gassed-masked politico, helium bomb, 3-16 mm movie projectors and 2 channel tape recorder. The work features a narrator wearing an amplified gas mask who recites a modified version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The narrator inhales a mixture of nitrous oxide and helium to raise the pitch and emotional intensity of the voice to the accompaniment of taped sounds and film projections by Ron Nameth. “L’s. G.A” has been referred to as “the quintessential anti-war piece,” and “The Eroika of mixed media.” The Village Voice called the piece “terrifying, clear, and a mixed-media classic” and the LA Times has labeled it “a famous 1960s psychedelic mixed-media collaboration.”

Martirano’s orchestral and choral compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra, and by radio orchestras and choral ensembles throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

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