This Saxophone Quartet combines many of the traditional formal aspects of the classical quartet genre with some more recent trends and languages. Rather than approaching this commission as an opportunity to exploit many of the colors and effects completely unique to the saxophone as I have done in many of my other works for saxophone, I chose to use a more traditional approach as if I were writing for a more traditional genre, such as a string quartet.
In fact, when Allen Warren of the Ara Saxophone Quartet approached me with this commission, he suggested that the work might translate well to a string quartet. This work, of course, does not do that as I believe very strongly in composing only for the specific instruments in the ensemble for which I am writing. Following the strong tradition of Sigurd Raschèr, the Ara Saxophone Quartet plays on older saxophones than those for which I have been accustomed to writing. I have found that effects such as multiphonics and the altissimo range speak quite a bit differently through these instruments in a similar way that a Stradivarius violin sounds radically different than a newer instrument. Therefore, one resulting view might be that there is literature more appropriately played on older in- struments than newer. Range and dramatic expression, however, are not an issue (with the small exception of the lack of a low A on Aaron Pirl’s baritone saxophone).
This work is written with this tradition in mind and is therefore modeled after a traditional string quartet. It is in four movements and opens with a soprano saxophone solo that exposes the listener to all of the melodic motives and sets used in the entire piece. The remainder of the first movement titled Recitative and Declaration is a fast, loud, and heavily accented passage in a kind of monothematic sonata-allegro form.
The second movement, Scherzo Psycho, is much lighter in spirit yet darkly cartoonish in character with its pointillistic opening followed by the frenzied, twisting melodic lines of the main body of the movement.
The Motet that follows is strictly mono-modal (F Ionian) and is indeed based on motives presented in the first two movements, although not so apparent by the radical difference in style. Capturing the spirit of counterpoint of the sixteenth century, this movement is a nod to the great George Rochberg who passed away earlier in the year this was composed.
The Finale is a fantasy on the opening motives of the recitative that begin the work. In a disproportionate ABA form, it is a fast and aggressive closer to the quartet.
Saxophone Quartet was commissioned by the Ara Saxophone Quartet and was completed on July 21, 2005 in Potsdam, New York.
Masato Kumoi Quartet’s Tokyo performance: