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Hello composers!

 

This will be the place where I will share one classical composition including saxophones per week. The videos are not mine! 

As a saxophonist, I notice that still many composers do not use the saxophone in classical music. The most important reason for this is because they do not know how to apply the instrument. I often get the question if I could give some study advices for saxophone writing. My answer is always that one has to listen and study the works of our predecessors. 

This topic is meant to inspire and stimulate composers to write more music for the saxophones.

Contents

  1. Graham Lynch - Unreal Promenade for Saxophone Ensemble (2015).
  2. Jean Françaix - Cinq Danses Exotiques for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1961).
  3. Georges Bizet - Suite No.1 from the drama l'Arlésienne (1872).
  4. Claude Debussy - Rhapsodie for Saxophone and Orchestra (1901 - 1911).
  5. Slava Kazykin - ''Bachiazzola'' for Saxophone Quartet (n.d.).
  6. Mark Watters - Rhapsody for Baritone Saxophone and Wind Orchestra (2001).

 

#1 Graham Lynch - Unreal Promenade for Saxophone Ensemble (2015).

More information in the description of the video.

 

Best wishes,

 

Maarten Bauer

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2 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

Thanks @Maarten Bauer, great idea. 

I am interested in writing for saxophones. These days I am listening to some works for sax with scores. You've right, it's the best way to learn. I think I'll try first something for sax solo...

 

Thank you, Luis!

The next piece will be a solo work (with piano accomaniment) especially for you. Score reading is essential to learn the capabilities of instruments and therefore all pieces will be shown with scores.

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tmarko    8

This is a great piece to show off the capability of the sax as an ensemble instrument.  The nice thing is the versatility and agility of even the low voices.

I think the instrument is used so rarely in orchestral music is it has a very "unique" sound that tends to not blend well with the rest of the ensemble.  (Concert/symphonic bands don't have this problem as there are multiple players that produce a thicker sound making the sax an easier fit into the spectrum.)  Ravel used sax for this reason in his arrangement of "Pictures...", it was easy to make it stand out with it's eerie quality.

I've seen more recent composers attempting to use the instrument, some to great results. 

Besides, if not for the sax, Woody Herman wouldn't have had "Four Brothers"!

Looking forward to next weeks video!

Tim

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10 hours ago, tmarko said:

This is a great piece to show off the capability of the sax as an ensemble instrument.  The nice thing is the versatility and agility of even the low voices.

I think the instrument is used so rarely in orchestral music is it has a very "unique" sound that tends to not blend well with the rest of the ensemble.  (Concert/symphonic bands don't have this problem as there are multiple players that produce a thicker sound making the sax an easier fit into the spectrum.)  Ravel used sax for this reason in his arrangement of "Pictures...", it was easy to make it stand out with it's eerie quality.

I've seen more recent composers attempting to use the instrument, some to great results. 

Besides, if not for the sax, Woody Herman wouldn't have had "Four Brothers"!

Looking forward to next weeks video!

Tim

 

Indeed, the first piece is a very rich source for sax orchestration.

In fact, the saxophone is made to blend in symphonic orchestras. One of its primary goals was to fill the gap between the soft woodwinds and the horns. It can blend with almost every instrument and the saxophone is considerer very similar to the human voice.

The saxophone has indeed a thicker sound than most woodwinds and therefore only one saxophone is probably enough for the symphony orchestra.

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On 14-8-2017 at 7:29 PM, Luis Hernández said:

Thanks @Maarten Bauer, great idea. 

I am interested in writing for saxophones. These days I am listening to some works for sax with scores. You've right, it's the best way to learn. I think I'll try first something for sax solo...

 

Since there want to try saxophone solo, I will then firstly share some solo saxophone repertoire. There are almost no scores available for unaccompanied saxophone, because this form has only recently used by composers, so the copyright is still present. In constrast, there are a lot of compositions written for saxophone accompanied by piano in which the saxophone has the most important role in the music. These are very worth studying. 

 

#2 Jean Françaix - Cinq Danses Exotiques for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1961).

I have played these vivid dances myself. They are all very well written for the alto saxophone. Note how Françaix uses the different registers, which all have their own characteristics. Furthermore, this video shows many characteristics of the instrument:

I. Pambiche: Precise articulation, sudden accents and sudden changes of dynamics.
II. Baiao: Singing sound with legato bows. Marvelous control of vibrato. Huge dynamic range.
III. Mambo: Sostenuto playing is well-suited for the saxophone. Again, sudden changes of dynamics.
IV. Samba lenta: Again, singing sound with legato bows. Melodic lines are created easily by < and back to >.
V. Merengue: Agility of the saxophone is almost as good as that of the flute.

 

 

 

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Thanks!

I didn't know this composer, it's great. The sax is very versatile, but the piano part is also nice.

I know sax solo compositions are different, I listened to some of them, beautiful pieces, but there were extended techniques.

I'm eager to write something for sax, although virtual instruments are not good...

I love the 2nd piece Baiao.

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49 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

Thanks!

I didn't know this composer, it's great. The sax is very versatile, but the piano part is also nice.

I know sax solo compositions are different, I listened to some of them, beautiful pieces, but there were extended techniques.

I'm eager to write something for sax, although virtual instruments are not good...

I love the 2nd piece Baiao.

 

The virtual instruments are terrible! I use the following set up to make the sound at least 'listenable,' yet some of the saxophone texture remains

  • Soprano saxophone = oboe sound
  • Alto saxophone = English horn, bassoon (or sometimes clarinet) sound
  • Tenor saxophone = bassoon sound
  • Baritone saxophone = bassoon or contrabassoon sound.

You should experiment with this!

I love the Baiao too, it's very romantic. Though, it is hard to play sostenuto without the permission to breathe so long.

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On 15-8-2017 at 10:57 PM, tmarko said:

This is a great piece to show off the capability of the sax as an ensemble instrument.  The nice thing is the versatility and agility of even the low voices.

I think the instrument is used so rarely in orchestral music is it has a very "unique" sound that tends to not blend well with the rest of the ensemble.  (Concert/symphonic bands don't have this problem as there are multiple players that produce a thicker sound making the sax an easier fit into the spectrum.)  Ravel used sax for this reason in his arrangement of "Pictures...", it was easy to make it stand out with it's eerie quality.

I've seen more recent composers attempting to use the instrument, some to great results. 

Besides, if not for the sax, Woody Herman wouldn't have had "Four Brothers"!

Looking forward to next weeks video!

Tim

Here is an orchestral piece including one alto saxophone. Note that most classical saxophone composers from years ago were French. The most logical reason for this is that the saxophone was invented by a French / Wallonian instrument builder and therefore the instrument was earlier used in France than in England and Germany. The saxophone is a very French instrument.

#3 Georges Bizet - Suite No. 1 from the drama l'Arlésienne (1872).

NOTE:

The saxophone solo at 3:14 is horrible. . . The vibrato, intonation and way of playing is terrible, whereas in the rest of the piece this saxophonist does play like a classical saxophonist should play. Honestly, I hate to hear this solo this way, so I suggest you click on the link below to hear a decent version of this solo. Unfortunately, I could not find any other score video for this piece. The solo can be heard at 3:26.

 

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#4 Claude Debussy - Rhapsodie pour Alto Saxophone et Orchestre 

This is one of my favourite saxophone compositions. The orchestration by Debussy is wonderful and the melodies are very suited for the saxophone.
Listen to the vibrato of the soloist that completely fits the dreamy atmosphere.
A general note: mind the continual contrast between the numbers 3 and 2. Debussy uses this in the entire piece.

NOTE: the saxophone part is written as it sounds so the part sounds a major sixth lower (Alto saxophone in Eb).

More information in the description of the video.

Claude Debussy - Rhapsodie for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (1901 - 1911).

 

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4 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

This is a wonderful work...

 

I know right! I had to learn it for the conservatorium, but it is so much harder than it appears. . . The rhythms need to be played very precisely and each detail has to be treated with the greatest care. Glad to hear that you like the music!

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Hi 

I have some questions for you @Maarten Bauer or for anybody who knows about this issue.

I'd like to write something for solo sax, after studying (watch and listen) to your examples of the repertoire, and some others I found.

It's about transposition.

If I write something tonal, or something that fits in a key signature, I thing it's better to write in transposition.

What happens if I want to write something atonal? Or in some scale that don't fit in usual tonal key signatures? Is it better to write in transposition or in concert pitch? I thing in transposition, but not sure.

And, this is more "complicated". Let's suppose I want to work on a piece using some exotic scale that can be represented by a non standard key signature. For example, If I'm going to use C double harmonic = C - Db - E - F - G - Ab - B...., and I'm going to stay there for a section or the whole piece... How would you use the key signature?

In Finale you can design your own key signatures (which is a nightmare, by the way, at least for me). I don't know Sibelius. But in Dorico (which I'm trying) is quite easy. In this case it would be as I show. This would mean I'll have to write in concert pitch. 

Thanks, I find this interesting ...

59a848a765a6a_Capturadepantalla2017-08-31alas19_26_25.thumb.png.e89999e9c1e2fef7f4d25e4de1e2c128.png

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2 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

Hi 

I have some questions for you @Maarten Bauer or for anybody who knows about this issue.

I'd like to write something for solo sax, after studying (watch and listen) to your examples of the repertoire, and some others I found.

It's about transposition.

If I write something tonal, or something that fits in a key signature, I thing it's better to write in transposition.

What happens if I want to write something atonal? Or in some scale that don't fit in usual tonal key signatures? Is it better to write in transposition or in concert pitch? I thing in transposition, but not sure.

And, this is more "complicated". Let's suppose I want to work on a piece using some exotic scale that can be represented by a non standard key signature. For example, If I'm going to use C double harmonic = C - Db - E - F - G - Ab - B...., and I'm going to stay there for a section or the whole piece... How would you use the key signature?

In Finale you can design your own key signatures (which is a nightmare, by the way, at least for me). I don't know Sibelius. But in Dorico (which I'm trying) is quite easy. In this case it would be as I show. This would mean I'll have to write in concert pitch. 

Thanks, I find this interesting ...

 

Hi Luis,

These two questions are very interesting.
You should ALWAYS TRANSPOSE the parts the performers will read while playing. Saxophone parts are (almost) never transposed at sight.

What happens when you write atonal music is the following:
You need no key signature, because the music is atonal. All notes are transposed and when you need an alternation of pitch you write the # or b in front of the note.
Personally, I would not use a key signature at all, because when you have a key signature the player will need to remember which alternated notes are in the scale and since these 'exotic' scales are not very common, they will have trouble with remembering. Instead, just write a b in front of the D and A to indicate that these need to be flat.

Is this the sort of answer you expected?

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Yes... and no?

I understand that in atonality there is no key signature at all, and I should write any notes with accidentals, and in transposition.

But the case of the alternatives scales is different. If I stick to a scale, let's say that one C - Db - E - F - G - Ab - B (double harmonic in C), there are three options:

1. Write in concert pitch with a key signature with Db and Ab. This is a "clear" solution, but not transposed, so... not good.

2. Write in transposition with the key signature transposed: in alto saxophone would be a major sixth (I think): A - Bb - C# - D - E - F - G#. This solution is very confusing, isn't it? The key signature would be Bb, C#, G# (which is easy in Dorico).

3. Write in transposition with no key signature and with every accidental in the score.

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Monarcheon    275
5 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

But the case of the alternatives scales is different. If I stick to a scale, let's say that one C - Db - E - F - G - Ab - B (double harmonic in C)

Well, that case is different, because the correct way to write in a phrygian harmonic style is to use the Western minor equivalent.
Let's say you were going to transpose the Ligeti "Musica Ricercata #2", which is just two notes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIDN_3EkWN8
Transposed to Alto, the E# and F# become Cx and D#. So that would be your key signature. Repeat this process for other keys.

 

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4 minutes ago, Monarcheon said:

Well, that case is different, because the correct way to write in a phrygian harmonic style is to use the Western minor equivalent.
Let's say you were going to transpose the Ligeti "Musica Ricercata #2", which is just two notes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIDN_3EkWN8
Transposed to Alto, the E# and F# become Cx and D#. So that would be your key signature. Repeat this process for other keys.

 

 

Yes, thanks, that's what "option 2" says the my previous message. Perhaps for the composers it is clear, but for the player too? I mean,  I know transposition is not a problem for the player, in fact, it is better. The question is if it is easier to write a key signature for all the piece (an odd one) or to write all the accidentals. 

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Monarcheon    275
2 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

Yes, thanks, that's what "option 2" says the my previous message. 

 

Right. You had said it was a "confusing" solution, so I thought I'd explain it too. Sorry about that.

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56 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

Yes, thanks, that's what "option 2" says the my previous message. Perhaps for the composers it is clear, but for the player too? I mean,  I know transposition is not a problem for the player, in fact, it is better. The question is if it is easier to write a key signature for all the piece (an odd one) or to write all the accidentals. 

 

It is easier to write all accidentals. In fact, the saxophonists I know would kill you if you wrote a key signature of Bb, C# and Ab.

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1 minute ago, Maarten Bauer said:

It is easier to write all accidentals. In fact, the saxophonists I know would kill you if you wrote a key signature of Bb, C# and Ab.

 

Thanks. That's what I thought. From the composer point of view (for me) that key signature is comfortable, but I understand that for a player would be a chaos. 
Now it's clear.

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4 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

Thanks. That's what I thought. From the composer point of view (for me) that key signature is comfortable, but I understand that for a player would be a chaos. 
Now it's clear.

 

In MuseScore it is possible to add the key signature first and when you have finished the piece you can remove the key signature with the result that all accidentals appear in front of the notes.

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3 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

In MuseScore it is possible to add the key signature first and when you have finished the piece you can remove the key signature with the result that all accidentals appear in front of the notes.

 

Yes! It can be done in Dorico and Finale, too. It's the best solution (for me).

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OK, one first phrase. And more questions, thanks for your patience... But this instruments are wonderful.

Is it normal that a saxophonist can play soprano-alto-tenor-baritone? I mean, in the clarinet family, they all are in Bb, so the score can be read by any clarinetists. But in the saxophone, there are instruments in Bb and in Eb.

Is it better to use sharps? I've noticed it in some scores.

For the scale "integrity" is it better the double sharp, or change them for Cx = D and Gx = A, in this example. This is another composer-player clash. From the composer side, I prefer to leave the scales as they are (with double sharps, or E#...), but perhaps is better the enharmonic pitches (this happens in the harp, too).

And that's enough! Thanks, this is also a "master class". 

I've been listening to the Concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Philip Glass... Beautiful.

59a87384a97f3_Capturadepantalla2017-08-31alas22_34_11.thumb.png.c793add530951ec595138da080b2296c.png

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4 minutes ago, Luis Hernández said:

OK, one first phrase. And more questions, thanks for your patience... But this instruments are wonderful.

Is it normal that a saxophonist can play soprano-alto-tenor-baritone? I mean, in the clarinet family, they all are in Bb, so the score can be read by any clarinetists. But in the saxophone, there are instruments in Bb and in Eb.

Is it better to use sharps? I've noticed it in some scores.

For the scale "integrity" is it better the double sharp, or change them for Cx = D and Gx = A, in this example. This is another composer-player clash. From the composer side, I prefer to leave the scales as they are (with double sharps, or E#...), but perhaps is better the enharmonic pitches (this happens in the harp, too).

And that's enough! Thanks, this is also a "master class". 

I've been listening to the Concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Philip Glass... Beautiful.

59a87384a97f3_Capturadepantalla2017-08-31alas22_34_11.thumb.png.c793add530951ec595138da080b2296c.png

 

I always want to help people with their (saxophone) knowledge. No problem!

It is not true that all members of the clarinet family are tuned in Bb. The soprano clarinet, which is simply called the Clarinet in Eb, is tuned in Eb. The Alto Clarinet is also tuned in Eb. The most popular instruments are tuned in Bb: Clarinet in Bb and Bass Clarinet. Furtermore, the Clarinet in A can still be used in symphonic music. Finally, the Basset Horn is tuned in F.

Now, back to the saxophones. Like with all other woodwind instruments, a player can play all members of the instrument family. In other words, the key system is the same on all sorts of instruments:

Piccolo; flute; alto flute; bass flute.

Oboe; oboe d'amore; English horn.

Clarinet in Eb; Clarinet in Bb/A; Alto Clarinet; Bass Clarinet.

Bassoon; Contrabassoon.

Soprano saxophone (Bb); alto saxophone (Eb); tenor saxophone (Bb); baritone saxophone (Eb).

YES, please avoid keys with more than 3 flats... Saxophonists have relatively much trouble with flats, because these are not used as much as sharps. The reason for this is because when for instance the alto saxophone (+ 3# or - 3b) plays in a key with three flats, the instruments in C (for instance flute or violin) will need to play in 3+3 = 6 flats...

Moreover, the fingering technique of the saxophones works better with sharps.

I would only use x or bb, when you already have no other choice. For example, when you are in F# minor, use the E# and not natural F. Again, sharps are better than flats.

When you have something on paper, send it here and I will try it.

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#4 Slava Kazykin - ''Bacchiazola'' pour quatuor de saxophones.

Kazykin attempts to combine Baroque music in the form of Bach with the fresh, Argentinian music of Piazzola. Therefore the name ''Bacchiazola.''
As a saxophonist, he knows how to write for the saxophones.
The players is given some freedom, especially the soprano saxophonist. This makes this piece so interesting.

More information in the description of the video.

Slava Kazykin - ''Bachiazzola'' - for Saxophone Quartet (n.d.).

 

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