Posted in Woodwind Repertoire

Saxophone Pieces

Saxophone is a relatively young instrument, invented around 1840. While often used in popular music and jazz, in classical music, because of its possibilities to overpower other instruments, saxophone was never fully integrated in the symphonic orchestra, though many composers used it for solo passages. Of course the contemporary composers have been incorporating it more and more, as the new techniques of playing have been developing.

Unaccompanied Solo Saxophone

Luciano Berio – Sequenza IXb (1981) – Alto Saxophone

Quite a contemporary piece, a part of Berio’s Sequenza series. From the perspective of performance, it offers many techniques, such as variable pitches, color changes, articulation, different rhythms and dynamics – all of these perfectly demonstrating the saxophone’s amazing abilities. However, as a listener, I always seem to struggle with analyzing these kind of abstract compositions, partly because while listening, I try to interpret them melodically. In Berio’s (2006: 140) own words: “The theme in itself has disappeared; it has become fragmented, hidden, though it pervades all the textures, coloring them with its colors: it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time”

While researching more about Berio’s sequenza, I found that IXb, together with the other sequenzas, demonstrates Berio’s fascination with working at the limits of perception, which go beyond listeners’ capacities for aural analysis; and that in absence of easily distinguishable melody or harmony, the listener has to fall back on a mapping of shifting densities, tone colors, and rhythmic complexity, or extra-musical analogies. (McGovern, 2010)

Interestingly, in McGovern’s article I also discovered that IXb comes from the withdrawn Chemins V for clarinet and electronic system, which is why it’s no surprising that the notation has some computerized characteristics, such as the precise pause and metronome markings. It doesn’t mean though that there is no place for freedom in the performance, which is offered through the more lyrical markings such as ma sempre un poco instabile, trattenuto and other, as well as the free flow showcased by having no time signature and the dividing of bars.

McGovern gives a good analysis of the piece, with the structure itself being introduction, then A, B, C… Y, all marked in the score itself. Each section contains its own variations, such as registral and timbral displacement, inversion and etc, but unlike I first thought, there are underlying motives, both rhythmical and melodical series, the latter being two pitch sets – a symmetrical seven note and chromatic five-note set. Finally, another curious thing is that for the piece, Berio examed the vowel sounds from Italian, English and French, which “yielded sonorities similar to the main pitch row from which Berio based his piece.”

To move on, this piece was definitely a step forward towards understanding the contemporary pieces and atonality which is frequently used, while also showcasing the capabilities of the saxophone.

Eugene Bozza – Improvisation et Caprice (1952); Piece Breve (1955) – Alto Saxophone

I was very surprised to learn that Bozza was one of the most prolific French composers of saxophone music, with over twenty works for the instrument, ranging from unaccompanied solo pieces to saxophone quartets. (Mauk, 1994)

As I wrote in my flute pieces post, Bozza often reuses his thematic materials in different compositions, which is what he did for both the Improvisation et Caprice and Piece Breve. For the Caprice, he used the main motive of Nuages – a saxophone quartet, whereas he used the middle section of Image for Flute Solo and transposed it down a minor third for Improvisation. Also, the outer two sections of Image was used to create Piece Breve.

For the Improvisation movement in Improvisation et Caprice, the form is ABA and the marking “a piacere, avec le caractere d’une improvisation” leaves the performer the space to decide on things like phrasing and rubato, with animandi and ritardandi added as guidance. This free flow is something I enjoy very much in Bozza’s pieces, which is also seen in Piece Breve. Caprice contrasts these fluctuation in tempo with the fast chromatic and arpeggio sextuplet notes in perpetual motion. Aesthetically speaking, Bozza’s pieces are very appealing to me. Like I mentioned in the flute section of the listening log, I especially love the impressionistic sound he produces.

 

Accompanied Solo Saxophone

 

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Posted in Woodwind Repertoire

Oboe Pieces

This post is about the oboe pieces I’ve listened to, with some brief impressions. I haven’t been able to find too many solo compositions, like I did for flute, for example. The list also includes pieces for oboe with orchestral or piano accompaniment, which were more accessible for me. Where oboe parts are interesting in orchestral/ensemble/chamber music, these were also added. Besides this list, you can also take a look at my research about the oboe.

Unaccompanied Solo Oboe

Henri Tomasi – Evocations for Solo Oboe

In style, this piece reminded me a bit of Bozza’s pieces, which I’ve included in the flute repertoire list. Indeed, Tomasi’s style is often said to have much in common with Bozza. I loved the titles for the movements – Peruvienne, Nigerienne, Cambodgienne (Asparas) and Ecossaise, which show his interest in exotic foreign places, as well as the notation, especially the different time signatures and their exchanges. In Peruvienne, I noticed that Tomasi explores the rhythmic and percussive side of oboe, which I read was actually the effect of imitating the beating of a distant jungle drum. I was surprised though that the detached low notes are written with pianissimo, which is quite difficult to perform. I enjoyed several instances of the nature-like sounds in the movement, mostly done by the effects such as glissando and ornamentation. There is quite a lot of repeated notes, which aren’t idiomatic for the instrument, since many players don’t use double tonguing, as the orchestration books suggest. However, they are still playable by great advanced players.

Percussive parts are also found in Nigerienne, almost like reminiscence to the Peruviene. Amidst the fast notes, the movement ends with slower section in 7/8 with repeated pitches, which for me nods slightly to the folk traditions and primitive cultures. Still, I absolutely loved Cambogienne and its pentatonicism. My favorite were the staccato and octave leaps in the danse part, which as the score suggests, are the imitation of the xylophone. I would very much like to use this effect, though in quite a few videos of the performance, I saw many young players struggle with this part. Ecossaise uses the Scottish elements, including the folk-line tune, and rhythmic elements such as the scotch snap, which I wrote about here. Overall, I really like the pieces, which showed me some of the extended techniques that can be used by advanced players.

Benjamin Britten – Six Metamorphoses After Ovid Op. 49

Eugene Bozza – Suite Monodique for Solo Oboe

Accompanied Solo Oboe
Posted in Woodwind Repertoire

Flute Pieces

In this post, I will write about the flute compositions I’ve listen to, which include my brief thoughts about each piece. While I did concentrate on the solo items, I also listened to pieces that include orchestral or piano accompaniment, and I even added some orchestral/ensemble/chamber pieces, but only because they contain fragments with interesting flute parts. Also, read my research about the instrument itself here.

Unaccompanied Solo Flute

Friedrich Kuhlau – 3 Fantaisies for Solo Flute, Op.38

I heard a movement from one of the fantasies on a concert few years ago. Kuhlau, who is often called “the Beethoven of the flute”, is a composer from the Classic and Romantic era, so I generally knew what to expect in terms of melodic and harmonic motion. Still, these fantasies didn’t fail to surprise me in a few places, and I feel that they presented a nice introduction to phrasing and expression of the flute, as well as showing me its virtuosic possibilities. I certainly learned a lot from the way the pieces are notated, especially in regards to utilizing the range of the instrument. I really enjoyed the dramatic adagios, and I instantly recognized the melody of the theme-and-variation finale of the first fantasy – Mozart’s aria from Don Giovanni. Take a look at my analysis here. Continue reading “Flute Pieces”