Composition Date: 2008
Instrumentation: saxophone quartet(ssx.asx.tsx.barsx)/baroque strings
Arranged for the Lautten Compagney of Berlin and first performed with the Rascher Saxophone Quartet in Neuruppin, Germany, 24 September 2010.
for saxophone quartet and strings
for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
This work has two main sources of inspiration. One is the extraordinary artistry of the Rascher Quartet, to whom it is dedicated, and the other is Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – works I grew up with, and which have always held a fascination for me. I have used the idea of ‘concertante’ and ‘ripieno’, with the saxophones featured both as an entity and as individual soloists. There are also soloists within the string group.
Following the premiere in 2007, and an inspiring workshop with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, I decided to make an amended version specifically for period string instruments, taking into account the shorter fingerboard length and softer timbre.
The first movement is modelled on the first movement of Brandenburg Four, following the structure quite closely, with similar points of tension and climax, using shifts of meter and virtuosic doubling of tempo.
The second movement takes as its starting point an exact canon, with ornamentation that stems both from the Baroque, and from traditional Scottish music. The canon at times hints at the contrapuntal nature of Gaelic psalm, set against direct quotes from Brandenburg Six in the ‘walking’ bass line.
The last movement uses a simple pentatonic theme, which is introduced as a fugato, in the manner of many of Bach’s finales. Although the semiquavers remain regular, the meter alters and destabilises. Transposed sequences, in the baroque tradition, are undermined by wild saxophone interjections. The music condenses and overlaps, before a repeated, rough, chordal motif is introduced, which precipitates the ending.
This work was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (with funding from the Scottish Goverment and the Britten Pears Foundation), the Norrbottens Kammarorkester and the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, and first performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Garry Walker, at the City Halls, Glasgow, on 18th January 2008. It was given its Scandinavian premiere on 24th January in Lulea, Sweden by the Norrbottens Kammarorkester conducted by Peter Sundkvist. Its German premiere was given by the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester in 2008.