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It is not perhaps surprising that the lion's share of serious music for the saxophone has been written by Frenchmen or Americans. The instrument was invented in France and the deeds of the Marcel Mule Saxophone Quartet are legendary; while the States have extensive jazz and symphonic band traditions. But the British contribution should not be forgotten. Here ensembles like the London Saxophone Quartet, the Michael Krein Saxophone Quartet, The Fairer Sax and Northern Saxophone quartet have played their parts in developing this especially in more recent years. Avant garde composers like Harrison Birtwistle, Dominic Muldowney, Alexander Goehr, Robin Holloway, Jonty Harrison, Michael Finnisy, Edward McGuire and Elizabeth Lutyens have been persuaded to write for it.

* Examples are Muldowney's In a Hall of Mirrors (for alto sax and piano) and a Concerto, Harrison's EQ (soprano saxophone and tape) and SQ (saxophone quartet), Finnissy's Morris Goin' Down and Runnin' Wild (unaccompanied saxophone), McGuire's Five Small Pieces for Saxophones and Music for Saxophone which are flexible as to numbers and Lutyens' Chamber Concerto for clarinet, alto saxophone and orchestra, Op 8 No 2.

But things go much further back than that. Percy Grainger, if we may count him as British, was interested in the saxophone from 1904 onwards and played soprano saxophone when he joined the US Army in 1917. (There is a photograph of him in uniform holding an old style (i.e. not straight) soprano saxophone). He arranged many pieces by himself and by others - Bach and pre-Bach - for saxophone or saxophones in "choirs" or saxophones with other instruments. Examples are The Lonely Desert Man Sees The Tents of The Happy Tribes, No 9 of his Room Music Tit Bits arranged for alto saxophone and orchestra (or piano), The Merry King for saxophone choir, Molly on the Shore for alto saxophone and piano and Lisbon for saxophone choir (SAATBar), but there are literally dozens.

* Vol 7 No 2 (Fall 1985) of the Grainger Journal (pp40-42) lists them and the same issue also includes articles on Grainger and the Saxophone.

Walton's Facade (1923) is thought to be the first major English chamber work to include the saxophone in its instrumentation. Only a few years later Freda Swain wrote the brief Naturo Suite for unaccompanied saxophone (1931) and a Satyr's Dance for alto saxophone and piano (1930), following these in the 1960s with Shushan Waltz for saxophone and piano and, another unaccompanied miniature, The Tease.

The first British saxophone concerto to hold a place, albeit a tenuous one, in the repertory was that by Phyllis Tate. For alto and strings, this is in four movements, Air and Hornpipe, Canzonetta, Scherzo, and Alla Marcia/Tarantella. Its idiom is eclectic but I remember that the appearance of this in the Sheffield Philharmonic concerts very early in 1949 was reckoned a very daring departure. Four figures known for their great contributions to the light orchestral music have written notable concerted work for saxophone(s) and orchestra. Eric Coates' Saxo-Rhapsody, premiered at the Folkestone Festival in September 1936, is in a single movement (for alto) some 11 minutes long and a delightful composition which owed much to the advocacy of Sigurd Rascher, for whom it was written, and of Walter Lear, whom I heard perform it most enjoyably in Sheffield in 1953; It also exists in a highly effective version for saxophone and military band by W J Duthoit, which I enjoyed in Doncaster a few years ago. The final mmovement of Coates' suite The Four Centuries (1941) representing the 20th century and entitled Rhythm has parts for three saxophones.

Ronald Binge's Concerto has a most enjoyable slow movement, of which I have heard a number of live performances lately plus one performance with orchestra, of the whole concerto, all in Doncaster. Gilbert Vinter's Concerto Burlando appeared in 1964 while Ernest Tomlinson's Concerto of 1965 is for no fewer than five saxophones: two alto, two tenors and a baritone - plus orchestra of course. Another popular composer, Stanley Myers (d 1993) penned a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra: an unusual combination - but he is American born.

More serious, even academic, figures have composed for saxophone. Norman Demuth (1898-1968) wrote a Concerto for alto saxophone (with military band) premiered by Leonard Bryant and the BBC Military Band under Walton O'Donnell; Sir Jack Westrup wrote a Divertimento in three short movements, for tenor saxophone, cello and piano. Gordon Jacob, in the course of a long and prolific life, wrote for the instrument frequently. His Miscellanies in seven short movements was written for alto saxophone and piano for the World Saxophone Congress, where it was premiered by Paul Harvey, to whom we shall refer again - Jacob later scored the piano part for strings. He also composed Variations on a Dorian Theme (saxophone and piano), two saxophone quartets (1972, 1979) and the Duo for soprano and alto instruments, in three movements, written for Paul Harvey in 1980.

Carey Blyton is another to write widely for the instrument: In Memoriam Scott Fitzgerald (1971) Op 60a, for alto and piano; Saxe Blue (1972), for tenor and piano; and Mock Joplin, Op 69; Flying Birds Op 67, in variation form, Dance Variations Op 73, Pantomime, Op 43 (in three movements, Harlequin, Columbine and Pantalon), Patterns and Three Musical Mishaps, all for quartet. We may also mention Adrian Cruft's Chalumeau Suite, Op 81 for tenor saxophone and piano, Alan Richardson's Three Pieces, Op 22c (alto and piano), the late Peter Racine Fricker's Aubade for alto and piano and the single movement Serenade No 3 Op 57 for quartet (admittedly both were composed when he was living in America),

* Fricker's Serenade No 4, premiered in Doncaster in 1979, was for a quartet of clarinets.

Alec Templeton's Elegie for tenor and piano (Templeton (1910-63) was another American-domiciled British composer) and the works for quartet by David Aston (Euphorism, 1977), Frank Cordell (Gestures, 1972 and Patterns, 1971), Richard Rodney Bennett (Travel Notes), Joseph Horovitz (Variations on a Theme of Paganini), Rupert Scott (a Quartet in one movement (1971) and a Suite in five movements showing jazz influences), Edward Shipley (a Quartet), Gareth Wood (Sinfonietta), Paul Reade (a Quartet in three movements, light in style), David Bedford (Fridjof's Kennings, 1980), Alan Langford (Cameo and Con Eleganza), Gilbert Vinter (Michael's March), Terence Greaves (Three Folk Songs, 1978), Francis Chagrin (Reveries), Billy Mayerl (Merriment), Mike Hatchard (Hanglider Suite, nothing to do with depicting flying but a skit on Hatchard's pseudonym), James Wood (Sonata for four saxophones) and Paul Patterson (Diversions). William Mathias' Sonatina Op 3 (1978) is for either saxophone or clarinet. Here in Doncaster the local composer John Noble composed a Quartet and a Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano, both works lyrical and lively in rhythm, during the mid-1970s, but each has received only one public performance so far.

Noteworthy performers on the instrument have added compositions, not to mention a large number of arrangements, to the stock of saxophone music. Michael Krein, founder of an eponymous Saxophone Quartet in 1941, which broadcast regularly and entertainingly during the forties and fifties, when Krein was regarded as something of a trail blazer for the saxophone in music other than jazz and up tempo dance music, penned a Serenade for alto and piano. Paul Harvey (b. 1935) guiding light of the London Saxophone Quartet has been particularly prolific. He was a contemporary of mine at school in Sheffield and was, I recall, a tremendous asset to the school orchestra in which he played clarinet. In the 1940s and early 1950s the saxophone, would not, I believe, have been reckoned respectable in such an orchestra! In 1974 he composed four concertinos, one each for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, and also a Concertino Grosso for saxophone quartet (in one movement), all with orchestra, and followed these with Three Movements and a Robert Burns Suite, also in three movements (1979), two of them arrangements of well-loved songs associated with Burns, both for saxophone quartet, a Trio for flute, clarinet and alto saxophone, in one movement, first performed in 1981, and again in one movement, Pieces of Nine, in which five brass instruments were added to the basic saxophone quartet. Apart from his original compositions he, like Krein, has been responsible for dozens of arrangements.

Few of the really top British composers have done a great deal for the saxophone. It is surprising that Elgar with his eclectic feeling for the orchestra and his regard for French 19th century music, did not make something of it - but apart from Salut d'Amour, arranged as an alto saxophone solo by one Staber and two other arrangements of the same solo for saxophone with one other instrument and piano, there is nothing from him. Vaughan Williams' Household Music (1940) specifies saxophones as one of its alternative instrumentations; a saxophone figures in the orchestra in his 6th, 8th and 9th Symphonies and, most memorably, in the ballet Job.

* In Vaughan Williams' full orchestral score of Job the saxophone is a tenor. In Constant Lambert's reduction for theatre orchestra it becomes an alto.

Benjamin Britten's Ovid Metamorphoses for solo oboe could be played on soprano saxophone (the composer authorised this); there are saxophone parts in the Sinfonia da Requiem, the Pas de Six from The Prince of the Pagodas ballet and the Mont Juic suite he composed with Lennox Berkeley. But let us close this brief and not fully comprehensive survey of British saxophone compositions by examining the work of Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958). Holbrooke was so prolific in so many different directions that we should not be too surprised at his really remarkable corpus of saxophone music, bearing in mind the instrument's unfashionableness (Holbrooke was himself unfashionable) until the last generation or two. There was a Serenade for five saxophones and seven woodwinds and another one (Op 61B) for oboe d'amore, clarinet, basset-horn, harp, viola and seven (!) saxophones, a Nocturne for alto and piano, a Ballade for bass clarinet and saxophone, a Sonata, Op 99, for alto and piano, while the Tamerlaine Concerto Op 115 (1939) was scored for either clarinet or saxophone, plus bassoon and orchestra. Most interesting was the Concerto in B flat, Opus 88, composed in 1927, in three movements, the first (Allegro) for tenor saxophone, the second (Serenade) for alto and the third (Finale) for alto and soprano alternating. This was composed in 1928 and was originally devised for five different saxophones (presumably soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass) to be used one after the other with the idea of demonstrating the saxophone as a full family of instruments. (This was something Percy Grainger was also keen on; he was irritated at the concentration on alto and tenor and he himself often scored for a balanced choir of saxophone from sopranino down to bass). Holbrooke's Concerto, probably the first British concerto for saxophone, was given its premiere at St Albans on 25 November 1927, by Walter Lear who gave at least seven other performances in the next few years and it is said to have helped inspire Eric Coates' Saxo-Rhapsody;

* See Geoffrey Self, "In Town Tonight" (Thames Publishing, 1986), p.68.

but speaking personally I have not heard a note of Holbrooke's saxophone music. Surely it is time I did.

Philip Scowcroft

April 1990 rev April 1994

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