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Interestingly, in McGovern’s article I also discovered that IXb comes from the withdrawn Chemins V for clarinet and electronic system, which is why it’s no surprising that the notation has some computerized characteristics, such as the precise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


Berio’s (2006) In: Melodic Gnosticism…/2531

McGovern (2010) In:…/2531

Mauk, Steven (1994) A Practical Approach to Playing the Saxophone Lyceum Music Press (publishing company of Hickey’s Music Center in Ithaca, NY)



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