Concerto after Elgar

for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra

  • Genre
    Solo Instrument with Orchestra
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Kenneth Tse
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
  • Timing
  • Catalog number
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I had a two-fold impetus to write this Concerto after Elgar. First of all, many years ago, Kenneth Tse mentioned to me that his favorite piece of music was the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar, and so I promised him that someday I would write him a saxophone concerto in the style of the great English composer. The second impetus came because of the fact that, like the saxophone, the viola was largely bypassed in the concerto medium by all the great composers of the Romantic era, and that I had long desired to help fill that void in the viola literature. Since I was eager to write a major work for my old friend, Csaba Erdélyi, formerly on the string faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, I decided to kill the proverbial two birds with one musical stone in the present concerto. This was possible because of the great similarity in the range of the two instruments. Only minimal adjustment in the solo part was needed to compensate for the slight range difference, but more changes were required in it due to the differences in the characteristics of the viola and saxophone. The saxophone version was personalized for Kenneth Tse through the use of the musical letters in his name comprising part of the theme of the opening movement, as well as key areas suggested by the letters in his family name, which yielded tonal regions of C Minor (uT), E-flat Major (eS), and E Minor and Major (E). The short score of the Concerto was begun on April 28, 2017, but not completed until February 22, 2018. The considerably longer-than-usual gestation for the piece is explained by two factors. First, I had to interrupt work on this concerto in order to fill a commission for a large work for the United States Navy Band that was to be premiered in January of 2018. Even the seven-month hiatus I took for that doesn't explain the length of the writing of the present work, however, since I have sometimes composed entire concertos, including their orchestration, in a period of about two months. As it turned out, Concerto after Elgar work caused me more "blood, sweat, and tears" than any other work I can recall in my compositional career. Elgar's style, while very recognizable, proved to be quite challenging for me to capture convincingly. Additionally, duplicating Elgar's complex harmonic language presented its own challenges. I found that I had to rewrite certain passages of this work as many as a dozen times before I was satisfied with the result, and even after completing it, I remain skeptical as to how closely a good bit of the work resembles Elgar's compositional voice. I do feel that some sections at least could have conceivably flowed from the pen of the British master stylistically, and I hope the work can at least stand as a valid musical statement in the Romantic style. Concerto after Elgar is cast in the traditional three movements, but there is actually little that is traditional in the structure of any of these movements. Each of them comprises a sequence of slower and faster sections, and each begins with an introduction and ends with a quick flurry of notes. The second movement is actually essentially two movements conflated into one, merging a noble slow movement with a quicksilver scherzo. Styllistically, I have sought to mimic Elgar through certain harmonic and melodic sequences, including the use of the descending minor seventh, and I also employ Elgar's frequent change of tempo and tonalality, the latter often to distant harmonic areas from those of the fundamental key of each movement. The listener will note my attempt in the last movement to create a new Pomp and Circumstance March in further honor of the great English master. I have also sought to reflect Elgar's penchant for enigmas, and have incorporated ten short quotes (or "musical puns," if you will) from this great composer's body of works, hiding them at various points in the score. A few of these will be rather obvious, but finding some of them will prove a considerable challenge even to the most ardent Elgarian. One of Elgar's most famous works is, of course, his Enigma Variations, the main theme of which was intended to accompany another melody that Elgar never revealed, leaving musicologists to pursue it ever since. I, however, do not intend to hide my Elgar quotes in perpetuity, and so their locations shall be among my papers for someone to discover after I am gone. Thus, those who try to find these "buried treasures" in this Concerto, presuming they outlive me, will eventually know how successful they were in their pursuit.

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