Martyrs for the Faith: Concerto

for Alto Saxophone and Band

  • Genre
    Solo Instrument with Wind Ensemble
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Kenneth Tse
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
  • Timing
  • Catalog number
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    known performances
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Martyrs for the Faith is an expression of my Christian faith, and as someone who has been a teacher of Church history, I am acutely aware of those who have given their lives for that faith. The first sketches for Martyrs were begun on March 6, 2001, shortly after Kenneth Tse, for whom I had already written a Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (2000) and a duo for alto saxophone and clarinet, Le Petit Duo, had requested a concerto. Work in earnest on it had to wait until February of 2003, when other composition commitments had been filled, and was completed on August 20, 2003. The premiere was given by the dedicatee and conductor Alain Crepin at the 14th World Saxophone Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with accompaniment of the Slovenian Army Orchestra. The concerto is cast in the traditional three movements, each of which commemorates a particular martyr for the Christian faith. However, each of those commemorated represents a whole host of others, likely numbering in the hundred of thousands at a minimum. The first movement celebrates Polycarp (69-155), who represents all of the martyrs slain by the civil magistrates of their day. Challenged by the Roman proconsul to revile Jesus Christ in order to obtain his release, Polycarp stated, “For 86 years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” This movement is based upon an actual 2nd-century Christian hymn, first heard in the solo saxophone entrance, beginning off-stage, and getting louder as the soloist walks to the front of the ensemble. The second movement, entitled Gaspard de Coligny, commemorates all those who have been martyred by others in the name of religion. In the case of Coligny (February 16, 1519-August 24, 1572), it is all the more sobering to consider that he and the other Huguenots who were slain for their Christian faith during the massacre of St. Bartholomew were killed by others professing Christianity themselves. Heard in this movement is a hymn tune composed by Louis Bourgeois, the great Huguenot hymn writer (and best known for his tune for Old Hundredth). His tune makes its appearance in the middle section of the movement, depicting the massacre. Coligny, shortly before he was killed, affirmed his faith, saying, “I am ready steadfastly to suffer that death which I have never feared and which for a long time past I have pictured to myself. I consider myself happy in feeling the approach of death and in being ready to die in God, by whose grace I hope for the life everlasting.” Jim Elliot (October 8, 1927-January 8, 1956) was one of a group of five missionaries, with their wives, called to preach the gospel to the Waodani (sometimes referred to as Auca) Indians in Ecuador. After seemingly successful initial contact, he and his co-laborers were martyred in a spear attack. Thus Jim Elliot and his colleagues can be considered to represent all of those who have been killed in their efforts to bring the Christian gospel to unchurched peoples. He is best known for his quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” This statement of his faith was found among his papers after his death. Heard in this movement are a few phrases of his favorite hymn, We Rest in Thee, along with phrases of the hymns used in the other two movements. Their use serves as more than a musical unifying device, but also suggests the historical continuity of the Christian faith from the apostolic times until the present day. To fully reflect the symbolism intended in this work by its composer, the following directions should be observed if circumstances permit. First of all, the soloist should be dressed in a white suit or gown, to represent the righteousness of Christ which covers the believer. In each movement, spot lights of various colors should be focused (only) on the soloist to suggest visually the circumstances of each martyr’s death. In the first movement, then, red is used to depict the fires which consumed Polycarp. In the second movement, the spotlight color is ultraviolet light (or a deep purple) to suggest the dark ages. In the third movement, as the soloist musically goes into the jungle, a green spotlight is shown upon him to depict the place of his martyrdom. At the end of each movement, in places indicated in the score, the color changes to white to represent the passage of the martyr’s soul into heaven. Note that the downward arrows above the soloist’s part at the end of the first movement indicate pitches that are to be played down one quarter tone.

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