Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano

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  • Commissioned by/written for
    Kenneth Tse
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
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  • copies sold
  • 8
    known performances
  • General notes
    The first work written for Kenneth Tse

Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano

Kenneth Tse, Mami Nagai
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I began my Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Piano on August 23, 2000, and after finishing its first movement, interrupted work on it for a couple of weeks to compose a work for wordless a capella chorus, Requiem sans paroles, which work incorporates the opening theme from the first movement of the sonata. After completing this choral work, I immediately went back to work on the sonata, sending each movement to its dedicatee as I finished it. After the first two movements had been written, I found out from Tse's then wife, Melanie, that her husband's favorite hymn is Great is Thy Faithfulness, also a favorite of mine. Thus I was able to work it into the third movement, where it appears several times, in truncated and altered form, but only in the saxophone part. In the final movement also, portions of it appear, but this time only in the piano part. In this way, the last two movements are structurally tied together. In similar fashion, there are sequences of chords that link the first and second, as well as the second and third movements to each other. For instance, the C Major triad in the piano part in measures 64ff in the 2nd movement reappears in similar fashion in measure 35 of the third movement. This sonority is important, as the tonal centers of the work revolve primarily around C, E-flat and E, areas suggested by the letters of the dedicatee's surname, (u)T, S, E with "ut" preceding the use of "do" to indicate the first scale degree, and Es being the German notation for E-flat. In this way, I sought to further personalize the work. The first of the sonata's four movements is rather pastoral in character, with a gentle lyrical theme in the solo instrument supported by chords of extended tonality in the piano. In measure 15, a contrasting rhythmic motive is heard in the piano, and the movement, cast in a free rondo form, alternates between these two ideas, and ends quietly and solidly in E Major. The second movement is a scherzo movement, and features frequently-changing meter. While tonal, the harmonies are complex and rather chromatic. Rhythmically, the movement can be described as disjointed, although certain motivic ideas are repeated. The third movement begins and ends with a cadenza wherein the saxophonist plays into the piano with the lid up and the sustaining pedal depressed. This results in sympathetic vibrations of the piano strings being heard. The middle part of the movement draws heavily upon the hymn tune for its thematic material, although the harmonization is completely different from that found in the original hymn, in accordance with the composer's system of free tonality. This movement, more than any of the other three, features the saxophone in its lower register, and leads without pause into the final movement. Movement four is a true moto perpetuo, with an almost continuous flow of 16th notes in one part or the other. This movement is probably the most tonally-centered of the four, and is quite firmly cast in E-flat at the saxophone entrance, and also at the conclusion of the work. Along the way, the left hand of the piano part engages in a driving, rhythmic ostinato, which propels the forward motion of the work to its virtuosic concluding flourish.

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