Sonata after Poulenc (Sonate d‘après Poulenc)

for Alto Saxophone (or Clarinet) and Piano

  • Genre
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Claude Delangle
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
  • Timing
  • Catalog number
No items found.
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Buies Creek
March 19, 2020
8:00 pm EST
Henry Fogel
Fanfare Magazine
Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.

Warmth, genuine lyricism, and humor are qualities in short supply in much of the music written in recent decades, but they are ever-present (and much welcomed) in the music of David DeBoor Canfield. Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.

           Take Smart Alex, for example. It was composed for a young saxophonestudent named Alex Van Dyke and employs some avant-garde techniques that do notget in the way of accessibility. There are also quite witty interjections by a“page-turner/assistant,” who can be heard arguing with the saxophone soloist attimes. Even Canfield’s tempo marking in the score (“Zippity Quick”)demonstrates his easy good humor, as does the sudden C-Major cadence that interruptsthe harmonic chaos at the end. Opus Pocuswas originally written for a more conventional wind quintet, but thecomposer arranged it for a saxophone quartet. Canfield had a quotation of the Sacre du Printemps bassoon solo in theoriginal, but he changed it for a quote from the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto inthis version. (He couldn’t stop himself from being cute, however—the Glazunovwas composed for alto sax, but Canfield gives the quote to a tenor sax here). Opus Pocus is filled with delightful turnsof phrase and a surprising variety of color from four saxophones (soprano,alto, tenor, and baritone).

           The disc’s opening Five Lyric Pieces are genuinely touchingand lovely, and the lyrical Elegie nachBrahms stays in the memory. Canfield relates a touching story about thepiece’s origins in the excellent notes that accompany the disc. The Sonata after Poulenc is one of a seriesof works for different combinations of instruments where Canfield replicatesthe sound world of other composers; this one is particularly effective. Aabac was written for thewonderfully-named Zzyzx Quartet (I am grateful I am not currently announcing onthe radio and having to figure out how to pronounce that). The title Aabac mirrors Zzyzx from the other endof the alphabet. I will confess that this is the piece I had the most troubleconnecting with, perhaps because of my own fairly conservative tastes. Canfieldstates that he composed it in a more advanced tonal language than was his norm.Repeated hearings allowed the music to grow on me.

           Canfield was born in 1950, and the mostof the music here was composed relatively recently, between 2012 and 2016. Awide range of influences is evident, but Canfield’s individual voice is alwaysheard. This is a delightful, engaging collection, well performed throughout andwith a surprisingly consistently good recorded sound given the wide range oforiginal sources.

Sonata after Poulenc was written for Claude Delangle, professor of saxophone at the Paris Conservatoire. Delangle, one of the world's best-known saxophonists, and one who has performed and recorded widely throughout the world, took up an interest in my Concerto after Glière, and has played it numerous times in several countries, more than any other saxophonist to date. Grateful for this exposure, I approached Delangle at the World Saxophone Congress in 2012 in Scotland, and asked him if he would like me to write him a work, and if so what kind of a piece he would prefer. Delangle's initial response was a Sonata after Debussy, but before I could begin writing that work, he decided that since 2013 was the centennial year of Francis Poulenc, he would like a work in the style of that composer. I set to work on the piece in January, 2013, but the work that I was writing quickly began to go in a different direction from what I intended. So, I let that work take its course, and it became my Ragtime Sonata after Joplin, which I then dedicated to Otis and Haruko Murphy. I subsequently spent a few hours listening to all of Poulenc's chamber music so that I could refresh my memory on this composer's style. Immediately thereafter, on February 11, 2013, I began work on Professor Delangle's sonata. The piece came quickly to me, and I finished it a few days later, on the 16th of that month.. The piece seeks to capture Poulenc's ebullient spirit, and his gift for melody and typically French harmonies. My own compositional voice peeks through at certain points, and I didn't worry too much about those spots, simply concentrating on producing a piece that would be both fun to play and to listen to. I should mention that to date there are 16 works in my “After” series, imitating such diverse composers as Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Paganini, Khachaturian, Vierne, and others, but these form a small minority of my total mature output that presently consists of 135 works, the other works composed in various contemporary styles ranging from freely-tonal to rather avant-garde.

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