• Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (... auf den ersten Blick und ohne zu wissen...) (1980)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • 2(pic)2(ca)2(bcl)243314perchp.pf(cel)str
  • alto saxophone
  • 18 min

Programme Note

Saxophone Concerto (1980-81) is dedicated to Pekka Savijoki. In a programme note Salonen forst discussed the Darmstadt and other modernism, and then proceeded to comment as follows upon his own piece:

"I would like to return to the subject of Darmstadt, even at the risk of being accused of monomania in this matter: But in my opinion it was a historical necessity which enforced the strict organisation of the part elements of music, just as it happened with the new dodecaphonic hierarchy some thirty years earlier. Structuration was most certainly indicated in a situation where it was not yet possible to master extremely complicated textures just by relying on one's ear, intuition, and taste. But as the command of the language has grown, so grammar has been allowed to recede into the background, while the message, the expression, has regained its proper place.

This (I hope) is the revelation of my Saxophone Concerto to the post-war avantgarde; the pioneers have done their job, the number of means of expression have increased considerably, the possibilities are greater now than before. The relationship with tradition can be more relaxed and easy now than when it was time for synthesis; the iconoclasts are definitely a boon to society now as before, but we should be aware of the fact that the principle figures of serialism, aleatoric music, electro-acoustics, and instrumental theatre have already made a tradition.

The present concerto is my most extensive work so far, and in its way summarises the experience I have gained by exploring the expressive potential of new music ever since writing my Nachtelieder. I began working on the Concerto in Milan while studying with Niccolò Castiglioni; it took me eleven months, but the overall plan of the composition was clear due to me about half-way through that period of time.

Already when working with the sketches I felt that the new work would become not only a culmination of all I had written so far, but also a model for new elements. These new features imply a salute to Debussy and Ravel and the Italian modernists, but also to the Amrican minimal music. (The revolution in orchestral thinking implied by the Seventh Symphony of Sibelius surely must, on its part, affect the orchestral composers of later times).

Of the tense chromaticism of fin de siècle there are but some sporadic signs in the finale. The dominant element is timbre, but not structurally in the manner known from socalled coloristic music. (And you would not call a piece of sirloin a structural element in the preparation of a Chateaubriand, would you?) What we have here is a monochromatism that has been carried very far, and so the rather unusual instrumentation confirms: The first movement (Ich habe zu reden, Ich hebe die Hände) employs only instruments, harp, percussion, piano, and celeste; the second movement (…auf den ersten Blick, und ohne zu wissen…) makes do with the wood percussion, piano, and solo saxophone. The strings make their entry in the third movement (Jemand sagte mir - ich kann mich nicht mehr erinnern), which follows attaca: The wind instruments are missing here, but two vibraphones, harp, piano, and celesta spice the web of sound.

In accordance with the dominant colour of sound the saxophone part changes from solo to tutti through all intermediate forms; in the first movement this gradual development from a dominant to a subordinate rôle even has a structural significance. The titles for the single movements are fragments from Kafka's The Process, in that they are passages he ruled out and had deleted before the final version of his book went to press. These subtitles are not descriptive, but they do tell something important: The events in Kafka's work are quite improbable, measured with the logic of ordinary life - bu tin a phantasy world everything is inevitable, self-evident, and natural. As a subtitle for the Concerto as a whole I chose that of the second movement: "…auf den ersten Blick und ohne zu wissen…"."