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Concerto For Alto Sax And Orchestra

Piano Reduction by Elizabeth Ames - Foreword by Dr. Noah Getz

By Henry Brant

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Chamber Piano, alto Saxophone
Piano Reduction by Elizabeth Ames - Foreword by Dr. Noah Getz. Composed by Henry Brant (1913-). Arranged by Liz Ames. SWS. Contemporary. Set of Score and Parts. With Standard notation. 36+12 pages. Carl Fischer Music #W2659. Published by Carl Fischer Music (CF.W2659).

Item Number: CF.W2659

ISBN 9780825893179. 9 x 12 inches. Key: C major. Text: Noah Getz. Noah Getz.

Henry Brant was inspired to write his Concerto in 1941 specifically for the virtuosity of Sigurd Rascher, the incredible performer of the day. He incorporated Rascher's techniques of slap-tongue, flutter-tongue, and extended altissimo, which made the Concerto virtually unplayable by any other saxophonist. After Rascher's last performance of the work in 1953, it would be almost half a century before Brant would authorize another performance with orchestra in 2002, and the fortunate saxophonist was Dr. Noah Getz, another formidable talent. Getz worked closely with Brant in preparation for the performance, and continues to champion the work today. The foreword by Getz provides an excellent overview of the Concerto, and more information is available on his website. While Brant resisted the creation of a piano reduction, Elizabeth Ames has now produced a critical edition, using all available sources. The reduction was thought to be essential in allowing saxophonists to study the work, and in advancing performances of the Concerto with orchestra, as the composer intended.
Henry Brant's Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra is a unique and important work in the saxophone repertoire for several reasons. Written in 1941, this was the first concerto for the saxophone by a significant American composer. It was also the only work for saxophone that included themes based upon Americana composed at a time when Americana was helping to forge a unique identity for American composers. Brant's direct ties with Aaron Copland and the Young Composers Group demonstrates the lineage that this concerto shares with other works by American composers that have become part of the orchestral canon, such as Appalachian Spring and Rodeo. Finally, this concerto was the first to explore the full range and versatility of extended techniques on the saxophone, including slap-tongue, flutter-tongue, and the use of the altissimo register extending the range to an unprecedented four octaves. By 1940, Sigurd Rascher had attained an international reputation as a concert saxophonist through frequent solo appearances with major orchestras as well as participation in leading music festivals. Henry Brant first heard Rascher perform with the New York Philharmonic that year and was intrigued by the use of the altissimo register in Jacques Ibert's Concertino da Camera. Rascher and Brant communicated briefly about the prospect of collaborating on a new concerto for saxophone, but the idea didn't materialize until Rascher scheduled a performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for January 17, 1942. This performance provided the impetus for Brant to begin work on the concerto with a firm date for the premiere. During a meeting to discuss the new work, Rascher demonstrated his extended techniques and Brant decided, "I'm going to write a piece for [Rascher] and it is going to be for the way he plays the instrument and use all the things that he can do."1 Henry Brant's program notes for the premiere describe his conception of the new concerto: The Concerto for Saxophone was written in the summer of 1941 and is dedicated to Sigurd Rascher. It is the last in a series of four concertos for diverse instruments with orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Brant writes: "I believe that it is the only concerto ever written for any wind instrument which requires a range of four octaves," adding that it seems safe to say this, "because the saxophone, in Mr. Rascher's hands, is the only known wind instrument capable of producing the full four octaves." The following is from the composer: "The first movement of the Concerto is called PRELUDE and indicates good weather. The second movement, IDYLL, is more astronomical. Finally, there is a snide rondo called CAPRICE, complete with cadenza. Generally speaking, this seems to be a 'country concerto,' as distinguished from the standard contemporary model for display pieces, which I regard as 'city concertos.'2 The performance was well received and reviews for the premiere of the concerto were extremely positive. The music editor of the Detroit Free Press stated: The Brant composition was marked by the feeling for humor which is finding such authentic expression among the moderns. . . . Rascher is one of the few who have been able to extend the range of the saxophone at least one and a half octaves by the use of harmonics. The ease with which he skips through long intervals is something amazing, to say the least. His use of pizzicati and the development of tone have well established the saxophone as a virtuoso instrument, at least in his own capable hands."3 The Detroit News editor reported: "Rascher can make the saxophone do everything but recite the Gettysburg address. He has a four-octave range and he can play a pizzicato that must be heard to be believed."4 Rascher would perform the concerto six times between the premiere and his last performance in 1953. In 1945, the concerto was performed with the NBC Symphony Orchestra at the first annual Festival of Contemporary Music at Columbia University. Rascher's final performance took place with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in conjunction with a recording of the work. The recording was released on the Remington Records label and was re-released on Varese Sarabande in 1978. By the early 1950s Henry Brant began having some concerns about the orchestral performances of the concerto, which he blamed on lack of preparation by the ensemble. By then, Brant had heard performances of the orchestral version multiple times and had revised some of his ideas about the work. In a letter to Rascher in the early 1950s, Brant provided a short list of the following changes: "(1) All tempos should be if anything slightly on the fast side, (2) Pauses or breaks should be very brief, [and] (3) Ritardandos or any vibrato should be slight."5 Brant's desire to revise the work to reflect his compositional style of the time led to the creation of a version of the work for chamber ensemble. Rascher disliked Brant's proposed changes, and refused to play the work when Brant insisted he play only the chamber ensemble version. Brant then removed the orchestral and band versions from performance and focused on performances of the chamber ensemble version. I removed [the orchestral version] from performance because I thought it wasn't doing me any good. Slopped off performances where the orchestra isn't properly rehearsed. After all, it is not a perfunctory accompaniment. There is detail in the accompaniment. I thought what I want is a carefully worked out performance in which I could participate.6 Henry Brant completed the third version of his concerto in 1970 for solo saxophone or trumpet. Henry Brant's Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra was performed for the first time in nearly fifty years by Dr. Noah Getz with the Florida State University Philharmonic in 2002. This performance coincided with the re-publication of the orchestral version of the concerto. Henry Brant expressed strong concerns about releasing a piano reduction of this work during his lifetime because he feared it would be performed as a stand-alone work substituting for the orchestral accompaniment that he felt was a vital element to this concerto. It was decided that a critical edition was needed to allow the saxophone community to have the opportunity to study the concerto in detail and to expose musicians to this important work in the saxophone repertoire. It is hoped that this greater exposure will result in a renaissance of performances with orchestra for this concerto and its emergence as a core work in the saxophone repertoire. On a personal note, I have always felt that Henry Brant was the kind of composer you would dream of collaborating with: highly skilled at his craft, passionate and a little irreverent. During our lessons he told me about the time he nearly got kicked out of Juilliard for playing jazz on the piano (20 years before Miles Davis tried the same on the trumpet and was told to choose) and suggested that his Americana period was just a way to stay employed as a composer when the only patron hiring was the United States government. I will always be grateful to Henry Brant and his wife Kathy for their generosity during my dissertation research. Our impromptu performance of the second movement with him accompanying me on piano is one of my fondest memories from my time visiting and researching in Santa Barbara.

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