Music of the saxophone

Two hundred years ago this month, Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium.  The son of a music maker, he went on to invent an instrument which is the only one to bear the name of its inventor: the #saxophone.  Last Monday, the Recorded Music Society, to mark the anniversary of his birth, listened to a programme of orchestral music using this instrument.  It is a standard feature of jazz ensembles but it is only occasionally heard in orchestras and the repertoire for it is not large.
The presenter of the evenings programme was Ed Tinline – joint chair of the Society – who provided a fascinating history of the inventor himself and played examples of music from soon after its invention to the present day.   One of the first composers to use it was the now unknown Jean-Baptiste Singelée who composed Premier Quatour from which we heard the andante played using four instruments actually made by Sax himself
 
Strangely, it was the Russian composers who were keenest to compose work for the instrument and Ed played excerpts from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and also compositions by Glazunov: Concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, Jazz Suite No 1 by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic DancesGeorges Bizet was a fan and the intermezzo from L’Arlésienne features the instrument.  Despite attempts by composers such as Walton, Britten and Vaughan Williams to include it into their music, it remains an ‘affiliate’ rather than a permanent feature of orchestras.
It has gained an odd reputation for itself and some feel there is an element of sleaze to it possibly because of its jazz connections.  This was sufficient for the ecclesiastical authorities in Worcester Cathedral to ask for a section of a Vaughan Williams composition not to be played because it contained some music for the instrument!

The next meeting is a members evening and is on December 1st.

Film music

Shostakovich
Shostakovich

After a short agm, the meeting was presented by Alan Forshaw with a programme of #filmmusic.  He discussed various film compositions of Shostakovich, Hans Zimmer and Korngold who composed primarily ‘serious’ music but who, for different reasons (political, financial, etc.) produced film scores throughout their careers.  This was the first time the society has listened to an evening devoted to this genre.

Film music is a little unregarded as a part of the music scene, indeed, a quick look in Groves for Shostakovich for example, reveals only a single passing reference to his compositions for the cinema and none in the list of works.  Yet for modern composers, writing for the cinema or composing advertising jingles provides them with valuable income before fame beckons (if it ever does).

Shostakovich wrote in the time of ‘Soviet Realism’ and falling foul of the censors could have dire consequences for any artist.  The films are long forgotten and include Alone (1930); The Great Citizen (1938); and Piragov (1947).  Alan also played extracts from wonderfully named film The Counterplan (1932) which included extracts called ‘The Workers Gather’ and ‘Song of the Counterplan’.  It would be hard to imagine queuing round the block for a film of that title today.  One could hear echoes of his later works in some of these pieces and it was interesting to hear them with the benefit of great symphonies such as the Leningrad in one’s mind.

By way of contrast, Alan played extracts from the award winning film composer Hans Zimmer.  He has written for over a 150 films including the Gladiator; The Thin Red Line; and Rain Man and has won many awards.  Extracts included The Last Samurai (2003) and The Da Vinci Code (2006).  Zimmer worked briefly with a pop group known as the Buggles, famous for their No 1 hit Video Killed the Radio Star.

Finally, Korngold who was born in Brno in 1897.  He was recognised early as a prodigy and had early successes with a ballet and two operas.  He then moved to Hollywood and composed much film music and we heard extracts from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Wolf (1941).   

It is interesting to note the difference between an opera and a film music composer.  Name an opera and most people interested in music will know the composer.  Name a film and few would know who wrote the music.  The other problem is the music may die with the film if it wasn’t a box office success.  But the music we heard tonight was worthy of a wider audience in its own right.