Opus 403

Dances of the Holy Fool: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (2002)

for Alto Saxophone and Piano

  • To the World
  • Glorification and Prayer
  • Figure of Joy

Duration: 12.5 min.

Dedication: for Paul Wehage and for Richard and Simi Mason

Commission: Commissioned by Richard and Simi Mason in celebration of their anniversary

Publisher: Musik Fabrik

Performance materials available from the publisher.

Dances of the Holy Fool: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (2002) is dedicated to saxophonist Paul Wehage, whose saxophone playing provided the musical inspiration for the work (as the culmination of a series of works featuring solo saxophone written in Spring of 2002). The work was commissioned by Richard and Simi Mason, in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. The work is also dedicated to them on this occasion.

When asked if they had anything particular thoughts about a piece, the Masons, being members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, stated that they would like a work inspired by the concept of the “holy fool.” In the Orthodox tradition, the holy fool represents one of the highest levels of saintliness. This is because he has discarded absolutely everything (including social convention itself) for Christ’s sake, and thus often is given over to activities and behavior seen as ridiculous and frivolous by the rest of the world. This composition is inspired by the holy fool’s paradoxical combination of extreme devotion with the appearance of frivolity.

The works is in three movements, played without pause. Much of the musical material of the work is shared (in transformation) between the movements, with a particular focus on the intervals of major and minor 2nds.

The first movement, To the World is cast in a modified sonata form with double exposition followed by development. There is no recapitulation—the development winds down and leads directly into the second movement. This first movement explores the ideas of the world and society itself and the holy fool’s engagement with its activities.

The second movement, Glorification and Prayer, is extremely ritualistic in conception — it is not music “of the world”, but rather music detached from it. The piano provides a series of interlocking chord sequences in its outer registers (blurred by the pedal continually depressed) over which the saxophone begins its devotional melody, based on tightly-controlled expanding pitch sets. The piano (in its middle register) joins the saxophone in an extended canon. This movement represents the holy fool’s private acts of glorification, prayer, and devotion.

The third movement, Figure of Joy, is cast in a quasi-rondo form. In the middle of the movement, the “missing” recapitulation from the first movement interjects itself briefly before disintegrating into a cadenza for the saxophonist. The movement then builds to a climax before a brief coda ends the work. This movement explores the idea of the “figure of joy” which the holy fool represents.