Since the invention of the Saxophone, many composers (e.g. Berlioz, Bizet) saw the endless possibilities of this instrument and employed it in orchestral works and chamber music. In no time the saxophone became very popular, becoming immortalised through its frequent use in the rise of Jazz in the 1920s. It is striking that many of the Jazz pioneers chose the tenor saxophone (e.g. Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins), the tenor is also a favourite of plenty of prominent composers in compositions for symphony orchestra (e.g. the Bolero of Ravel, Romeo and Juliet of Prokofiev). The tenor saxophone can, without a doubt, be seen as the most lyrical member of the saxophone family, but strangely enough this is not clearly reflected in chamber music.
However, there are still a number of gems where the lyrical qualities of this instrument are very effectively revealed. The eccentric French composer Florent Schmitt used a song for soprano and piano from Rosa Caron's l'Art du Chant for his Songe de Coppelius, inspired by E.T.A. Hofmann's The Sandman, a story about the devilish Coppelius hunting for the eyes of children who wouldn't go to sleep. Literature was also the inspiration for Dmitri Smirnov. He wrote Evening Song based on ‘Like a stove scattering the ashes' by Boris Pasternak, a poem about the serenity of night falling that is very evocatively translated into music by Smirnov. The same sort of serenity is also found in Poem by Walter S. Hartley. This work is one of the first commissioned pieces written for the American tenor saxophonist James Houlik.
With inimitable energy Houlik has spent decades promoting the tenor saxophone with, as a result, around 80 commissioned works including the second American piece on this CD, Concerto by Robert Ward. This two part work consists of a bluesy first section that is an homage to the improvisations of the jazz tenors of yesteryear, and a cheerful second part that refers to an earlier composition written by Ward for ‘The Army Swing Band of the 7th Infantry Division' during the Second World War. Ballade by Frank Martin also appeared around this time, written for the National Trombone Competition in Geneva in 1940. Martin wrote it with help from his composition student Thomas Morley, the principal trombonist in the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. The version for tenor saxophone was transcribed by Frank Martin himself.
Another work that was not originally written for tenor saxophone is Adagio und Allego by Robert Schumann. Schumann wrote this piece in 1849 for the horn player of the orchestra of Dresden, Julius Schlitterlau. This piece was primarily a demonstration of the possibilities of a new invention of that time, the valved French Horn. Schumann was a very active proponent for the development of the instrument from that time on, as was Adolphe Sax who was responsible for the last alterations to the French Horn. Sadly Schumann never recognised the qualities of the saxophone and did not provide any works specifically for this equally new instrument.
In contrast to this is the Russian composer Alexander Glazounov, who in the autumn of his life (1928), left his homeland to live in Paris. Here he came in contact with the performances of saxophone pioneers Marcel Mule and Sigurd Rascher for whom he wrote his Quatuor and Concerto Op. 109. Chant du Menestrel was actually written many years earlier, in 1912, originally for cello and piano and dedicated to his good friend the master cellist, Alexander Wierzbilowicz. Although the saxophone was not accepted in Russia as a fully fledged instrument, Chant du Menestrel is still the most obvious prologue for an ode to this instrument.