"As To The Sun", a series of works for the Saxophone written by Carson P. Cooman for Paul Wehage and Jay Easton during Spring of 2002

From the Composer's Notes

In the Spring of 2002, I composed six works featuring solo saxophone:

  • As to the Sun for Solo Alto Saxophone
  • Passion Canticle for Solo Soprano Saxophone (with tubular bell)
  • Of Songs and Swirls: Four Lyric Pieces: for Soprano Saxophone and Piano
  • Silent Prisms for Tenor Saxophone and Piano
  • In the Fire of Images: Three Etudes for Alto Saxophone and Piano
  • Dances of the Holy Fool: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano

Made possible through the fortuitous circumstances of a number of open ended commissions, these works were specifically inspired by the saxophone playing of Paul Wehage.

It is enjoyable and rewarding to have the opportunity to focus over a short period of time on writing a number of works for the same instrument (or the same family of instruments). It allows for both the exploration of the different musical potentials of a particular instrument, and the development of a stylistic approach to the composing. In the case of the saxophone, my principal attraction to it was the intense "humanness" that the instrument's tone and sound quality possesses. To my ears, the saxophone has one of the most "human" sounds of any instrument in that its emotional affects and emotional range seem closest to that of human beings. This refers not just to the human voice, but the nature of humanity itself and how emotions are expressed. I believe this is due not only to the particular timbre of the instrument but also its wide note range and wide dynamic range -- unusual among wind instruments. This humanness separates it from most other instruments. For example, my own instrument, the pipe organ, I hear as possessing of the "least human" sounds of all instruments. It is this humanness which I see as giving the saxophone a large expressive potential. It is this expressiveness which I sought to exploit in these compositions

All of these pieces thus deal with different ways of viewing this human element of the saxophone within the context of my musical language. In these works, I focused on two kinds of melodic writing (and their combinations): 1) energetic, vivacious patterning and 2) long, flexible, lyric gestures that gradually "extend." The first kind of writing is connected to the use of ostinato, which, as in many of my compositions, is employed in a number of ways throughout these works. Below is provided a brief description of each of these six compositions. (The program notes inside the published scores of each work contain more extended descriptions of each piece.)

As to the Sun (alto solo) is a joyful piece, inspired by the colors of Autumn and the harvest season in the area in which I live (Western New York State, USA). The opening uses lyric melody in small groupings with spaces. The second section is a vivacious and energetic harvest dance.

Passion Canticle (soprano with tubular bell) takes the human aspects of the saxophone to a representative extreme. This work is a religious meditation on Good Friday of the Christian tradition. The work is designed to be played only in an extremely reverberant space, preferably a church. The tubular bell (played by the saxophonist) serves in a ritualistic capacity as a kind of signal, like the bell tolling during the Eucharist. The saxophone's part is a contemplation on the meaning and experience of Good Friday. It would be an oversimplification to say that the saxophone "directly represents" the dying Jesus, but the emotional affects associated with the event (both for those people living at that time, as well as us today) are bound up in the saxophone's music. Gestures of repose and solace are intercut with gestures of extreme agony and pain. Silence also plays a role in the work.

Of Songs and Swirls: Four Lyric Pieces (soprano with piano) is a work of energy and good humor casting the saxophone in a straightforward lyric role. Some of the musical material is based some of my past vocal song cycles which thus makes a direct connection between the saxophone and the human voice. Two of the pieces (River Music and Snow Ritual) are slow, whereas the other two (Harvest Song and Ocean Cascade) are fast and energetic.

Silent Prisms (tenor and piano) is a brief meditation exploring the lyric gestures in their most bare context. It is essential a monody -- the piano plays an entirely "distant" and ostinato role by simply repeating two different chords very slowly. Over this, and seemingly independent from it, the saxophone weaves an expanding melody. The visual image for the development of the melody is one of a prism. The prism is "silent", however, and thus what results is not a burst of varied colors, but rather a focused and mystical contemplation on a single idea.

In the Fire of Images: Three Etudes (alto and piano) consists of three movements (Capriccio, Cortege, and Catastrophe.) In Capriccio, the piano has a driving and asymmetrical ostinato throughout. Over it, the saxophone builds figurations which are a cross between the energetic small groupings and longer lyric strands. In Cortege, the piano's ostinato is processional/ceremonial in nature (a descending sequence of chords) over which the saxophone builds an expanding lyric melody, making subtle harmonic connections with the piano. Catastrophe is a movement in which begins with lyric buoyancy, but then disintegrates into pounding and jagged gestures. Some of the musical material is shared between the movements.

The final work of the six is also the largest in scale, Dances of the Holy Fool: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano. This work is a sonata inspired by the idea of the "holy fool" from the Eastern Orthodox Church. 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 work is a culmination of the pieces that preceded it, building on the ideas of melodic patterning and taking the "human" expression of the saxophone to a certain extreme as befits the subject matter. All the kinds of melodic writing are combined into both a lyrical, energetic, and virtuosic solo part. The piano also takes a full role in the dialogue, and its interaction with the saxophone forms another important component to the piece.

It is my hope that these saxophone compositions will prove enjoyable and useful to saxophonists as both recital and teaching material.

Two additional works for saxophone are also published as a part of this project.

One is an earlier piece, Goggles, which is a short "concert romp" -- with the piano and saxophone locked in a pounding drive forwards throughout.

The other piece was composed for contrabass saxophonist Jay C. Easton. Polpis Dreaming for contrabass saxophone and piano The work was inspired by Easton's championing of the more unusual members of the saxophone family, particularly the contrabass with its incredibly powerful and deep sound.

The title refers to Polpis, a region of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts that borders Nantucket Harbor with a variety of smaller inlets. This work is one of a variety of pieces connected to the landscape of Nantucket. In the case of this piece, the extra-musical image was one of the incredible depth of the ocean (perhaps parallel to the depth of the contrabass saxophone's sound) slowly being "explored/achieved" through the means of inlets. The work's basic material comes from the saxophone's opening gesture, which moves upward from the bottom of the instrument. The pitch material and interval content that are transformed throughout the work are presented in that motion.

Carson P. Cooman

Rochester, New York

August 26, 2002


From the Performer's Point of View....


It is always a very great honor to be the inspiration for someone else's work, whether this is simply a matter of sharing ideas or having one's performing style being the basis for new works. I have to say that I have been extremely lucky in this respect, having had the chance to work with such noted composers as Jean Françaix, Antoine Tisné, Jeffrey Stolet and others, but this exchange has always started with some sort of direct contact, either by a performance or a meeting to discuss things beforehand

What is new with the current series of works which were written for both myself and for the Contrabass Saxophone specialist Jay Easton is that none of us have ever met in person. As a matter of fact, I've never even spoken with Mr. Cooman nor with Mr. Easton even by telephone. The only contact that I've ever had with either of them is via the Internet and especially through work that both Carson Cooman and myself have on various online music distribution services.

I for one am not convinced that this method of contact has been a handicap in the realization of this project. Indeed, it has made for extremely clear and effective work which has allowed Carson Cooman and myself to interact musically in a way that would have been much more difficult even ten years ago. The ability for musicians to communicate directly through their musical work and for the diiferent partners to be able to collaborate and to react to different aspects of the works in question almost in real time is not only exciting, but also a very musically and artistically satisfying experience. I hope that this project will inspire other performer/composer partnerships to work together in creating new works which use all of the wonderful technology which is changing the way we look at music making today.

Between the buoyant exuberance of Goggles or As To The Sun (which both evoke to my ears a specific American quality that is not far from the world of Bernstein and Copland) to the rarefied spiritual content of Passion Canticle and Silent Prisms, this series of works is the culmination of a long exploration of the saxophone by a composer whose craft is not only extremely strong, but always at the service of sincere musical expression.

The result is a series of works which are not only well conceived for the saxophone, but which also explore a style of composition which is not often associated with this instrument, although it has been exploited in the past by such composers as Tisné and Denisov: that of an extremely slow lyrical mysticism which may be seen as taking it's roots in such works as the Quartet for the End of Time of Messiaen or in certain pages of Lutoslawski. Something like the "Cortège" movement from In The Fire of Images or the Slow movement of Dances of the Holy Fool creates a certain timeless quality that saxophonists are not often ask to explore in our usual repertoire. I think it is especially this aspect of Mr. Cooman's work which will make these works valuable additions to the Saxophone repertoire.

The online aspect here allowed Mr. Cooman and myself not only the possibility to exchange information rapidly, but also lead to me to present Mr. Easton's work to a number of my composers. This had lead to a number of new works, including Polpis Dreaming, which is one of the few works written specifically for the Contrabass Saxophone.

This project will continue with a recording which will document these works which will be available at Ampcast.com and on our main recordings page.

So, it is my pleasure and especially my honor to be able to share these works with other saxophonists. It is my hope that they will take their place in both the teaching studio and the Concert Hall.

Paul Wehage


August 26, 2002



Recordings of Works by Carson COOMAN available from Musik Fabrik

As to the Sun for solo Alto Saxophone

Performed by Paul Wehage

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Goggles for Alto Saxophone and Piano

Performed by Paul Wehage, Saxophone and Moyuru Maeda, Piano

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Polpis Dreaming, for Contrabass Saxophone and Piano, performed by Jay C. Easton, Saxophone and Loie Flood, Piano

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Works by Carson COOMAN published by Musik Fabrik

Ancient Airs For Solo Soprano Saxophone/pour Saxophone Soprane Solo 895

Hear a Preview/Ecoutez :

As To The Sun For Solo Alto Saxophone/pour Saxophone Alto Solo 595

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Dances of the Holy Fool, Sonata For Alto Saxophone and Piano/Sonate pour Saxophone Alto et Piano 1895

Hear a Preview/Ecoutez :

Goggles For Alto Saxophone and Piano/pour Saxophone Alto et Piano 895

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In the Fire of Images, Three Etudes For Alto Saxophone and Piano/Trois Études pour Saxophone Alto et Piano 10.95

Of Songs and Swirls, Four Lyric Pieces For Soprano Saxophone and Piano/Quatre Pièces Lyriques pour Saxophone Soprano et Piano 12.95

Passion Canticle, For Soprano Saxophone and Tubular Bell (in D)/pour Saxophone Soprano et Cloche en tube (en Ré) 5.95

Polpis Dreaming, For Contrabass Saxophone and Piano/pour Saxophone Contrebasse et Piano 8.95

Preview :

Silent Prisms, Meditation For Tenor Saxophone and Piano/Méditation pour Saxophone Ténor et Piano 5.95

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