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Topic: Orchestral Saxophones

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  1. #1

    Question Orchestral Saxophones

    I herd that GPO advanced would include orchestral saxophones. Would these be appropriate in a symphonic setting or more in just a concert band setting? If in a symphonic setting, what would the porportions be like (x amount of saxes per y amount of, say, trumpets)? Porportions within the sax section (how many altos to tenor, etc.)?

    I don't know much about orchsetral saxes, so I'm just trying to learn as much as I can about them before attempting to write for them.

    Thanks,
    -Chris

  2. #2

    Re: Orchestral Saxophones

    Since saxes are not a standard part of most orchestra works, there is no real standard for the use of saxes in an orchestra.

    If anything, I'd say the standard sax section in an orchestra is 1 saxophone. Often it's used as a soloist or an added flavor. Alto or Soprano is most common in classical orchestral settings, but all have been used. Bari sax sounds awesome in an orchestra, check out Chris Rouse's "Bump" (part of the larger work "Phantasmata").

    In fact, I'm not aware of any orchestra pieces with a large sax section, except for the occasional work combining an orchestra and a jazz band (Gunther Schuller has a piece for this, but I'm not sure it's been recorded).

    If I were to add a sax section to the orchestra, I'd probably just have 1 of each (SATB), or fewer. Even that would be overpowering to the woodwinds, and I'd probably use them more like an extension of the brass section--I imagine I'd mostly use them in conjuction or in place of the horns.

    chris.

  3. #3

    Re: Orchestral Saxophones

    I can't remember any specific titles or composers, but there has been more than one composition which adds a saxophone quartet to the orchestra - one each of soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Most of these pieces also featured triple woodwinds, heavy brass, and augmented string sections though to balance the texture.

  4. #4

    Smile Re: Orchestral Saxophones

    Quote Originally Posted by cptexas
    I herd that GPO advanced would include orchestral saxophones. Would these be appropriate in a symphonic setting or more in just a concert band setting? If in a symphonic setting, what would the porportions be like (x amount of saxes per y amount of, say, trumpets)? Porportions within the sax section (how many altos to tenor, etc.)?

    I don't know much about orchsetral saxes, so I'm just trying to learn as much as I can about them before attempting to write for them.

    Thanks,
    -Chris
    Hi Chris,

    As others have noted, there is no "standard" set of saxes for orchestra. Typically, the composer uses only one soprano or alto, and often only in a solo/concerto type of arrangement. Ravel's Bolero, of course, used three: F sopranino, C soprano, and C tenor (note that these "orchestral" pitch saxes are no longer in general use: today you would write these for Eb sopranino, Bb soprano, and Bb tenor). If memory serves, the first orchestral sax work was written by Berlioz, for bass sax (probably in C!).

    Saxes are louder than all other woodwinds (although not more penetrating than piccolo and oboe). They blend well with the horns and strings (especially in the upper register), and can provide a great (and underutilized) additional woodwind voice.

    You don't have to write in a whole quartet, especially if you're writing for a smaller orchestra. Nor do you have to cover each range: pick the horns that sound good to you, or that fill the purpose you have in mind, and use just those. Perhaps you want a mellower soprano voice than the oboe, plus reinforcement of the bassoon line: you may only need soprano and bari. Or, if you want to insert a Glen Miller reference, perhaps you want 2 altos, 2 tenors, and bari. Or maybe just a lone bari, as a wild, anarchic voice rampaging through the wind section ;-)

    Grant
    ==============================
    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  5. #5

    Re: Orchestral Saxophones

    Thanks guys!
    Your posts were very helpful and now I understand the 'niche' of orchestral saxes. I didn't realize they were loud enough to overpower woodwinds! I've gotta be careful about that.

    Thanks,
    Chris

  6. #6

    Re: Orchestral Saxophones

    Yes a saxophone is significantly louder than a woodwind instrument - it is, in a way, a sort of hybrid between the ww and brass.

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