Spectralism in the Saxophone Repertoire: An Overview and Performance Guide

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The saxophone has long been an instrument at the forefront of new music. Since its invention, supporters of the saxophone have tirelessly pushed to create a repertoire, which has resulted today in an impressive body of work for the yet relatively new instrument. The saxophone has found itself on the cutting edge of new concert music for practically its entire existence, with composers attracted both to its vast array of tonal colors and technical capabilities, as well as the surplus of performers eager to adopt new repertoire. Since the 1970s, one of the most eminent and consequential styles of contemporary music composition has been spectralism. The saxophone, predictably, has benefited tremendously, with repertoire from Gérard Grisey and other founders of the spectral movement, as well as their students and successors. Spectral music has continued to evolve and to influence many compositions into the early stages of the twenty-first century, and the saxophone, ever riding the crest of the wave of new music, has continued to expand its body of repertoire thanks in part to the influence of the spectralists. The current study is a guide for modern saxophonists and pedagogues interested in acquainting themselves with the saxophone music of the spectralists. An examination of the historical background of spectralism and its proponents, from proto-spectral composers through the current generation of spectralists, is included to help to properly equip the saxophonist interested in performing or studying this music. Discussion of major spectral works involving saxophone as well as pieces in the instrument’s repertoire that may be seen as precursors to the spectralist movement will illuminate what is currently available and serve as a valuable point of departure for the uninitiated saxophonist. Finally, a more in-depth examination of works by Gérard Grisey, Philippe Hurel, and Philippe Leroux through the lens of a performer allows us to trace an evolution of spectralism through three generations of composers and provides insight for the preparation and performance of these challenging pieces.

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  • 05/23/2019
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