Steve Cohen- Saxophone Quartet No. 1

My Saxophone Quartet #1 was written in 1980 at the request of its dedicatee, Paul Cohen. (Despite having the same last name, we are not related!) We had met earlier at the Manhattan School of Music. Paul played saxophone in a show I had written in 1976, and I was impressed with the flexibility and nuance he brought to the instrument. This particular piece was first performed at a Alumni Composers Concert at Manhattan School of Music, April 14, 1980, and has been repeated often by student and professional groups including the Amherst and New Hudson quartets.

The first movement, marked Allegro, begins with a marcato introductory chordal motive which ushers in an active, gently flowing first theme first stated by the soprano sax and an angular, quizzical second theme first stated by the tenor. A short development section consists of canonic statements of the opening motive, overlapping and gradually contracting in range to a dissonant cluster of half-steps. The two main themes are reintroduced, transposed and transfigured, and the chordal motive is stated again for a brief coda.

The second movement, marked Adagio, opens with a mournful, chant-like phrase, intoned in unison by all four saxes. They separate into a chord and evanesce, leaving the alto playing alone, joined gradually by the other voices. The mood is one of quiet desolation with an uneasy, almost ominous stillness. The music grows in depth and volume into a loud declamatory statement of the theme that is abruptly cut off and the piece ends quietly as it began, this time with a solo statement by the tenor.

The third movement is another Allegro, but this time the players are instructed to "swing the eighths." This is a light-hearted, jazzy romp with two main themes, the first of which gets turned into a fugue subject during the middle section. The second theme is the first to return, sounding higher and lighter than its first statement. When the first theme returns, it is characterized by low coarse open fifths for the whole ensemble and exact parallel voicings, creating an odd bell-like sonority. The piece ends joyously with widely spaced D flat chords spanning the extreme high and low ranges of all the instruments.

Steve Cohen

Steve Cohen received his training at the Eastman, Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, and has composed a large catalog of symphonic, chamber and musical-theater pieces, including the operas The Cop and the Anthem (libretto by Alison Hubbard after the O. Henry story) and La Pizza Del Destino (libretto by Joseph Renard). Mr. Cohen's Wind Quintet will appear on a CD of American Music by the Pennsylvania Wind Quintet on the Centaur label. As an arranger and orchestrator, Mr. Cohen has supplied scores for the New York Pops Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the American Ballet Theater, the Goldman Memorial Band, the world premiere of the musical Spittin' Image, and touring companies of Beauty And The Beast, Porgy and Bess, Crazy For You, Guys and Dolls and The Secret Garden. A new series of Christmas carols arranged for solo voice and orchestra has been commissioned and published by Edwin F. Kalmus and Co. Mr. Cohen completed Kevin Oldham's Concerto for Piano from the composer's sketches, a piece now available on the BMG/Catalyst CD "Memento Bittersweet."


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