American Breath – Music For Saxophone


Barking Dog Records

Mahler In Blue Light
Russell Peterson, saxophone
Douglas Schneider, piano
Diane Tremaine, cello


Larry Bell – Mahler In Blue Light

Mahler in Blue Light was completed in June of 1996 for a commission by World-Wide Concurrent Premieres and Commissioning Fund, Inc. Kenneth Radnofsky, the executive director, suggested the instrumentation and facilitated dozens of simultaneous premieres on December 8, 1996.

“Mahler in Blue Light” opens in the altissimo range with the highest note of the piece, concert F. This striking gesture returns at the end of the Fantasy, just before the introduction of the fugue; in the third movement prior to the introduction of the quote; and in the last movement before the coda.

All four movements are an elaborate passacaglia (variations on a chord progression) based on a twenty-seven-bar instrumental fragment from “Der Abschied” movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The only time the fragment appears in its original form here is toward the end of the third movement, called “Variations on a Theme by Mahler.” My goal was to present the quoted material in a stylistically seamless fashion, so much so that if you did not know the original beforehand, you would not recognize it as a quote here.

The “Abschied” theme used as the basis of these variations consists of a chord progression whose principal bass notes are Bb, Cb, G, Ab, and F. These same notes are also a melody (one Mahler did not write) that acts as a original cantus firmus in each of these movements. It is also my fugue subject. The compositional objective was to make something new out of something old. I thought of this piece as my own portrait of Mahler’s music seen through the saxophone’s blue color.

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