Jay Schwartz: Lament

  • for solo voice and saxophone quartet
  • Duration: 12’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    soprano saxophone in Bb
    alto saxophone in Eb
    tenor saxophone in Bb
    baritone saxophone in Eb
  • Composer: Jay Schwartz
  • Commission: Auftragswerk von Liederaben.de e.V., Freiburg i. Brg., für Sibylle Kamphues und das Raschèr Saxophone Quartet

Work introduction

This composition is based on Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, the lyrics are taken directly from Nahum Tate’s libretto after Vergil’s Aeneis.

When I am laid in earth may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast,
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Purcell constructed the aria on a ground bass descending line, in the early Baroque a widespread compositional vocabulary also known as “lament bass” producing a strong descending drive to the dominant.

The Baroque lament seems to me to share my affinity for harmonic gravitation through and ultimately to consonant intervals, for which I am especially inclined to employ glissandi. The anticipation of consonant intervals and, ultimately and most powerfully, of the unison, drive the music forward. This inexorable chronological motivation is, in my ears, the axiom of musical composition. In its earliest stages, western polyphonic music was born out of this gravitional pull to and from the unison. I call this compositional technique “funneling”, the lines driving toward a unison, as if the tones were being channeled into an ever narrowing cavity.

The fundamentals of classical harmony are unquestionably motivated by precisely this magnetic field exuded by the unison, thus binding the vertical level (harmony) with the horizontal (time). Sliding tones (glissandi) intensify this drive, embodying an infinite amount of microtonal pitch increments leading to the consonance.

Interestingly, Purcell composed the first four notes of the phrase “When I am laid” in an ascending line, seemingly denying a musical word painting, whereas the descending bass line does indeed seem to support the content of the lyrics. Using the tones of the ascending phrase in a kind of prelude to the actual vocal line, I have intended to underscore and even exaggerate this denial of a word painting of being “laid in earth” in a series of increasingly tighter intervals ascending to the penetratingly extreme heights of the ranges of the saxophones, while the ground bass, through glissandi and microtonal clusters, morbidly declines.


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Freiburg (DE)
Rascher Saxophon-Quartett
Main soloists:
Sibylle Kamphues, MS

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