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I composed Music for Saxophone and Piano for Harry Kinrose White in 1992. It is an early attempt in my work at magnifying the barriers between sound and silence, exploring the extreme ranges of pianissimo sounds in the saxophone that seem to appear without recognizable transition out of nothing. Glissandi, sliding tones, have always fascinated me, and in this piece I applied for the first time my ideas about pitch slides in a composition. These two qualities - the absence of a recognizable boundary between soft and inaudible sound, and the absence of a stationary pitch by employing glissandi - were soon to become something of a basis of my compositional aesthetic for many years. It was in Music for Saxophone and Piano that these ideas seem to have first germinated.
The architecture of this piece employs a simple binary form, but the halves are stylistically diametrically opposed, creating a dialectical pair, the serene and elegiacal character of the second half being born out of the high point and cathartic event of the first half. In this architectural formula new and unexpected material is catalyzed by the long arch of the opening material reaching a breaking point.
The Daily Gazette, New York, wrote in 1996 about the US-Premiere of Music for Saxophone and Piano:
“The music is for the dark side of midnight – mysterious, haunting, disturbing in its tonal colors and minimalist style of short motifs. Only toward the end of the piece does day dawn with a shift toward brighter harmonies with undulating piano figurations. Both players were wonderfully involved. White seemed to pull his sound from the quietest reaches. Some of the music was reminiscent of electronic music with its strange repetitive effects.”