About this Recording

Ballades for Saxophone and Orchestra

Ballades for Saxophone and Orchestra

Tomasi • Martin • Ravel • Piazzolla • Dragatakis • Iturralde


Of Corsican descent, Henri Tomasi was born in 1901 in Marseilles, where he studied before entering the Paris Conservatoire. There he was a composition pupil of Paul Vidal, winning the Prix de Rome in 1927. He also studied with D’Indy. He established himself as a conductor and as a composer for the theatre, with a series of concertos that displayed his very considerable powers of orchestration. He wrote his Ballade for alto saxophone and orchestra in 1938 for his friend Marcel Mule, one of the leading saxophonists in France. In form and inspiration the work follows the tradition of the fourteenth-century ballade of the medieval troubadours, with the solo saxophone taking the rôle of the clown. The work is based on a poem by Suzanne Malard, Tomasi’s wife:


Sur un vieux thème anglais, long maigre et flegmatique

comme lui

un clown raconte son histoire spleenétique

à la nuit.

L’ombre de son destin, le long des quais zigzague

et le goût

de mégot qu’en sa bouche ont pris de vieilles blagues

le rend fou.

Fuir son habit trop large et sa chair monotone

en n’étant

entre la joie et la douleur, qu’un saxophone

hésitant !

Son désespoir, au fond d’une mare sonore

coule à pic.

Et le clown se résigne à faire rire encore

le public.


[On an old English theme, long, thin and phlegmatic

like him

a clown tells his melancholy tale

to the night.

The shadow of his fate, the length of the zigzagging quays

and the taste

of the fag-end that in his mouth has taken up old jests

makes him mad.

To get away from his coat, too big, and his dull flesh

while only being,

between joy and sorrow, a saxophone


His despair, to the bottom of a sounding pool

sinks right down.

And the clown resigns himself again to making

the public laugh.]


The saxophone is well adapted to this rôle, expressing feelings between laughter and tears, ranging from dramatic despair to the dynamic heights.


The Swiss composer Frank Martin was born in Geneva in 1890, the tenth and youngest child of a Calvinist minister. He later based his career there, as he developed his own original voice as a prolific composer in many genres. His Ballade for alto saxophone, strings, percussion and piano was written in 1938 and dedicated to Sigurd Rascher, providing an important addition to contemporary saxophone repertoire. The composer himself wrote: ‘To surround and carry the saxophone I chose a string orchestra, with percussion and piano. Since the saxophone holds a central place among wind instruments in some way between the brass and the woodwind, other wind instruments would have each had a more characteristic sound and would have damaged its independence. The piano and percussion, on the other hand, could only help to bring out its singing voice’. The mood of the solo instrument ranges from the elegiac to the commanding, producing a very robust sound. The Ballade is one of a series of such works and was followed, over the years, by similar compositions for flute, piano, trombone, cello, and viola, the last of these in 1973, the year before his death.

(based on notes by Jean-Marie Londeix)


The French composer Maurice Ravel had a close affinity with Spain, largely through his maternal ancestry. His father was of Swiss origin, while his mother came from the Basque country. He first used the pattern of the Habanera in his two-piano Sites auriculaires of 1895-97, orchestrating that movement, to his own later dissatisfaction, for his Rapsodie espagnole, completed in 1908. His Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera was written for a Paris Conservatoire examination in 1907, and has, since then, been the basis of many arrangements. The version for saxophone and orchestra is by Arthur Hoérée.


The name of the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla is inextricably connected with the art of the tango, in particular his own nuevo tango, which incorporated other elements from contemporary classical compositional techniques and from jazz. Born in Mar del Plata in 1921, he went with his family to New York in 1924, returning only in 1937 to Buenos Aires, where he appeared, as he had as a child, in concerts as a bandoneón player and took composition lessons from Ginastera. He established his own orchestra in 1944, studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris ten years later, formed various ensembles again in Buenos Aires, later returning to make his home in Paris. He died in Buenos Aires in 1992. Piazzolla had a particular affection for the saxophone, and had appeared with performers such as Malligan and D’Rivera. The Suite for saxophone and orchestra opens with a Preludio, written in 1987 for the stage show Tango apasionado. The theme of the Fuga, beginning with the saxophone, followed by the strings, is taken from the operetta María de Buenos Aires. The violin introduces Misterio, followed by a saxophone tango improvisation and the Fugata follows the pattern of the earlier fugal texture, ending in a free saxophone improvisation. Oblivión, from the sound-track of the film Henry IV, is regarded as one of the most sensational tangos, with a solo element providing an opportunity for a display of expressivity. Adios Nonino, written on the death of the composer’s father in 1959, begins with the heavy footsteps of death approaching and soon after the strings present the theme, which develops in various rhythms, to end in a peaceful jazz improvisation from the saxophone, summoning the cellos, to open the well known melody of Libertango. The adaptation of this suite is by Theodore Kerkezos.


Dimitris Dragatakis was born in Epiros in 1914. He studied the violin in the National Conservatory in Athens and is considered one of the most important Greek composers with a personal musical idiom that is both mature and laconic. Influenced by the musical traditions of his country and of ancient Greek drama, his music came to reflect his interest in new techniques, developing a free atonal style of writing. The winner of a number of major prizes, he taught advanced harmony at the Greek National Conservatory for twenty years, until 1997, when he was appointed vice-president. He was for some years a violist in the Opera Orchestra, and later served on the board of the Greek National Opera, and was vice-president and honorary president of the Greek Composers Union. He died in 2001. The Ballade or Lullaby for saxophone and strings was written in 2000 and at first intended for violin and piano. In its present form it was dedicated to Theodore Kerkezos and was first performed as an encore at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall in March 2002 with the Athens State Orchestra. The Ballade is a tonal piece, very different from the composer’s usual style, showing the influence of his native region. Although it is short the composer makes full use of the range of the saxophone, without sacrificing its romanticism.


The Spanish composer Pedro Iturralde was born in 1929 and began his musical studies with his father, making his first professional engagements as a saxophonist at the age of eleven. He graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, where he studied clarinet, piano and harmony. He went on to lead his own jazz quartet at the W. Jazz Club in Madrid, experimenting with the combined use of flamenco and jazz, and making recordings for the Blue Note label. In 1972 he undertook further study in harmony and arrangement at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He taught the saxophone at the Madrid Conservatory from 1978 until his retirement in 1994, and has appeared in Spain and abroad as a soloist with the Spanish National Orchestra conducted by de Burgos, Celibidache and Markevitch among others. He composed his Czárdás when he was twenty and dedicated the present version of the work to his friend Theodore Kerkezos. It follows the pattern of the traditional Hungarian dance, with a slow introduction, lassu, and a lively continuation, friss.  The orchestration is by the composer’s brother Javier.


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