Der Totentanz

In the fall of 2003, a friend and I decided to have a challenge.  We were both to write a composition using only the lowest of the woodwinds.  My friend never completed his project (in fact, I don’t even know if he ever started!), but my work is one of my favorite chamber works.

I was curator of the school’s Contrabass Sarrusophone and Bass Saxophone, while my friend had all the school’s Contra Clarinets.  Getting a performance would be doable.

Ultimately, the work was score for the following ensemble:

  • Bass Clarinet
  • Contra-Alto Clarinet
  • Contrabass Clarinet
  • Tenor Saxophone
  • Baritone Saxophone
  • Bass Saxophone
  • 2 Bassoons
  • Contrabassoon/Contrabass Sarrusophone

On the day of performance, the Bass Saxophone was unusable.  I had always planned on using a Sarrusophone instead of a Contrabassoon (I personally played the part).

After the performance, the conductor, who was the school’s long-time director of wind studies said it was the absolute hardest piece of music he had ever conducted due to the ensemble.

I further took the score and a recording of the performance to a masterclass with the composer David Maslanka, who in turn gave it the best praise of any work of mine to date:

“Had John Williams used this ensemble, Star Wars would have been a better movie.”

Sadly, I cannot find the recording of the piece from it’s 2004 performance.

I have also done some revisions to the work including altering some of the instrumentation so that it can be played by 2 Bass Clarinets, Contrabass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, 2 Baritone Saxophones, and 3 Bassoons.

Der Totentanz is now for sale at Sheet Music Plus: