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: