I. To the World
II. Glorification and Prayer
III. Figure of Joy
Dances of the Holy Fool: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (2002) is dedicated to saxophonist Paul
Wehage, whose saxophone playing provided the musical inspiration for the work (as the culmination of a
series of works featuring solo saxophone written in Spring of 2002). The work was commissioned by
Richard and Simi Mason, in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. The work is also dedicated to
them on this occasion.
When asked if they had anything particular thoughts about a piece, the Masons, being members of the
Eastern Orthodox Church, stated that they would like a work inspired by the concept of the "holy fool." In
the Orthodox tradition, the holy fool represents one of the highest levels of saintliness. This is because he
has discarded absolutely everything (including social convention itself) for Christ's sake, and thus often is
given over to activities and behavior seen as ridiculous and frivolous by the rest of the world. This
composition is inspired by the holy fool's paradoxical combination of extreme devotion with the appearance
The work is in three movements, played without pause. Much of the musical material of the work is shared
(in transformation) between the movements, with a particular focus on the intervals of major and minor
The first movement, To the World is cast in a modified sonata form with double exposition followed by
development. There is no recapitulation -- the development winds down and leads directly into the second
movement. This first movement explores the ideas of the world and society itself and the holy fool's
engagement with its activities.
The second movement, Glorification and Prayer, is extremely ritualistic in conception -- it is not music "of
the world", but rather music detached from it. The piano provides a series of interlocking chord sequences
in its outer registers (blurred by the pedal continually depressed) over which the saxophone begins its
devotional melody, based on tightly-controlled expanding pitch sets. The piano (in its middle register) joins
the saxophone in an extended canon. This movement represents the holy fool's private acts of glorification,
prayer, and devotion.
The third movement, Figure of Joy, is cast in a quasi-rondo form. In the middle of the movement, the
"missing" recapitulation from the first movement interjects itself briefly before disintegrating into a cadenza
for the saxophonist. The movement then builds to a climax before a brief coda ends the work. This
movement explores the idea of the "figure of joy" which the holy fool represents.