Susan Fancher

Sings and Screams

Music for Saxophone


Works by Steve Reich, Giacinto Scelsi, Mark Engebretson, Ben Johnston, Wolfram Wagner, and Alexander Wagendristel


                        New York Counterpoint (1986/1995) by Steve Reich/tr. S. Fancher

                        Susan Fancher, soprano and alto saxophones

                        Mark Engebretson, tenor and baritone saxophones

Track 1            (4:59)  I.

Track 2            (2:42)  II.

Track 3            (3:33)  III.


                        Tre pezzi (1956) by Giacinto Scelsi

                        for soprano saxophone

Track 4            (2:50)  I.

Track 5            (3:55)  II. Dolce, meditativo

Track 6            (2:24)  III.


Track 7            (11:06) She Sings, She Screams (1995) by Mark Engebretson

                        for alto saxophone and tape    


Track 8            (11:15) Ponder Nothing (1989/1995) by Ben Johnston/tr. S. Fancher

                        for alto saxophone


                        Sonata (1995) by Wolfram Wagner

                        for alto saxophone and piano

                        Yoko Yamada, piano

Track 9   (8:30)     I.   Variations

Track 10 (3:02)     II.  Intermezzo 1: Scherzo

Track 11 (4:19)     III. Intermezzo 2: Nocturne

Track 12 (5:20)     IV. Finale: largo – prestissimo con fuoco disperato - lento


Track 13 (5:52)           Saxoscope (1994) by Alexander Wagendristel

                        for alto saxophone


Total duration 69:47


New York Counterpoint is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Giacinto Scelsi’s music is published by Salabert Editions.

Ponder Nothing is published by Smith Publications.

She Sings, She Screams and Saxoscope are published by Apoll Editions, Vienna.


Produced by Mark Engebretson.

Final mastering by Bernd Gottinger.

Tracks 1-3 were recorded in April 1998, track 7 in September 1998, and tracks 9-12 in February 1999 at Studiomedia in Evanston, Illinois, John Beeler, recording engineer.

Tracks 4-6 and 8 were recorded in January 2000 at State University of New York at Fredonia, Bernd Gottinger, recording engineer.

Track 13 was recorded in December 1995 at CSM Studios in Deutsch Wagram, Austria, Christian Matula, recording engineer.

Cover photo by Bruce Landis.


Liner notes:


Each of the compositions included on this recording holds a personal connection for me and is a part of the counterpoint of my musical life.  I had the pleasure of meeting both Steve Reich and video artist Beryl Korot after their stunning video opera The Cave was premiered in Vienna’s 1994 Festwochen.  I wrote to Steve asking if he thought any of his music might work in a transcription for saxophone.  He replied that New York Counterpoint, originally for clarinet solo with tape or clarinet ensemble, could work well on saxophones.  He encouraged me to give it a try and approved the resulting arrangement for publication.  I first heard the music of Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi in the early 1990s.  At first, I could not tolerate its intensity, but something kept bringing me back to it.  I am currently completing my doctoral dissertation on his works for saxophone.  The Tre Pezzi provide a good introduction to Scelsi’s music, if his music is new for you.  If you like them, you should also enjoy his later works.  Mark Engebretson’s dramatic She Sings, She Screams was commissioned by me with funds from the Austrian Ministry of Culture.  This work showcases the lyrical, singing and also intense, emotional sounds of the saxophone.  Ben Johnston’s Ponder Nothing for solo clarinet is based on an old hymn familiar to me from my childhood church in Barre Center, New York.  I fell in love with this work and transcribed it for solo saxophone with the kind permission of the composer.  Wolfram Wagner and his wife cellist Ingrid Wagner-Kraft are two wonderful friends I met while living and working in Vienna as the soprano saxophonist of the Vienna Saxophone Quartet.  Wolfram wrote several excellent pieces for that ensemble and in 1995, he added this fine Sonata for alto saxophone and piano to his list of works for saxophone.  Another dear friend and colleague, prolific Viennese composer and flutist Alexander Wagendristel, composed his playful Saxoscope for me in 1994, at my request.  Cheers!  Susan Fancher


Many thanks to recording engineers John Beeler, Christian Matula and Bernd Gottinger, to pianist Yoko Yamada Selvaggio, and to producer and saxophonist Mark Engebretson.  Thanks also to Northwestern University School of Music’s Dean Bernard Dobroski for his encouragement of this project and for the generous support of the Bogue Fund.


 Steve Reich explains that New York Counterpoint (1985) is a continuation of the ideas found in Vermont Counterpoint (1982), where a soloist plays against a pre-recorded tape.  The soloist pre-records ten clarinet and bass clarinet parts and then plays a final 11th part live against the tape.  The compositional procedures include several that occur in my earlier music.  New York Counterpoint is in three movements: fast, slow, fast, played one after the other without pause.  The change of tempo is abrupt and in the simple relation of 1:2.  The piece is in the meter 3/2 = 6/4 (=12/8).  There is an ambiguity between whether one hears measures of three groups of four eighth notes, or four groups of three eighth notes.  In the last movement, the bass clarinets function to accent first one and then the other of these possibilities, while the upper clarinets essentially do not change.  The effect, by change of accent, is to vary the perception of that which in fact is not changing.


Giacinto Scelsi, last Count of Dyala Valva, nicknamed “The Charles Ives of Italy” by Morton Feldman, was born in La Spezia in 1905 and died in Rome in 1988.  The catalog of Scelsi’s works published by Salabert includes over 100 compositions, few of which were performed during the composer’s lifetime.  His work is now performed extensively at important music festivals internationally, and much of his oeuvre is now also available on CD.  Relatively little biographical information is available about him, but it is known that after completing a classical education in Italy, he studied composition in Geneva and in Vienna.  He also spent time in Paris and London.  Probably the first Italian to compose 12-tone music, he was also the first to abandon it as a dead end.  Scelsi took refuge in Switzerland during the Second World War, after which his work took a new direction that involved concentration on single notes, seeking out the third dimension or depth of sound.  Scelsi’s first works on this new path were scored for solo wind instruments.  The Tre Pezzi (1956) for soprano or tenor saxophone is one of these.  They are based on improvisations Scelsi did using a keyboard instrument, called an Ondiola, which was capable of producing microtonal inflections.  Scelsi often based more than one composition on the same improvisation.  For example, the fifth movement of Scelsi’s vocal piece is based on the same material as the first movement of the Tre Pezzi.


Mark Engebretson’s music features a strong melodic sensibility.  His works have been performed in concerts, festivals and venues around the world, including Wien Modern (Vienna), Gaida Festival (Vilnius, Lithuania), Hˆrg‰nge Festival (Vienna), Filharmonia Hall (Bialystock, Poland), Ny Musikk (Bergen, Norway), ThÈ‚tre la Chapelle, (Montreal), Indiana State University New Music Festival (Terre Haute, Indiana), ISCM Festivals (Tirana, Albania and Baku, Azerbaijan), World Saxophone Congresses (Pesaro, Italy and Montreal) and Stockholm Radio.  He has received numerous commissions from the Austrian Ministry of Culture as well as from STIM (Sweden) and the American Composers Forum Composers Commissioning Program.  As a performer, he was a member of the Vienna Saxophone Quartet from 1992-1999. In addition to performances all over the world with the quartet, he has performed in many countries as soloist with orchestra, in recital, and as a chamber musician.  Mark Engebretson received a Fulbright Fellowship for studies in France with saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix and composer Michel Fuste-Lambezat.  He holds the Doctor of Music degree from Northwestern University where he studied composition with M. William Karlins, Pauline Oliveros, Marta Ptaszynska, Michael Pisaro, Stephen Syverud and Jay Alan Yim, and saxophone with Frederick Hemke.


She Sings, She Screams was created using a Korg 05R/w synthesizer and Cubase sequencer.  The work is made of three large sections (or arcs) of increasing intensity, with a short coda.  The piece reflects an interest in melody (in particular, melody using quarter-tones) and musical motion.


For 35 years, 1951-1986, Ben Johnston (b. 1926) taught at the University of Illinois, in touch with composers the likes of John Cage, La Monte Young, and Iannis Xenakis.  Johnston has since retired to North Carolina.  His music is more communicative than that of most of his colleagues, and, perhaps, sounds less experimental than it is.  Nine string quartets form the core of Johnston’s output.  His best-known work, String Quartet No. 4, is a series of variations on the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Ben Johnston’s music is rooted in hymnody and jazz and can be enjoyed by those who have no knowledge of the compositional theories behind it.  The one modern technique that has held Johnston’s lifelong allegiance is the use of microtonality.  Johnston uses potentially hundreds of pitches per octave in his music.


Ponder Nothing (1989) by Ben Johnston is a set of solo variations on the traditional French hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”  The title, taken from the hymn’s third line, “Ponder nothing earthly minded,” refers to Ben Johnston’s interest in Zen meditation as well as his Catholicism.  Like his fourth string quartet, this work is a theme and variation, with 13 variations between the opening and closing statements of the theme.  The use of microtonality is most evident in variations five and eleven through thirteen.  Otherwise, the tuning has a purity that the tune’s anonymous author would have understood perfectly.


Viennese composer Wolfram Wagner (b. 1962) studied composition with Erich Urbanner and Francis Burt at the Universit‰t f¸r Musik in Vienna, with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and with Hans Zender at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt.  His music has enjoyed performances and broadcasts in Europe and in the USA, South America, India and Japan.  He has received many awards and distinctions, including the International Anton Bruckner Prize Linz in 1997, prizes from AKM Austria, and commissions from the Wiener Musikverein, Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna, national and international festivals, as well as many ensembles and soloists.  In 1992-1993, Wolfram Wagner was Composer-in-Residence of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in London.  He is currently on the faculty of the Universit‰t f¸r Musik in Vienna.  His works include two operas, two oratorios, a ballet, several orchestral works, chamber music, choral works, and songs.


The Sonata for alto saxophone and piano was premiered in Vienna in 1995 by Susan Fancher and Nadja Sacharowa.  Constructive elements play a significant role in the first three movements, especially in the first movement, “Variations,” in which two different meters occur simultaneously.  The last movement has nothing to do with construction, but is rather a violent scream, written under the impression of a very frightening personal experience.  The piece is brought to a quiet end with the return of themes from the previous movements.


Vienna-born composer Alexander Wagendristel (b. 1965) made his first composition at the age of 4.  His works, which number in excess of 80, have been performed at major Austrian music festivals including Wien Modern, Steirischer Herbst, Hˆrg‰nge, ZeitgeN÷ssischer Herbst, Klangbogen, as well in concerts in Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Russia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, the USA, and Taiwan.  Mr. Wagendristel has been awarded prizes and grants by the City of Vienna, the federal state of Lower Austria, the Austrian Ministry of Culture, and the Theodor Kˆrner Fund.  In 1994 his chamber opera Die Liebe zu den Drei Orangen was performed at the Jugendstiltheater in Vienna, and in 1995 his opera Der Narr (after an Edgar Allan Poe short story) was performed to much critical and public acclaim at the Schˆnbrunn Castle Theater in Vienna. In 1997, his short opera The Very First Soap Opera won an award at the Berlin short opera competition.  He is principal flutist of the Orchestra of the Vereinigten B¸hnen Wien.  Alexander Wagendristel studied flute with Werner Tripp and AurËle Nicolet.  His composition studies were with Friedrich Neumann, Heinrich Gattermeyer and Erich Urbanner at the Vienna Music University.


The main idea of Saxoscope (1994) was to present various colors of the alto saxophone in a way that the technical and musical skills of the performer will be challenged in uncommon kinds of virtuosity. The musical material is based on proportions.  The pitch system uses the overtone series and the rhythmic system is derived entirely from the ratio 3:2. This technique remains the architectural basis of Alexander Wagendristel’s music.


Susan Fancher’s artistic work centers around the commissioning, performing and recording of new music.  Over a dozen works have been dedicated specifically to her, three of which are included on this recording.  As soprano saxophonist of the Vienna Saxophone Quartet during 1992-1998 and since then the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, she has commissioned and premiered over sixty new compositions for saxophone quartet.  Susan Fancher has appeared in hundreds of concerts internationally as a soloist and as the member of chamber music ensembles, including performances at music festivals in Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the US.  She has recorded for the Philips, New World Records, Lotus Records Salzburg, Extraplatte and Innova labels.  Susan Fancher is currently completing the Doctor of Music degree in saxophone performance from Northwestern University and she holds the prestigious Medaille d’Or from the Conservatoire de Bordeaux, France.  Her saxophone studies were with Frederick Hemke, Jean-Marie Londeix, Joe Daley, and Michael Grammatico.


Born in Hamamatsu, Japan, pianist Yoko Yamada has collaborated in the performance of over 200 pieces for brass and woodwinds.  She has appeared in concerts throughout the United States and Europe, and in radio broadcasts on WGBH in Boston and WFMT in Chicago.  Currently based in Chicago, she performs regularly with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and also with professors of Northwestern University’s School of Music.  Yoko Yamada holds degrees in piano performance from the Toho Gakuen School of Music and New England Conservatory, where she was a concerto soloist with the NEC Orchestra.