Duo Sonata

Duration: 10 Minutes

My friends and colleagues Tim McAllister and clarinetist Alan Woy approached me about composing a duo for them after they performed together in a performance of my Dream Fragments for a much larger chamber ensemble in 1999. A dangerous ensemble, this duo of sax and clarinet; and despite the fact that they are two very different instruments, I really wanted to focus on the similarities between the two as much as possible.

The result is my Duo Sonata, which was completed in 2002. It combines the traditional formal aspects of the classical sonata genre with some more recent musical trends and languages. It exploits many of the coloristic and virtuosic qualities of the clarinet and alto saxophone as individuals and as an ensemble.

Duo Sonata is in four movements each exploiting a different musical style characteristic while sharing common motives and themes:

1. Departure is a highly chromatic and rhythmically driven movement in sonata form. Opening with a fast unison passage (introducing the two instruments as if they together were one), they separate – dancing in homorhythmic passages – only to return to the opening phrases in octaves.

2. Elegy is strictly white-note aeolian and freely rhythmic. Perhaps more importantly, it was composed very quickly as a reaction to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It has since been rescored for sting orchestra, string quartet, wind ensemble and saxophone quartet.

3. Like Departure, the Scherzo opens with the clarinet and saxophone in unison silences only to find themselves simultaneously presenting simple motivic ideas in a 2 vs. 3 polymeter.

4. Unlike the previous movements, the groove presented in Arrival (Blues) requires the performers to consider those points “when not to play,” as Al Woy humorously put it. It is a fast blues (proportional to the 12-bar format) with a contrapuntal development.

To date, Duo Sonata has received over 300 performances around the world.

“Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata… is heavily rooted in repeated rhythms and melodic figures, …though this piece quickly departs to explore beautiful two-part counterpoint and – ultimately – the blues.”

Garrett Schumann, Sequenza21
December 20, 2010

“Gregory Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata was, for me, another high point. This is another amazing piece for clarinet and saxophone and another attention getting performance by Spring and McAllister. The Wanamaker exists in four movements, each of which explores the range, color and expressive qualities of the clarinet and saxophone separately and almost as one unified timbre. The Elegy (second movement) is a very poignant departure in tone from almost everything else on this album, having been written in response to the 9/11 tragedy. A very compelling work.”

Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition
October 1, 2010

“Duo Sonata for sax and, its brother, the clarinet (Robert Spring) is by Gregory Wanamaker. The two instruments are Icarus twins. They fill in each others notes, fly in aerobatic formation, encourage contemplation and indulge in jazz-jamming and minimalist caprice in the Blues finale.”

Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International
September 10, 2010

“I have known Greg since 1997. We were part of a wonderfully talented class of faculty hired at the Crane School in upstate New York that fall. There were about 10 of us! Different economy then. Our offices were near each other and we immediately struck up a friendship. At the time, Greg and I were regularly mistaken for one another in the faculty lounge, due to our similar appearance. He introduced me to a terrific chamber work he composed while a graduate student at Florida State that included saxophone, and I felt he would write a great stand-alone solo work. After much discussion, the result was his deus sax machina. He took a lot of time to learn about how I played and what techniques I embraced on the instrument, so the sonata covers a lot of material and vast sonic palette: from slap-tonguing, to circular breathing, to multiphonics. I premiered the work at the 2000 World Saxophone Congress in Montreal, and the piece was quickly embraced by the saxophone community. This led to many more collaborations with Greg, including the Duo Sonata on Glint, as well as a work for voice and alto saxophone, Four Vocalises, a small concertante for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra, still life is life still…, and a few other pieces. Since then he has written a couple of outstanding saxophone quartets and works for guitar and saxophone. The Duo Sonata was initially written for me and fellow Crane colleague Alan Woy. We played it many times, and, later, I began exploring the work with other clarinet colleagues throughout the country. When I landed the job at Arizona State University, it became the first work Robert Spring and I explored together before commissioning Etezady’s Glint. Now that Greg’s Duo Sonata has had close to probably 100 performances by many duos over the last eight years, it might be said that the piece is the cornerstone work for such a combination. In my opinion, Greg will be remembered as a very important contributor to our repertoire someday, and I’m proud to be his friend and one of his champions.”

Timothy McAllister, Sax on the Run, Fanfare Magazine
34:2 Nov/Dec 2010



January 28, 2003 at Snell Music Theater, The Crane School of Music, Potsdam, NY by Alan Woy and Timothy McAllister.


  • Clarinet
  • Alto Saxophone


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