Sonata deus sax machina

Duration: 10 Minutes

Sonata deus sax machina combines the traditional formal aspects of the classical sonata genre with some more recent musical trends and languages. The work exploits many of the coloristic and virtuosic qualities unique to the alto saxophone including the use of multiphonics, quasi-pizzicato slap-tonguing, and its altissimo register.

Sonata deus sax machina was commissioned by Timothy McAllister with the intention that the work may evoke images of machines or machine-like activity. The title itself is merely a play on words to employ the words “sax” and “machine”; it is not meant to imply anything resembling the literary device “deus ex machine”.

The work is in three movements, each of which reflects a specific abstract type of machine or machine-like quality.

The first movement is in a strict sonata-allegro form and may be likened to some sort of perpetual motion motor.

The second movement is a chaconne of sorts that exploits the lyric and melodic use of multiphonics in the saxophone over a steady harmonic ground in the piano. The stasis in this movement may abstractly resemble the hum of an electric clock or fluorescent lights.

The third movement (rondo-psycho) may bring to mind the various stages of the operation of a cartoonish machine.

The work is cyclic as similar motives and themes appear in all movements.

“Wanamaker’s Sonata deus sax machina’s two fast, strongly accented outer movements frame a mysterious, “chaconne-informed second”: influenced by the form it may be, but its language and texture are indubitably modern. By distributing motives and themes throughout his piece, Wanamaker skillfully ties the three subordinate movements into a longer, unified whole.”

“Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata features sinuously intertwined saxophone and clarinet (first movement), a mournful but never despondent elegy, a brief scherzo with Minimalist tendencies, and a lively, bluesy finish.”

Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine
34:2 Nov/Dec 2010

“Gregory Wanamaker’s Sonata deus sax machina combines traditional jazz flavors with contemporary tonality and extended effects – multiphonics, smack-tonguing, note bending – in a technical tour de force.”

“Wanamaker has declared this performance of his Duo Sonata with McAllister and Arizona State University colleague Robert Spring to be “definitive,” and so it may prove, as it is hard to imagine the touching Elegy played with more sympathy, or the blues of the final movement with greater abandon.”

Ronald E. Grames, Fanfare Magazine
34:2 Nov/Dec 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



July 6, 2000 by Timothy McAllister and David Heinick at the 2000 World Saxophone Congress in Montréal.


  • Alto Saxophone


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