Origines: 19th Century European Saxophone Quartets


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    “There is no other musical instrument that I know of which possesses this strange resonance, located on the border of silence… There is no low-pitched instrument in use today that can be compared to the saxophone.” With these words, in 1849, the great French composer Hector Berlioz welcomed the newly invented saxophone.
    Adolphe Sax, the son of another musical instrument maker, is known for inventing the saxophone, but this was only one of his many innovations. Sax also developed and codified the family of flugelhorns, as well as made important modifications to flutes and clarinets.
    In 1842, Sax left his hometown of Dinant in Belgium and headed to Paris in search of fortune. Just a year after the saxophone’s first public appearance, Sax became the greatest musical instrument maker in France. He even secured a monopoly on supplying instruments to military bands. Above all, in 1857, he was appointed professor of the first saxophone chair in history at the Gymnase Militaire in Paris. This contributed to the development of the classical dimension of the instrument and encouraged many composers, especially Sax’s friends and colleagues, to write new pieces.
    The first chamber composition for a saxophone ensemble was a sextet, Jean-Georges Kastner’s Sextuor, composed in 1844 – even before Sax had officially patented the new instrument. Shortly thereafter, the saxophone quartet emerged as the most widespread and appreciated formation.
    Between the 1850s and 1860s, Sax’s repertoire experienced a notable and sudden flowering. Twelve works for saxophone quartet were written between 1857 and 1870, although only nine are currently available. Adolphe Sax was well aware that the creation of an original repertoire and the circulation of the saxophone among composers and musicians were crucial to the success of the new instrument. He founded a publishing house that brought together many of the works written during those years by colleagues, friends, and supporters.
    The authors of the works collected in this recording belong to what we could call “the circle of Sax”: a group of composers, performers, colleagues, and friends who actively supported his enterprise by adopting his instruments and writing for them. Most of them belonged roughly to the same generation as Sax, with the exception of Louis-Adolphe Mayeur, who was one of Sax’s first students at the Gymnase Militaire and a virtuoso saxophonist, as well as a clarinetist. Jean-Baptiste Mohr was an orchestra conductor and hornist, Jean-Baptiste Singelée was a violinist, Emile Jonas taught solfeggio at the Paris Conservatory, and Kastner, who also wrote the first saxophone method in 1855, was a close friend of Sax. Some confusion surrounds the name of Savary, as the piece published by Sax only cites the surname. The work has been attributed at times to the bassoonist Jean-Nicholas Savary, and at other times to the military band director Jérôme Savari.
    All of these musicians were somehow involved in the world of opera, a genre of fundamental importance for French music in the mid-19th century. Not only did they perform and/or execute operas, but they also wrote about them as journalists or music critics. This interest is immediately reflected in their compositions for quartets, which often adopt a lyrical and melodic style, seeking out beautiful accompanied melodies, rather than counterpoint, and don’t exhibit particularly innovative or experimental traits. As American scholar Timothy Ruedemann put it, “Although their quartets were composed in the second half of the 19th century, they rightfully belong in the operatic realm of the first half of the century. They shouldn’t be situated in the context of the more innovative composers of the late 19th century, such as Fauré, Franck, or Debussy.”
    The original intention of this recording is to breathe new life into a significant part of the saxophone quartet repertoire, a season that has been largely ignored by performers (with the exception of the Premier Quatuor and the Grand Quatuor by Singelée). Despite the rather traditional style, these pieces offer an important perspective on the origins of the saxophone in its chamber music dimension. Two other recordings, dating back almost three decades, have taken into consideration the ‘circle of Sax’ (one by the Italian Quartetto Accademia in 1994 and the other by the French Quatuor Ars Gallica in 1996), but this work features four world premiere recordings: Léon Kreutzer’s Quatuor (1864), Jules Cressonnois’s brief Pifférari and Adolphe Sellenick’s Andante Religioso (both from 1861), and Singelée’s Allegro de Concert (1859) – the latter included as a bonus track, being nothing more than a variation on the Allegro from the Premier Quatuor.
    From this point of view, Origines represents the first recording of the entire European 19th-century saxophone quartet repertoire.


    Quartetto Cherubini was established in 2016 in Florence and has since won 12 First Prizes in national and international competitions, showcasing their talent in more than 100 concerts across Italy (including the Festival delle Nazioni, Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte di Montepulciano, Festival di Bellagio e Lago di Como, and Concerti del Tempietto in Rome), Germany (for Jeunesses Musicales Internationales), and Hungary (at the Vaci Vilagi Vigalom festival). The quartet has performed as a solo ensemble with orchestras, string and wind ensembles.
    The quartet has been selected twice (in 2017 and 2019) among the 15 groups from around the world to participate in the International Chamber Music Campus in Weikersheim (Germany). They have also specialized in chamber music with Quartetto di Cremona, Vogel Quartett, Kuss Quartett, Heime Müller, and Dirk Mommertz. The group is committed to promoting classical and chamber music in schools, with their project "I Musicanti di Brema," featuring a narrator and saxophone quartet, as well as performing in disadvantaged environments, including concerts at the detention center of Sollicciano in Florence.
    In 2022, the quartet was among the winners of the Attraverso i Suoni competition, held by Agimus and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, which led to numerous performances and collaborations throughout Italy. In addition to their work on the historical repertoire, Quartetto Cherubini regularly collaborates with young composers, with the aim of promoting and spreading saxophone quartet literature. Their discographic debut, "Origines," recorded for Da Vinci Classics, showcases their artistry and skill.
    Simone Brusoni, Soprano Saxophone
    Adele Odori, Alto Saxophone
    Leonardo Cioni, Tenor Saxophone
    Ruben Marzà, Baritone Saxophone


    Emile Jonas
    (b Paris, 5 March 1827; d Saint Germain-en-Laye, 22 May 1905). French composer. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in October 1841, gaining second prize for harmony in 1846, first prize in 1847 and the second Grand Prix in 1849. From 1847 to 1866 he was professor of solfège at the Conservatoire, and from 1859 professor of harmony for military bands. He became director of music at the Portuguese synagogue, and published a collection of Hebrew tunes in 1854. He was an early contributor to Offenbach's Bouffes-Parisiens with the one-act operetta Le duel de Benjamin (1855), followed by Le roi boit (1857) and several more. Les deux arlequins (1865) and Le canard à trois becs (1869) gave him success abroad, and their production at the Gaiety Theatre, London, led to a commission for the three-act Cinderella the Younger (1871), later produced in Paris as Javotte. Le chignon d'or (1873) was his last work of real significance. La bonne aventure (1882) and Le premier baiser (1883), his opéras comiques, achieved little success. Though a composer of lively music in the vein of Offenbach and Hervé, he lacked their individuality and inspiration.

    Léon Charles François Kreutzer
    (b Paris, 23 Sept 1817; d Vichy, 6 Oct 1868). Writer on music and composer, son of (2) Jean Nicolas Auguste Kreutzer. He studied the piano and composition privately. His cultural interests and independence of thought led him to music criticism; according to Fétis he began writing for L’union in 1840, concentrating on aspects of opera and operatic history. The series of articles ‘De l’opéra en Europe’ was published in the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris between 4 February and 23 September 1849. His work also appeared in the Revue contemporaine (from 1854), L’opinion publique and Le théâtre. In collaboration with Edouard Fournier he wrote the articles ‘Opéra’ and ‘Opéra-Comique’ in the Encyclopédie du XIXe siècle, later published as Essai sur l’art lyrique au théâtre (Paris, 1849).

    Kreutzer’s compositions, which attracted favourable comment from Fétis, are for the most part unpublished. His Symphony in F minor (privately printed, c1860) shows in its first and third movements excessively close adherence to Beethoven’s symphonic form and style, but the remaining two movements are marked out by the inclusion of a battery of six saxophones and five saxhorns in addition to the normal orches