After the New Century Saxophone Quartet asked me to write a piece for them they sent me all their past recordings. I listened to them with curiosity and enthusiasm, and I heard something that totally changed my thinking about the genre. It was their recording of ''The Art of Fugue,'' by J.S. Bach. The first thing that struck me was the absolute mastery of tone of the ensemble—this music was played with such great control and discipline. It was hard not tot get excited about the possibility of working with them.
What impressed me the most, however, was the monumentality of the project. There is so much light music for saxophone, music that can’t make up its mind if it should be classical or jazz, if it should be serious or funny, restrained or aggressive. A lot of this music is truly enjoyable—I don’t mean to say anything bad about it. This Bach project however, is on an entirely new level—it is asking to have the saxophone taken seriously, for all that it can do.
As a composer I immediately imagined how important for the medium it would be for a composer to take this seriousness, this monumentality into consideration, in the creation of a new work.
I started with what became the second movement of my piece, writing seemingly endless streams of notes, trying to trick the melodic and harmonic changes to emerge virtuosically from the dense fabric of the material. Somehow what I was doing reminded me of what Chopin did in his Etude, Opus 10, Number 12—make a ridiculously fast and vaguely minor scale last forever. Chopin’s piece is of course called the Revolutionary Etude. I decided to make a set of these myself.
''revolutionary etudes'' was commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet, with generous support from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, the University of South Carolina, Tom Kenan, and Freda Silberman.