Robert Saxton is the featured composer this month and has written two remarkable works for oboe spanning several decades. Plans are afoot for more oboe works from this fantastic composer so do sign up to our newsletter to be updated on additional compositions.

‘…from a distant shore…’

Instrumentation: Solo Oboe

Duration: 5′

First Performance: Premiered by Melinda Maxwell in 2001

The title …from a distant shore… refers to the description in the biblical book of Exodus of Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, and her companions singing, playing and dancing on the shore of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) as the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery. It is the first documented song of freedom in Western literature and, uniquely for its time, features woman, as opposed to mythical female figures, as celebrants. Indeed, Miriam is described as a priestess.

When Melinda Maxwell asked me to write her a piece, the idea of a solo oboe conjured up in my mind’s ear the sound of an ancient reed pipe, the biblical imagery following almost immediately. The piece consists of three linked sections, both temporally and in terms of material. The first portrays the woman swaying and intoning on the shore, and gradually moves towards the (central) dance of freedom; at its climax, this is transformed into a sustained and intense melodic line, the music eventually fading away. The piece hopefully illustrates the fact that, although the event depicted took place at least 4000 years ago, it remains a reality.

© Robert Saxton

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Arias

Instrumentation: Oboe and Piano

Duration: 7′ & 9′

ARIAS for oboe and piano was written at the request of the oboist Robin Canter in 1977 and received its first performance at the Purcell Room in 1978 when it was played by Robin Canter and Elisabeth Routier.

It is a short piece basically lyrical in character, and falls into five clearly defined sections. The opening duo presents the basic musical material and is followed by an oboe solo which plays on the opening idea; this leads into a central duo which develops the initial ideas more fully, and being palindromic, forms an arch-shape. A piano solo follows this, being another miniature movement which grows from the opening intervals, and this gradually transforms itself into a closing passage reminiscent of tolling bells; as the piano’s steadily progressing chords reduce from six to three notes, the oboe echoes its partner, finally dying away to silence.

© Robert Saxton

About Robert Saxton

Robert Saxton was born in London in 1953. After early guidance from Benjamin Britten and study with Elisabeth Lutyens, he studied with Robin Holloway (Cambridge), with Robert Sherlaw Johnson (Oxford, as a postgraduate) and also with Luciano Berio. He won the Gaudeamus International Composers Prize in Holland at the age of twenty one.

Commissions include works for: works for the BBC (TV, Proms and Radio), LSO, LPO, ECO, London Sinfonietta, Nash Ensemble, Northern Sinfonia and David Blake (conductor), Antara, Arditti and Chilingirian String Quartets, St Paul Chamber Orchestra (USA), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival/Opera North, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, City of London, Three Choirs and Lichfield festivals, Stephen Darlington and the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford, the choir of Merton College Oxford, Susan Milan, Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett, Simon Desbruslais, Clare Hammond. Edward Wickham and The Clerks’ Group, Teresa Cahill, Leon Fleisher, Tamsin Little, Steven Isserlis, Mstislav Rostropovich, John Wallace and the Raphael Wallfisch and John York duo.

Since 1999 he has been at Oxford University, where he is Professor of Composition in the Faculty of Music and Tutorial Fellow in Music at Worcester College. Since 2013, he has also been Composer-in-Association at the Purcell School for Young Musicians.

His music from 1972 until 1998 was published by Chester/Music Sales and, since then, by the University of York Music Press and Ricordi (Berlin). Recordings have appeared on the Sony Classical, Hyperion, Metier, EMI , NMC, Divine Art and Signum labels.

Robert Saxton is married to the soprano, Teresa Cahill.

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