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Are Saxophones Found in Orchestras? (12 Setups Explained)

If you want to play classical music, you may wonder if the saxophone will let you do that.

It may be a popular instrument, but not too many classical composers use the sax:

Here’s Where Saxophones are Found:

Saxophones are in some classical orchestral works, most notably Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Several sonatas and concertos feature the sax. However, it’s more common in jazz music and is a standard member of big bands.

Are Saxophones Used in Symphony Orchestras?

Unfortunately, the saxophone family isn’t a standard member of the orchestra.

However, some composers have written orchestral music that includes the saxophone.

Some of the most famous works use the saxophone as a soloist, such as Debussy’s Rhapsodie pour orchestra et saxophone or Williams’ Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra.

But there are a few examples of the saxophone being an orchestra member, not just a soloist. Here are some examples of orchestral works with one or more saxophone parts.

Milhaud La Création du monde

This ballet features orchestral accompaniment.

Milhaud used his love of jazz to inspire the music, so the saxophone fits in perfectly.

Overall, it’s still a classical piece, and you can hear the alto saxophone play the melody.

However, you get to enjoy some jazz and blues throughout the work.

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet

Another ballet that features the saxophone is Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Specifically, you’ll hear the sax in the movement Dance of the Knights from the second suite of the ballet.

The tenor saxophone acts as both a soloist and an ensemble member, blending with the woodwinds.

Prokofiev included other non-standard orchestral instruments, from the cornet to mandolins, along with the tenor sax.

Ravel Bolero

Ravel’s Bolero is probably the most well-known inclusion of any saxophone in orchestral music.

There are parts for sopranino, soprano, and tenor saxophones.

If you don’t have access to a sopranino saxophone, you can usually substitute it with a soprano sax.

You can show off how sweet the saxophone sounds when you play this work’s repetitive melody.

Shostakovich Waltz No. 2

Waltz No. 2 comes from Suite for Variety Orchestra and uses a full saxophone section.

The alto saxophone is the first instrument to introduce the melody.

This is excellent work to play with other saxophone players.

You get to blend with all of the woodwinds, and the piece can sound amazing when played well.

Vaughn Williams Symphony N0. 9

You can hear two alto saxes and one tenor sax in Symphony N0. 9.

This saxophone section contributes part of the melody in the first movement.

However, they’re able to really shine in the scherzo, which is the third movement.

The saxophones play with woodwinds and brass instruments throughout the piece, which is a great way to use them.

Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2

This work features tenor and baritone saxophone.

Villa-Lobos gives the saxes both supporting and soloistic roles, particularly the tenor saxophone.

You’ll hear the tenor sax playing the melody in the first and second movements of the piece.

Meanwhile, the bari does offer more support since it shares the same range as many bass instruments.

Are Saxophones Used in Classical Music Today?

While they may be more popular in jazz, saxophones are still part of the classical music world. Some professional saxophonists only play classical music.

Of course, you can hear the saxophone in the previously listed orchestral works.

However, there are just as many solos for various members of the sax family.

Consider the following pieces if you want to play classical saxophone music.

Bonneau Caprice en forme de valse

Bonneau’s Caprice is one of the most technically demanding pieces of the classical sax repertoire.

It’s unaccompanied, and you can play it on any saxophone you want.

That means you can choose your favorite sax to make it easier to play the piece.

There are a lot of chromatic runs, and it has a lot of French music elements.

Bozza Aria

The first classical saxophone piece I played was Bozza’s Aria for the alto saxophone.

I never got to play it with the piano, but it’s still fun to play as a solo piece.

The melody is gorgeous and an excellent example of Romantic music.

Of course, since it has a piano accompaniment, you must play it on the alto sax.

Creston Sonata Op. 19

Another classical piece for alto saxophone and piano is Creston’s Sonata Op. 19.

The composer uses the entire range of the alto sax in all three of the piece’s movements.

That can make it a difficult piece to prepare, but it can be fun to play.

If you need a sonata to perform, give this one a listen and get the music if you want to learn it.

Reasons that the Saxophone Is Harder Than Other Instruments. Here are 10 examples!

Maurice Tableaux de Provence

This work is a programmatic suite including five movements.

While Maurice originally wrote it for alto saxophone and orchestra, many saxophonists performed it with just a piano accompanist.

The composer dedicated the piece to the French saxophone player Marcel Mule. Provence, France, serves as the inspiration for the piece’s mood.

Ter Veldhuis Grab It!

A newer, contemporary classical work for tenor saxophone and electronics, “Grab It!” uses audio samples from prisoners sentenced to life.

Unlike pieces with piano parts, you have to line up your playing with the audio recording.

That can be challenging, especially if you’re used to another playing adapting to you.

Yoshimatsu Fuzzy Bird Sonata

Yoshimatsu never had any formal composition training but still wrote amazing work.

This sonata takes inspiration from more genres than just classical music.

It includes bits of rock, jazz, and Japanese music. However, it follows the standard format of the three-movement sonata.

Why Are Saxophones Not Standard in All Orchestras?

The biggest reason saxophones aren’t standard in all orchestras is that they’re relatively new.

Adolphe Sax only invented the instrument in the 1840s.

When saxophones gained popularity, the symphony orchestra instrumentation was set in stone. Of course, some pieces include saxophone parts.

You can also find a few saxophone concertos where the sax is a soloist, and an orchestra is an accompaniment.

It’s also possible that there’s no need for the saxophone in most orchestral works.

Instruments like the oboe and clarinet can cover any parts a composer might assign to soprano and alto saxophones.

Meanwhile, the bass clarinet and bassoon can play in the same range as the tenor and baritone saxophones.

What Musical Styles Use Saxophone the Most?

You can hear the saxophone in a variety of genres.

However, jazz probably uses the saxophone more than any other style of music.

Most big bands feature two altos, two tenors, and one baritone saxophone. You can also find one or more saxes in many different jazz combos of three or four players.

Classical music is probably in second place for most users.

While there isn’t a ton of repertoire, there are more classical saxophone solos and parts than you may expect, especially if you include transcriptions of works for other instruments.


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