Compositions and Arrangements
Bassoon, Cello, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Harp, Horn, Oboe, Harpsichord, Percussion-Keyboard, Multi-Percussion, Piano Solo, Two Pianos, Piano (Chamber), Prepared Piano, Electroacoustic, Electronic Instruments, Saxophone (All), Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, String Bass (Double Bass), Trombone, Trumpet, Tuba, Viola, Violin, Voice
Show: All Compositions
Dig 2: From Tunes My Grandmother Heard, for large chamber ensemble (17 players), 2009
Instrumentation: One player per part: Fl (doubling Picc), Ob, Bb Cl (doubling B Cl), A Sax (doubling Bari Sax), Bsn, Hrn, C Tpt, Trb, Tuba, Perc, Pn (doubling Cel), Harp, Vln 1, Vln 2, Vla, Vlc, DB, cond
Duration: ca. 25:00 min.
Dig 2: From Tunes My Grandmother Heard (2009)
Susan Richardson Cook Wyllie
Why, you might ask, would a serious composer writing in 2008 choose to base a new composition on American popular music from the period of 1902 to 1918? There are several reasons I've done this. First, this composition, Dig 2, is part of an ongoing project that began with my trio, Collage-1912, and continued with my saxophone quartet, Dig, in which I explore the relationships between twin interests of mine, arranging and composing. Each of these three compositions (which, with equal validity, could be thought of as elaborate and fanciful arrangements) includes borrowed material that is presented in a more-or-less straightforward manner (i.e., arranged for a particular instrumental ensemble) but also transformed, in some cases so radically that connections with the source material are very much obscured. The process of moving from arrangement to composition (and back) in these works fascinates me.
Another reason Ive used popular songs and instrumental pieces from the first two decades in Dig 2 is that this music provides a means (or so I believe) to connect and explore in my work two vast bodies of musical literature that I very much admire: music of some early 20th-century avant-garde composers (Debussy, Ives, Ravel, Stravinsky, and others) and the jazz of the first half of the same century, much of which borrowed heavily both from early 20th-century popular music and contemporaneous European art music.
Finally, I simply like much of the American popular music of the first few decades of the 20th century, and developing compositional projects that involve this literature gives me a good excuse to study it, play it, and play with it.
Each movement of Dig 2 is based almost entirely on two songs or instrumental pieces (Dig 2 could be described as an "entertainment in four double arrangements"), and each movement is dedicated to one or more individuals or groups. Any printed programs distributed for performances of Dig 2 should include the movement titles; the titles, dates, and composers names of the source compositions for each movement; and, the dedications for both the entire composition and each movement.
Movement 1: Afterthoughts and Reminiscences
Based on Somebody Sole My Gal (1918) by Leo Wood
and After Youve Gone (1918) by (Henry) Creamer & (Turner) Layton
Dedicated to Charles Ives, Creamer & Layton, and Gil Evans
Duration: ca. 4:10
Movement 2: Set to Rag
Based on Tiger Rag (1917?) attributed to Nick La Rocca
and Alexanders Ragtime Band (1911) by Irving Berlin
Dedicated to Michigan State Universitys Musique 21 Ensemble
Duration: ca. 4:40
Movement 3: Melancholia
Based on Poor Butterfly by Raymond Hubbell (1916
and My Melancholy Baby (1912) by Ernie Burnett
Dedicated to Dr. Andreas Sidiropoulos
Duration: ca. 3:50
Movement 4: Thank You, Mr. Handy
Based on The St. Louis Blues by W(illiam) C(hristopher) Handy (1914)
and The Memphis Blues by W. C. Handy (1909, 1912 & 1913)
Dedicated to Professor Raphael Jimenez
Duration: ca. 6:25
Duration of the Entire Composition: ca. 20 minutes
About Susan Richardson Cook Wyllie
Few people have had a greater influence on my development than my maternal grandmother, Susan Richardson Cook Wyllie (1893-1972). For much of my childhood, Grandma Wyllie lived with my family in Fairfield, Connecticut, near where she, my mother, and I were born and raised. For many years, while she was living with us, I thought of my grandmother as a unique combination of grandma, second mother, teacher, babysitter, playmate, and co-conspirator (when my parents werent home, we often broke the house rules together).
Grandma Wyllie was one of the sharpest persons Ive ever met; she was resourceful, energetic, quick-witted, and full of basic wisdom. Although she was forced to leave elementary school at an early age, never to return, she did eventually teach herself how to read (as an adult, reading was something she enjoyed doing), but throughout her life, Grandma Wyllie regretted her lack of formal education and was self-conscious about not being able to write much more than her name.
Both of Grandma Wyllies parents came to America from Scotland, and despite being born in Connecticut, my grandmothers speech would often slip into a distinctly Scottish brogue, especially when she would get excited about something (which was often). Her mother, Margaret Richardson, died in childbirth when my grandmother was only two years old. After that, Grandma Wyllies childhood was traumatic. Her coal-miner father, Charles Cook, apparently an alcoholic, was not able to provide for his large family, some 13 children (I dont think there ever have been any coal mines in Connecticut!), and the family decided that my grandmother would have to leave school after the third grade, to work.
By the age of 10, Grandma Wyllie found herself working in a soap factory from six AM to six PM, six days a week, earning literally pennies a day. These early years certainly took their toll on her, but Grandma Wyllie wasnt a fundamentally dour or bitter person; to the contrary, she often was a fun-loving ball-of-fire, at least she seemed so to me at times.
Grandma Wyllie had no musical training, but she loved to sing, especially when she was young, and she claimed to have had a very good voice and to have performed in church-sponsored operettas when she was a young woman. At dances and parties that she attended when she was a teenager and young adult, surely she would have heard many of the pieces that this composition, Dig 2, is based on.
I think one of the reasons I fell in love with my wife, Pat, is that she got along so well with my grandmother and even shares some of her qualities and mannerisms. In honor of my grandmother, my wife and I named two of our four children after her, Charles Cook Ruggiero and Susan Elizabeth Ruggiero.
Dig: JSB-1, for saxophone quartet (sop., alt., ten., bar.), 2003
Instrumentation: Sax Quartet (SATBari)
Duration: ca. 7:00 min.
Dig: JSB-1, A Transmogrification of the 4th Movement
of J. S. Bach's Sonata in G Minor for Violin Solo - for Saxophone Quartet (2003)
Commissioned by the
David Lewis, Baritone Saxophone
Joe Lulloff, Soprano Saxophone
Anjan Shah, Alto Saxophone
David Stambler, Tenor Saxophone
Dig: JSB-1 for
saxophone quartet, is about confluence and transmogrification (defined
in one dictionary as: a changing "into a different shape or form, especially
one that is fantastic or bizarre"). Dig plausibly could be called
an arrangement of the last movement of Bach's solo violin sonata in G minor.
However, instead of arrangement or transcription,
I use the word transmogrification to categorize this work, because
in the second half of Dig the degree to which I've
changed Bach's music, and the aesthetic criteria
I have employed in making those changes, transform the work, in my view. What
starts as an arrangement ends as a composition. Consequently,
this work explores relationships between tradition and innovation, translation
and creation, presentation and origination.
Capitol Quartet's ability to play different styles
of music extremely well, their capacity for making rapid yet coherent stylistic
transformations during their performances, and their dedication to bringing
a wide variety of rich and challenging music to their audiences, is inspiring.
Shortly after the quartet's delightful performance
at Michigan State University in February of 2003, Anjan Shaw, the Capitol Quartet's
alto saxophonist, invited me to write a piece for the group's
upcoming CD. After attending their MSU performance and discussing the commission
with Anjan, it became clear to me that a serious goal of the Capitol Quartet
is to enrich the repertoire of the saxophone quartet in innovative ways. Furthermore,
they are committed to fashioning recital programs and recording projects that
will infuse the performance of music from the baroque and classical periods
of European art music with a vitality that is, in part, borrowed from jazz.
In the Capitol Quartet's performances and recordings
one finds an appealing convergence of classical music, popular American music,
and jazz, a convergence that resonates with me.
the fall of 2002, before hearing the Capitol Quartet's
MSU performance and before Anjan raised the possibility of me writing something
for the quartet, I had thought about writing a saxophone quartet based on the
last movement of Bach's Sonata in G Minor for Violin
Solo, a piece that I had played on marimba when I was Vic Firth's
student at the New England Conservatory in the 1960s. I had enjoyed playing
the piece, and neither I nor my teacher had any qualms about playing it on marimba-after
all, Bach himself had arranged a number of his works, including some for solo
violin, for performance on other instruments!
November or December morning, while listening to the local PBS FM radio station,
I heard a recording of the Bach G-minor sonata and decided that I would enjoy
turning it into a piece for saxophone quartet. I can't
explain exactly why, but as I was listening to the broadcast, the piece seemed
to beg to be "translated"
into a saxophone quartet piece. However, being busy with other projects, I didn't
begin writing the piece until after learning from Anjan that the Capitol Quartet
was interested in doing a CD focusing on classical music, particularly the music
of J. S. Bach, and that they wanted me to write something for the group. What
a nice confluence of interests and opportunities!
first part of the title of this composition, Dig, is a play on words.
Everything in this piece is based, more or less, on Bach's
violin sonata movement. Parts of the composition are little more than arrangements
of chunks of Bach's solo violin music for saxophone
quartet; however, in much of the quartet, Bach's
melodic lines, rhythms, and implied harmonies are rearranged, deranged, displaced,
elaborated upon, etc. I've transformed Bach's
music in ways, some of which I hope are pleasantly unexpected, that reflect
my interests in and experiences with jazz and twentieth-century European and
kind of "borrowing"
and metamorphosing has been done by many composers (Bach himself, Ives, Stravinsky,
Berio, and many others), but some distinguished musicians have frowned upon
the practice. Pierre Boulez, for example, in his essay "Bach's
Moment," has characterized composers who have
borrowed material from other composers as "grave
robbers." I prefer to think of such borrowings
as musical archaeology; hence my title Dig (as in archaeological dig).
But since in this piece I'm attempting to transform
Bach's violin piece, using, in part, jazz harmonies,
instrumental techniques, and rhythmic concepts, the title also is intended to
suggest that I "dig"
(i.e., admire, like, respect, etc., in jazz parlance) Bach's
music and would like, through the Capitol Quartet, to bring it to the attention
of many performers and listeners who otherwise might not encounter it.
JSB-1 is dedicated to the memory of Theodore O. Johnson, who was my friend
and colleague at Michigan State University for more than 30 years and who wrote
two books on the music of J. S. Bach. (November 2003)
Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet, (sop., alt., ten., bar.), 1981 (Dorn Publications, Inc.)
Excerpt - Ruggiero's THREE BLUES FOR SAXOPHONE QUARTET, Mvt. 2, 'Delicately...'From - AMERICAN'S MILLENNIUM TRIBUTE TO ADOLPHE SAX, Vol. V
AUR CD 3111
The Great Lakes Saxophone Quartet: James Forger, Donell Snyder, Joseph Lulloff, Eric Lau
(Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication is not permitted.)
Instrumentation: S Sax, A Sax, T Sax, Bari Sax
Duration: ca. 12:20 min.
Blues for Saxophone Quartet (1981)
Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet
was composed in 1981 for James Forger and the Michigan State University Saxophone
Quartet. Stylistic and formal elements from traditional jazz are pervasive in
this work, but Three Blues is virtually devoid of improvisation except
that the performers are expected, in much of the work, to play the given notes,
rhythms, and dynamics in a style that sounds improvisational. A fine performance
of Three Blues will capture the spirit of good jazz improvisation.
The structure of Three Blues
is an arch form in three movements. The central movement is the longest and
most complex of the three. After a brief introduction, the second movement begins
with a "neo-bop" section featuring the alto and tenor saxophones.
After the first statement of a short ritornello that punctuates the second movement,
an extended contrapuntal passage leads to the apex of the arch for the entire
composition, after which a variant of the "neo-bop" section ends the
Both of the framing movements are
shorter and lighter in style than the second. The first movement, marked "Charliechaplinesque,"
evokes the enthusiastic and lighthearted mood of some '20s and '30s jazz (although
it uses the harmonic and rhythmic style of more modern jazz). Movement I is
based on a repeated harmonic progression that is systematically shortened and
then restored to its original length as the movement evolves. This progression
is derived in part from the first two measures of the third movement (incidentally,
these measures of the third movement contain the first ideas to be composed
for the entire composition).
The last movement ("relaxed
but not sloppy"!) caricatures, in a friendly way, some blues idioms that
jazz enthusiasts will recognize easily. Two functions of this movement are to
provide an architectonic balance to the first movement, and to develop some
of the rhythmic ideas of the previous two movements. In this last movement,
although the prevailing meter is 4/4, beats frequently get displaced, lengthened,
or shortened by unexpected durations creating, it is hoped, a controlled elasticity
of meter and tempo. The wellsprings of these rhythmic ideas are jazz and, to
a lesser extent, the music of Igor Stravinsky. (1981; rev. in 2000)
Copyright Notice: While copying,
printing, or quoting a small portion (i.e., up to 20%) of these program notes
is permitted, under no circumstance may any alterations or additions be made
to this written material or any part of this material without the prior written
permission of the author, Charles H. Ruggiero. No use (other than the copying,
printing, or quoting of a small portion) of these program notes (in whole or
part) is permitted.
Content copyright 2023 by Charles H Ruggiero unless otherwise noted.
Charles H Ruggiero is solely responsible for all content contained within this site