Classical Work: Jeu de Chat for alto saxophone & piano

Published: June 17, 1981

Originally Published By: All Music Guide

Here is a dazzling display piece for alto saxophone and piano, rather aggressive and hard-edged in its tonal modernism in its rapid outer sections.

Arthur Gottschalk (b. 1952) is a member of the faculty of Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and a composer who write both for traditional instruments and for electronics. This composition was created for Laura Hunter, alto saxophonist, and her piano partner Brian Connelly, who together constitute Duo Vivo. Gottschalk wrote it during a composers’ conference in Johnson, VT.

He wrote it pursuant to Hunter’s specifications for a piece where the two instruments would be presented as possessing equal power and high virtuosity, which accounts for the forcefulness of the saxophone’s playing.

Jeu de Chat is a ten-minute work written in a broad three-part (ABA) layout, where the opening and closing sections are rapid and athletic. The title literally means “Game of Cat,” but the meaning of the title is actually “Tag,” being simply the French name of that ubiquitous children’s game.

The outer sections represent the idea of playing tag, with the instruments scurrying around rapidly in chromatic figurations. At the end of the piece in particular this rises to a frenzied level.

The middle part of the work, on the other hand, is quieter. The writer took it to mean that one of the players was in a hiding place and the other was slowly moving around and trying to wheedle out that position, but other commentators have found the game to have really become one of flirting, which also makes sense because the two instrumentalists share common musical material and play together more often than in the outer sections.

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