Book Review:  

24 Bach Chorales for Saxophone Quartet

REVIEWED BY:  Heidi Radtke

Heidi Radtke maintains an active career as a saxophonist and pedagogue. She is the Instructor of Saxophone at Butler University and is a sought after private teacher in the Indianapolis area.

An avid chamber musician, Heidi is a founding member of the Obsidian Saxophone Quartet and the Hiding Duo. As a solo artist, she has been featured at regional and national conferences of the North American Saxophone Alliance, the Indiana State Contemporary Music Festival, and the Annual Festival of New Music at Ball State University.


"24 Bach Chorales for Saxophone Quartet by J.S. Bach/Arr. David Camwell

Review by Heidi Radtke

Over the course of his career, Bach composed 371 four-voiced chorales. Though some were original, many of the melodies were taken from popular Lutheran church hymns, secular folk songs, and Gregorian sources. The chorales were used as the basis for a majority of Bach’s vocal cantatas, some as stand-alone works, and others were designed for use by church congregations and for devotional purposes. Bach’s chorales have been recommended for use in countless pedagogical sources. They provide foundational musical material for all types and levels of chamber ensembles. The four-voiced chorales can be used effectively by student groups just beginning to learn their instruments as well as seasoned professional quartets, and are ideal for working on issues of intonation, balance, and blend.

Four-voiced chorales are used prominently for ensemble work by string quartets, making Dave Camwell’s arrangements of twenty-four of Bach’s chorales for saxophone quartet a most welcomed resource. The collection is scored for SATB quartet, with an optional 1st alto part. While other publications of four-part chorales arranged specifically for saxophone quartet exist, Camwell’s collection is the most extensive. Although many of these chorales could be used by groups at any level, it should be noted that this particular collection would work best for saxophonists with at least a couple of years of experience. Camwell presents the chorales in their most basic form, without dynamics, fermatas, designated tempos, and articulations, leaving all decisions on interpretation up to the performers. For that reason, advanced players and established saxophone quartets would find these arrangements especially satisfying and challenging.












Example: Soprano saxophone part to Bach Chorale, BWV 253.

Camwell states in the collection’s preface that the included phrase markings are meant as a guide for interpretation only. A mezzo-forte dynamic is suggested in the first chorale and breath marks are included in the first and second chorale of the collection, but these are the only instances where these markings occur. The phrase markings included are intended to serve as indications of cadence points. The only explicit instruction is to play the chorales “moderately and relaxed.” It is up for the performers to present the phrases and shapes of lines as they experience them and to add fermatas and articulations as they see fit. In practice however, coaches should advise groups that the markings do not mean that the chorales should be played slurred throughout and without pauses and fermatas. Coaches and performers might also benefit from using other editions of Bach chorales for guidance. One recommended resource is Bach’s 371 Harmonized Chorales revised, corrected, edited, and annotated by Albert Riemenschneider and published by G. Schirmer in 1941.

The limited expression markings and the inclusion of BWV numbers and full first verse titles are highly valuable features with this collection. Many times, chorale collections are so over-edited, it is hard to interpret Bach’s works in any way other than that which is presented. Further, some collections provide very little in terms of title identification, making citing these works for recital programs or recordings difficult. The chorales can be read from individual parts or easily read from the score, which is well laid out for this purpose. Camwell’s edition allows for creativity, spontaneity and individual expression. These works can be played differently each time depending on the mood, level, and whimsy of the ensemble. It is this reviewer’s hope that this collection is used with enthusiasm and used often.  -Heidi Radtke