A performance project with an historical and analytical perspective on the "Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra", Op. 31 by Peter Jona Korn

Brian Sanford Ransom


Peter Jona Korn (1922-1998) is not a name immediately recognized in American music circles, yet during the 1940s and '50s he led a successful career as an American composer. His Saxophone Concerto -- composed in 1956 for the virtuoso Sigurd Rasehèr, and revised by Korn in 1982 -- is an important contribution to the saxophone repertoire. Many composers, including Glazounov, Ibert, and Larsson, wrote concertos for Sigurd Raschèr. These works, once considered highly virtuosic, are now studied and performed by college level saxophonists. The original version of Korn's Concerto , among the most technically demanding works, has remained in obscurity for over forty years. Nevertheless, the work is not only playable, but also compositionally sound and aesthetically pleasing. The Concerto received few performances and was never widely promoted, due to both the extremely demanding solo part as well as political factors pertaining to the composer. The intent of this dissertation is to reveal the work's substantive value to the field of serious saxophone performance and pedagogy. Methodology includes the study of existing texts, personal interviews with Barbara Korn (widow of the composer), and computer music transcriptions. A wealth of information is available in a variety of documents in English and German by and about the composer. With the permission of Barbara Korn, I obtained the orchestra scores to the original Concerto and the 1982 revision, a score reduction of the original (rendered by Laurence Wyman), and the piano reduction of the 1982 version done by the composer. After analyzing and comparing these documents, this author transcribed the original Concerto into Finale computer program and made a piano reduction using Korn's reduction of the 1982 revision as a template. Conclusions include the possibility of extra-musical content and its effect on the future of the Concerto . The oddly anticlimactic ending Korn wrote for the soloist raises questions about the Concerto 's acceptance by the saxophone community and the concert going public. It is this author's hope that an analysis and discussion of the programmatic elements in the ending will encourage such acceptance.