In 2009 I heard the PRISM Quartet play Pagine, a set of arrangements by Salvatore Sciarrino of works spanning several centuries. I was taken with the suppleness of the ensemble, its ability to adapt itself to widely divergent styles of music. I was also struck by the license Sciarrino took in collecting vastly different works into a single set.
The generations born in the mid-20th century were the first to experience music in their formative years via both live performance and on recordings. As a consequence, juxtapositions that would have confounded our forebears sound perfectly reasonable. Jumping from Carlo Gesualdo to Cole Porter is stimulating, where it once might have been horrifying.
I latched onto Sciarrino’s premise as a foundation for Nine for Four, a collection of pieces from the 14th to the 20th centuries that have had a strong impact on the way I think about music. The pungent harmonies of Machaut and Scriabin, the nimble wit of Josquin and Beethoven: listening to these compositions through the prism of a saxophone quartet emphasizes how vastly different they are from one another, and how similar. Some of the works that comprise Nine for Four are just simple arrangements, others are reinterpretations. All of them are pieces I discovered in my youth that continue to haunt me.