The metaphor is perhaps an easy one: the music for the glass harmonica is as fragile as the material it is played on, and yet it is true. Mozart probably wrote Adagio for Glass Harmonica in 1791, just a few months before his death. It makes you wonder whether this angelic and serene music expresses an apprehension of his death. We have made four arrangements of Mozart’s Adagio for this almost forgotten instrument, which was popular in the second half of the eighteenth century. For saxophone quartet S/AATB and saxophone trio S/AAT
once popular: the glass harmonica
Although people had been making music by striking glass with sticks for centuries, the glass harmonica became a sophisticated instrument not until the eighteenth century, thanks to a series of technical improvements. In 1761, the American ‘homo universalis’ Benjamin Franklin gave the instrument its final form, which probably makes the glass harmonica America’s first musical gift to the world.
In Versailles it was played by Marie Antoinette. However, the fame of the glass harmonica was really established by the cooperation of two musical virtuosi: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Marianne Kirchgessner. Both were famous in their days. Both triumphed at all the courts of Europe. Both died young.
But whereas the first is considered one of the geniuses of classical music, who left the world an oeuvre of unsurpassed beauty, of the latter nothing but a lock of her fair blond hair remains, hidden deep in the library of the Swiss town of Schaffhausen.
fragile as glass: Marianne Kirchgessner
Blind since she was four, caused by the smallpox, Marianne Kirchgessner travelled all over Europe to perform, and many works were composed, especially for her. Mozart met her in 1791 and composed two works for her, a quintet and a solo: the Adagio for Glass Harmonica. In 1808, at the age of 39 she died in Schaffhausen a few days after she was run over by a stagecoach, during bad weather.
It seemed as if her death ended the golden age of the glass harmonica. The instrument and the eerie sounds it produced were mistrusted. It was supposed to frighten animals, cause miscarriages, kill people, and drive people insane. Could the real reason be that nobody knew how to play the glass harmonica? When some German cities banned the instrument, it fell into oblivion.
perfectly suited for saxophone
Perhaps you doubt, whether it is possible to translate glass to metal. Well, we believe we can. Nowadays, works for the glass harmonica are usually performed on piano or organ. How would Mozart feel about that, we wonder. We feel that the subtle complexity of the tones, overtones and timbres, which are so characteristic for the saxophone, makes this instrument perfectly suited to recreate the forgotten beauty of the music of the glass harmonica. You make it stronger, but maintain its multilayered quality. So enjoy this beautiful music with your saxophone quartet or trio, and by playing you revive the miracle of Maria Kirchgessner and her glass harmonica!
product details for Mozart: Adagio for Glass Harmonica for Saxophone
- level: easy/intermediate
- price quartet: € 2.57 (full score at concert pitch + all parts)
- price trio: € 1.57 (full score at concert pitch + all parts)
- go to our shop to buy the quartet SATB
- go to our shop to buy the quartet AATB
- go to our shop to buy the trio AAT
- go to our shop to buy the trio SAT
sample pages (transposed) click to enlarge
For tons of information on the glass harmonica, visit the site of musician and “performer of rare instruments” Thomas Bloch