Event Horizons (1998)

Brian Sacawa, alto saxophone, Michael Golzmane, piano (live).

alto saxophone, piano
22 min.

This sonata for alto saxophone and piano, which I regard as my first mature composition, takes its title from the astronomical term referring to the spacetime boundary in a black hole beyond which light can no longer escape – a point of no return. It is an intensely emotional piece, stemming from reflections on the immensity of the universe and my own place in it. The title was merely a catalyst, an image that sparked the creative process. I was also greatly affected by the spaciousness and subtle intricacies of Eastern music – the gamelan music of Bali in particularly. Much of the resulting music is reminiscent of the ringing of bells or gongs, which in so many cultures has great ceremonial and spiritual importance. I saw it as a symbol of connection between the natural and metaphysical worlds. At its core, Event Horizons is an intense rite of passage, a quest for ultimate understanding, and perhaps reaches it, at least in part.

The three movements are cyclical in that they all share thematic material. The first movement begins quietly with the notes Ab and Bb, the two instruments gradually absorbing one another’s ideas. The movement is all fits and starts, reaching one climax after another, only to start again on the same two notes. After the stormy conclusion of the first movement, the second starts ominously. It was inspired by the Hindu image of the dance of Shiva, a dance of simultaneous creation and destruction, governing all movement in the universe. It flies by in asymmetrical meters until it comes to a halt in the more contemplative, but equally active middle section. The dance begins again, becoming wilder and more uncontrolled as it finishes its headlong rush, crashing into the third movement without a pause. Over a sustained rumble in the piano, the saxophone intones a chant-like theme, which is then varied seven times. The variations encompass the main musical ideas of the first two movements, but ultimately put aside all complexity of development and seek their own resolution in the two notes which began the work.

Shortly after beginning the first movement, I was given a book of poems by Octavio Paz, one of which seemed to capture the mood of the piece precisely. That same day, Paz died. This coincidence was so powerful that the poem became a kind of guide as I worked on the piece:

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand,
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.