The Four Saxophones of the Apocalypse originally started as a quote by Carlyle Sharpe. The piece started out as an inside joke, but quickly became a proving ground for various compositional techniques.
Beyond the original selection of a title, inspiration for this piece came from the Book of Revelation, specifically Chapter 6 verses 1-8, which describes the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, which also correspond with the four movements of this quartet.
The piece begins surprisingly tonal, almost whimsical, before easing into a state of dissonance which becomes more atonal throughout the movement, much like a plague. Many of the ideas presented in later movements show up first in this movement, which serves as a revelation of what is to come. The second movement begins with the main theme presented in the baritone saxophone, which is then canonized in minor seconds for the first several bars before falling into a rhythmic pattern of impending doom. The main theme is presented again, and is subsequently passed through all four voices. The third movement is fugal in nature, however instead of using consonant intervals of thirds, fifths, sixths, and octaves, I opted to break those rules and use the less-pleasant intervals of seconds, tritones, and sevenths. Also worth noting is that instead of the tonal answer that would be required by a subject such as the one used here, a real answer is used instead. Despite these broken rules, the fugue process was carried out correctly. The fourth movement starts out, and for the most part stays, in 12-tone. As this movement represents Death, the 12-tone stays incredibly dissonant, and remarkably monotonous, much as one might expect from death. After several minutes of dissonance, each of the four saxophones start playing a theme from an earlier movement, which eventually ends in quiet solitude.
Then I watched while the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse. The rider on the horse held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out, determined to win the victory.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a red one. Its rider was given power to take away peace from the earth and to make people kill each other, and he was given a big sword.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse, and its rider held a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard something that sounded like a voice coming from the middle of the four living creatures. The voice said, "A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay, and do not damage the olive oil and wine!"
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill people by war, by starvation, by disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.
Scriptures quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century Version Â®, copyright Â© 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.