How Charles Koechlin used the saxophone in Cole Porter’s ballet, Within the Quota

Earlier this week, I came across a ballet by Cole Porter, Within the Quota. When I wrote about it, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was orchestrated with a saxophone for it’s premiere in 1923. Since it was programmed with La Création du monde and orchestrated by Charles Koechlin, I had a hunch that Koechlin included the saxophone in the orchestration. Listening to the only recording of Koechlin’s orchestration, I could not hear any obvious saxophone solo. But thanks to Nicolas Prost, we now know the ballet was scored for the alto saxophone for it’s premiere.

Prost uncovered the original Koechlin score in the French National Bibliothèque in Paris.

Title page of Porter’s Within the Quota, 1923, Courtesy of Nicolas Prost

In the instrumentation, the alto saxophone is right under the trombone, while unusual to place it under the brass, it follows pattern of scoring that developed during the romantic period. Usually when the saxophone was a soloist in the stage work.

Instrumentation for Porter’s Within the Quota, 1923, Courtesy of Nicolas Prost

What makes this ballet unique among the other ballets written in France during the 1920s, is that many of those works went out of their way to highlight the saxophone. The saxophone represented American music, jazz in particular, so the composer would write solos showcasing the instrument. But Koechlin went to great length to hide the color of the saxophone. The scholar Jacinthe Harbec writes “The saxophone only makes rare and short interventions (less than 60 bars out of 651), and always in such a way that his timbre merges with the other instruments.” (translated through google translate)

Saxophone solo (doubled with the French Horn) in Within the Quota, Courtesy of Nicolas Prost

The unique scoring, comparable to other French impressionistic ballets, gives this work a sound that is neither rooted in the new sounds of Les Six or the jazz influences of American composers. The rootlessness of the work places it in a category of it’s own. If you would like to listen to it, here a radio streaming performance of Koechlin’s arrangement. The ballet starts at 1 hr 42 min.

Thanks to Nicolas Prost for uncovering the score.

Published by Mary Huntimer

Saxophonist, teacher, opera and silent movie enthusiast. All opinions are my own.

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