Sigurd Raschèr

Sigurd Raschèr

Sigurd Manfred Raschèr (pronounced 'Rah-sher') (15 May 1907 in Elberfeld, Germany - 25 February 2001 in Shushan, New York) was an American saxophonist of German birth. He became one of the most important figures in the development of the 20th century repertoire for the concert saxophone.

Career in Europe

He was born in Elberfeld, Germany (now Wuppertal). After studying clarinet with Philipp Dreisbach at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, (from 1930), he switched to the saxophone.:"Trained originally as a classical clarinetist in Berlin, an instrument on which he achieved considerable skill, he told of how he took up the saxophone during the 1920s just to earn a little money playing in the night clubs around the city. Before long, however, he was urged by one of his music professors to try playing the music of Bach on the saxophone. His initial skepticism was soon replaced by a serious commitment to bring a new level of saxophone virtuosity to the concert stage, and to foster the development of serious literature for the instrument." --Ronald Caravan [] After completing his schooling, he taught woodwind at elementary schools and played in concert bands, and spent his remaining hours striving to improve his technical abilities on the saxophone. His dedicated practice paid off; in 1933, he was appointed to teach saxophone at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen, and in 1934, he received the similar post at the Conservatory in Malmö, Sweden. He held both posts until he moved to the United States in 1938.

Career in the United States

Raschèr arrived in America in 1939 and made his American debut at Carnegie Hall on 11 November 1939 with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Sr. John Barbirolli. Soon after he appeared as soloist with the Boston Symphony (some sources say it was the Boston Philharmonic) under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky (the Boston Philharmonic was not founded until 1979, aprox. 28 years after Serge Koussevitsky's death). He was the first saxophonist to appear as a soloist in a subscription concert with both orchestras.

His career continued with solo appearances in Washington, D.C. and at New York City's Town Hall in the spring of 1940. With war looming in Europe, he could not return to his native Germany. In 1941, his wife Ann Mari, of Swedish descent, joined him in the United States, and they established their home on a small farm in the rural town of Shushan in northern New York, where they would reside for nearly 60 years.

Although he was born in Germany, publicity from the 1940s often refers to Raschèr as having come from Sweden - this reflected both his distaste for the Hitler regime, and American suspicion during that time of all things German.

After World War II ended in 1945, Raschèr was invited to concertize in Europe, where he traveled months on end, performing as soloist with many orchestras. As Raschèr's reputation grew in the United States, he performed many concerts as soloist with various university bands.

Raschèr went on to perform as soloist with more than 250 bands and orchestras worldwide, including concerts in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States. Solo appearances included:
*Soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 11 November 1939
*Soloist with the Boston Symphony, 1939
*Soloist and guest clinician with the National Intercollegiate Band, 1967 []

His last saxophone solo performance was with the Vermont Symphony in 1977, on the eve of his 70th birthday.

Relationship with composers and premieres of major works

During Raschèr's life, more than 140 works for saxophone were dedicated to him, many counted as among the most important 20th century works for the concert saxophone. American composer Walter Hartley became a close friend of Raschèr's, and has produced more works for saxophone than any other composer. Hartley was frequently in attendance at Raschèr's saxophone workshops "(see below)".

:"Throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, a preponderance of the significant new saxophone solo and chamber repertoire would appear with the familiar dedication to Sigurd M. Rascher, products not just of his ongoing commitment to motivate some of the world's finest composers, but also in part the result of genuine close friendships he developed with so many. Among them were Larsson, Glaser, and von Koch in Sweden; Jacobi, Dressel, and Genzmer in Germany; Haba, Macha, and Reiner in Czechoslovakia; and Benson, Brant, Cowell, Dahl, Erickson, Husa, and Hartley in the United States. And it is not without significance that among all the pieces written for and dedicated to him during his life, not one was commissioned. He inspired new music, he never needed to purchase it." --Ronald Caravan []

Works dedicated to Raschèr include:
*Edmund von Borck: Konzert für Alt-Saxophon und Orchester, op. 6, 1932
*Henry Brant: Concerto, 1941
*Eric Coates: Saxo-Rhapsody 1936
*Ingolf Dahl: Concerto, 1949 (subsequently revised twice)
*Werner Wolf Glaser: (Allegro, Cadenza e Adagio) 1950
*Alexander Glazunov: Concerto in Eb, 1934
*Alois Hába: Partita
*Paul Hindemith: Concertpiece (for 2 alto saxophones), 1933
*Jacques Ibert: Concertino da Camera, 1935
*Lars-Erik Larsson: Concerto, 1934
*Frank Martin: Ballade, 1938
*Slavko Osterc: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano

Raschèr Saxophone Quartet

With his daughter, Carina, he founded the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, one of the premier classical saxophone ensembles in the world, in 1969. The Quartet appeared (and continues to appear, but with different personnel) at major concert halls in Europe and the U.S. The quartet was acclaimed as the "Uncrowned Kings of the Saxophone" ("Wiener Zeitung").

His tireless pursuit of classical composers, and the impressive technical abilities and reputation of the quartet, led over 200 composers to dedicate works to the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet between 1969 and Raschèr's death in 2001. The best known composers to write for the group include Luciano Berio, Philip Glass, Iannis Xenakis, Sofia Gubaidulina and Charles Wuorinen.

Teaching career

Raschèr taught saxophone at the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School of Music.

Many of his students went on to become well known saxophone teachers and performers themselves, including:
*Ronald Caravan
*Lawrence Gwozdz
*Kenneth Deans
*John-Edward Kelly
*Patrick Meighan
*Paul Cohen (saxophonist)
*John S. Moore
*Lee Patrick
*H. Ray Spires
*Harry White
*James Houlik
*Carina Raschèr
*Linda Bangs
*Bruce Weinberger
*David Bilger
*Sylvia Baker:"(This is a small portion of his students; need additional names here)"

Raschèr Saxophone Workshops

After retiring from his performing career in 1977, Raschèr continued to give week-long workshops to groups of saxophonists, both in the United States and his native Germany, well into his 80s. These workshops typically attracted between 40 and 80 players of all ages, and were usually held at universities where his admirers or former students held teaching positions, such as The University of Southern Mississippi, Georgia State University, Union College, SUNY Fredonia, and Syracuse University.

Workshops featured master classes, performances by soloists and quartets, and a final concert featuring all attendees playing together as a "saxophone orchestra." The last U.S. workshop was held at Yale University in 1992 and the last European workshop was held in southern Germany in 1993.

After suffering a debilitating stroke in 1999, Raschèr died in 2001 at age 93 in Shushan, New York.

His Archive his currently held at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

axophone tone and the saxophone mouthpiece

One subject that was of great importance to Raschèr was his tonal concept. He believed that when used in classical music, the saxophone should sound as its inventor, Adolphe Sax, had intended. Upon inventing the instrument, Sax had specified the shape of the interior of the instrument's mouthpiece as being large and round. All saxophone mouthpieces were made in this style until the 1930s, when the advent of big-band jazz made saxophonists experiment with different shapes of mouthpieces to get a louder and edgier sound.

Between 1940 and 1960, it became common for classical saxophonists to use narrow-chamber mouthpieces, which give the instrument a brighter and edgier sound. Whenever he taught or lectured to saxophone players, Raschèr emphasized that the modern mouthpieces were not what Sax had intended, and the sound they produce, while useful to a jazz player who requires a loud piercing sound, was not appropriate for use in classical music. His students and other disciples felt that the desirable tone for a classical saxophone was a softer, rounder sound - a sound that can only be produced by a mouthpiece with a large, rounded interior (often referred to as an "excavated chamber"). His steadfast and irascible insistence in this area, while nearly all the world's classical saxophonists were moving to narrower mouthpieces (along with saxophones with a non-parabolically expanding bore) and a brighter tone, resulted in quarrels with, and alienation from, the majority of the classical saxophone world. (There were other ways in which his playing differed from the majority of classical saxophonists; these included his insistence on using the slap tongue as a pizzicato technique, and his use of fluttertonguing as a special effect.)

By 1970, narrow-chambered mouthpieces had become nearly universally popular, and mouthpiece manufacturers ceased production of large-chambered mouthpieces. This lack of supply meant that Raschèr's students had difficulty finding mouthpieces that would produce the tone they desired. For a period of time the only large-chambered mouthpieces were ones that had been manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s, leading Raschèr students to search pawn shops and other sources of old instruments.

Raschèr responded to this lack of supply by engaging a manufacturer to make a "Sigurd Raschèr brand" mouthpiece, which was simply a virtual duplication of the mouthpieces that had been readily available from American saxophone manufacturers Buescher and Conn in the 1920s. The Raschèr mouthpiece is still manufactured today.

Top Tones

Of special importance is Raschèr's emphasis on the extended range of the saxophone. As early as 1940 he demonstrated that an advanced player can achieve a range of four octaves on the saxophone, despite the fact that few players at that time ever played beyond the conventional range of two and a half octaves. This upper range became known as the "altissimo register," but Raschèr himself refused to use that term, preferring to call them "top tones."

Few players played above high F before 1940, including H. Benne Henton of the Conway Band c. 1911 (to high D), Dick Stabile, an early jazz artist (to high F), and Jascha Gurewitz, an early recitalist (to high F#).

Raschèr was vocal in encouraging composers to make use of this extended range. He was eager to demonstrate his command of these "top tones," and argued that the use of these notes was a legitimate musical technique, not a trick or novelty. His book on this subject, "Top-Tones for the Saxophone," was published in 1941 and remains highly regarded today.

To better demonstrate that the technique of playing notes above high F had its basis in the natural overtone series of the saxophone, he had the Buescher factory create a custom instrument for him: a saxophone body with no tone holes at all. A picture of this instrument is seen on the frontispiece of the "Top Tones" book. He demonstrated that it was possible to play at least 15 overtones on this instrument, and on a conventional saxophone as well, and claimed that diligent study of the overtone technique was the best way to gain a command of the extended range.

The extended range (altissimo register) was highly controversial throughout the middle of the 20th century, and Raschèr stirred the controversy among the classical saxophone community by insisting that the instrument's inventor, Adolphe Sax, had intended the instrument to be played in this manner. Raschèr cited evidence that Sax had demonstrated a three-octave range (up to a high C) to composers in the 1840s.

Despite the initial resistance on the part of the saxophone community to the altissimo register, it has since come to be an accepted technique, and is utilized by nearly all classical saxophonists. Despite its difficulty, it is now commonly taught to advanced high school and college students, and has become a required skill for any student who desires a degree in saxophone performance.

:"During the earlier decades of his career, many saxophonists resisted and even ridiculed his pioneering work in extending the upward range of the instrument beyond two and a half octaves. Composers, however, were more inclined to embrace this expanded expressive capability that Mr. Rascher had singularly fostered. By {1977} his lifelong commitment to the saxophone's high register, coupled with the momentum provided by so many composers who used it, had served to establish the extended range as an essential element of modern artistic saxophone performance." --Ronald Caravan []

Recognition and Awards

*He was awarded the Band Masters of America Award for distinguished artists
*Honorary Life Member of the North American Saxophone Alliance
*He received many other career awards "(need details here)."

External links

*Official web site [] of the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
* [ Page about Raschèr on the web site of "Saxophone Journal"]
* [ Raschèr's New York Times obituary]
* [ Article about Raschèr's book "Top Tones for Saxophone"]
* [ Memorial article about Raschèr] by John-Edward Kelly

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