Five of One, Half a Dozen of the Other…?
for saxophone quartet: AATB (2000)
duration: 10’
GRT • 070

CD available
Continuum Sax
Continuum Saxophone Quartet, CSAX01
Reed Music

audio sample
1: At Sixes and Sevens

score available from
Reed Music

program note
This set of four short pieces for saxophone quartet is dedicated to M.C. Escher. All four miniatures explore different aspects of rhythmic ambiguity inspired by the visual ambiguity found in Escher's impossible pictures.

At Sixes and Sevens, scored in 13/8 (6+7), is based around a cinematic theme which is developed and features a written solo for the tenor saxophone. The texture ebbs and flows and is finally reduced back to just key and breath noise under a final utterance of the theme.

Möbius Strip explores compound metre, mostly 5/8. A möbius strip is (in its most simple form) a strip of paper looped and joined at the ends but with one end turned around 180 degrees. This creates an object with only one plane, since the front merges into the back and vice versa. This miniature is entirely motivic, based around the opening 5-note cell which loops seamlessly around on itself, expanding and contracting, like a möbius strip. Towards the end it modulates pivotally up a semitone, launching upwards into infinity.

The title miniature,
Five of One, Half a Dozen of the Other…? was the first to be written in the set and explores the rhythmic ratio, 5:6. It is here that the influence of Escher's ambiguous forms is most noticeable. The two rhythms, scored in 15/16 actually fit together like a puzzle. Sometimes you hear the 5, sometimes the 6, and the points where these two merge can sometimes leave the listener in a state of balance between different pulses. Set against this is a blues melody and, later, a rising scale motive which alters the direction of the music 'in the blink of an eye'.

Delayed Arrival (Flight 4753) is an experiment in non-aligned barlines with a common pulse. All four saxophones have individual melodies in the same key, but of differing lengths in different time signatures (4/4, 7/4, 5/4 and 3/4). These 'co-exist' but create a sense of floating pulse, until all come together at the end, drawn into the 4/4 vortex of the second alto, culminating in a 'shared' groove.

These pieces were written for Continuum Sax (James Nightingale, Margery Smith, Martin Kay and Jarrod Whitburn) who, together with Barry Cockcroft, helped to workshop and polish the pieces.

"Greenbaum's piece is beautifully idiomatic”
Andrew Ford, 24 Hours, October 2002

“From the opening track it is obvious to hear the rhythmic accuracy and excellent intonation that can only come from a dedicated ensemble. Melbourne composer and lecturer Stuart Greenbaum's four miniatures Five of One, Half a dozen of the other…? (dedicated to artist and mathematician M.C. Escher), capitalises on this accuracy with a work in mixed metres, inspired by the visual ambiguity of the artist's work. There is particularly beautiful p soft staccato playing in the third movement.”
John Babbage, Australian Clarinet and Saxophone, September 2001