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  • Writer's pictureBret Newton

The City in the Sea

In the summer of 2017, I contacted Paul Cohen the noted saxophone performer, professor, and historian with a question about orchestral saxophone excerpts for my upcoming book Band Orchestration – Volume 2: Woodwinds. Dr. Cohen was not only helpful with my initial query, but he also took his time and read through every single word of the seventy pages of saxophone chapters I had completed meticulously fact-checked every point. When all was said and done, Dr. Cohen saw that I had included several works of my own in the text that featured saxophones. He asked if I had written anything for saxophone choir. I replied with no, but I would love to take on the challenge.

About six months go by and I finally finish the book (it became more massive than I had ever anticipated). My mind then turns to the saxophone piece I had been asked to write for Dr. Cohen. The ideas for the work had been percolating in my head for some months, but with nothing concrete. I wanted to write something based on a work of Poe, but not sure as to which one. I started reading some of his smaller and less well-known poems and came across the poem “The City in the Sea,” which tells the tale of the city lying submerged in a far-off sea in the West where Death dwells and rules. Eventually, Hell rises up swallowing the city in the coming doom.

It isn’t a peaceful piece, but it is complex and multi-textured. It also afforded me that chance to use the Contrabass Saxophone in one of my compositions for the first time (I had been wanting to use such an instrument for nearly 20 years!).


E-flat Sopranino Saxophone

2 B-flat Soprano Saxophones

3 E-flat Alto Saxophones

3 B-flat Tenor Saxophones

2 E-flat Baritone Saxophones

B-flat Bass Saxophone

E-flat Contrabass Saxophone

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