Tender Earth

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music Theory and Composition

Committee Chairperson

Jacob Cooper, D.M.A.

Committee Member

Adam Silverman, D.M.A.

Committee Member

Robert Maggio, Ph.D.


Tender Earth is an extended work for saxophone quartet (SATB) composed as a Masters thesis for West Chester University in 2019.

The title Tender Earth is somewhat derived from a Biblical idea of the post-flood world that Noah and his family inherited in the book of Genesis. This “clean slate” of a fresh, untouched world waiting for cultivation remained in the back of my mind as I composed. However, the titles and musical themes are only loosely based off this idea and are not intended to closely follow the Biblical narrative.

The greater form of the composition is a sort of arch form due to its ability to be folded in on itself.

The initial Chorale is interwoven and transformed throughout the work, unifying the composition. The arch-form is also found on smaller scales in the various movements. In the likeness of the overarching form, the concept of retrograde reflects certain bits of music onto itself. The movements vary in style and concept and can be grouped based on these styles, creating the large-scale form.

Prevailing Wind is a highly energetic movement utilizing this arch form as well as blocked chorale chords and spontaneous changes. The subsequent Interlude is in tonal contrast to movement ii. and acts as a transition to the all-alto saxophone movement, Star Cradle. This movement maintains a single texture and the simplistic movement of ascending runs. Orchard is a soprano/alto saxophone duet drawing on Renaissance sounds as well as Stravinskian meters.

The next movement, Thorn and Thistle, marks a point of the composition in which fragmentation and disjunction take over. Thorn and Thistle uses broken chords and the placement of rests to create a disorienting meter. The movement concludes with a fragmented iteration of the Chorale. The following movement, Refraction, opens with a brash initial statement which is then separated by parts, retrograded, and placed into canon for the remainder of the movement. In between this process, creative liberties were used to created contrast and direction. This movement also ends with a quotation from the Chorale, but this iteration is in retrograde and augmented.

Groundwater Recharge is a brief tenor/bari duet with interlocking rhythms and funk-inspired rhythms while the harmony is inspired by southern rock/folk sounds. Embers is another placid movement, utilizing a continual tremolo to create an atmosphere of tranquility and reflection. Another Interlude follows from the tenor saxophone, echoing the interlude before. The last energetic movement, Jubal, uses bombastic chords and winding runs create a lively movement. Quotes from previous movements appear as well creating a sense that the work is nearing its end. The last movement, Chorale, is a stripped-down and obscured version of the first movement, finishing with more fragments until nothing is left.