Dancing in the Aisles


Soprano saxophone and piano | 10'

First performance: Pump Room, Bath, England. Sarah Field (saxophone) and Simon Lepper (piano).

Score excerpt from Dancing in the Aisles by Nicholas Brown

Programme notes

Dancing in the Aisles imagines scenes from the life of American saxophone legend, Rudy Wiedoeft. As a child, Wiedoeft played the violin. One day, he fell off his bicycle, broke his arm and was left unable to use a violin bow properly. As a result, he took up the clarinet and later, the saxophone. The first movement, ‘Fortunate accident’ alludes to a popular song children play during the early stages of learning the violin.

The second movement, ‘Session with Edison’, skips forward in time to around about the year 1917, when Wiedoeft made a recording for Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph. Thus music recreates the typical ‘stop-start’ nature of a recording session and simulates other curiosities, such as the inaccuracies of reproduction (or ‘jumps’ of a phonograph needle) familiar to listeners of 78s.

By 1918, Wiedoeft had made recordings that had launched his career and swept a craze for the saxophone across America. The third movement, titled ‘Dancing in the Aisles’, alludes to the 1917 classic, Valse Erica. ‘Cowboy Song’ concerns a story once told of Wiedoeft’s tour to England in 1926. As it goes, Wiedoeft took to dressing up as a cowboy and viewing the sights of London on horseback.

Beyond this curious scenario, a certain melancholy preempts the downfall of Wiedoeft and his glittering career. In the 1930s, following a brief period of residence in Paris, Wiedoeft returned to his homeland and invested his entire fortune in a goldmine in Death Valley, California. Around the same period, growing domestic problems reached a peak when he was stabbed by his wife. Although he managed to survive the incident, by this stage of his life, the best of Wiedoeft’s career had passed. The final movement, ‘Death Valley’ alludes to the poignant Russian folk song, ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’, which Wiedoeft recorded with pianist Oscar Levant in 1926.