Just as with top jazz songs, searching for top classical songs brings a never-ending list of masterpieces to explore. As opposed to jazz music, where the saxophone is one of the most important instruments, in classical music it was used as a solo instrument and as an orchestral voice.
Famous composers that have created saxophone pieces include Rachmaninoff, Berg, Prokofiev, Britten, Villa-Lobos, Milhaud and Gershwin, but saxophone’s presence in the concert hall remains scarce. However, there’s a diverse repertoire of classical music inspired by jazz and avant-garde, and the versatility of an instrument such as the saxophone deserves to be recognized.
Here’s a list of what we consider to be our personal favorite classical music for saxophone, but we encourage you to search top classical songs on a sax on music and video platforms to see examples and more options of top songs on a saxophone.
1. Rhapsody for alto saxophone - C. Debussy
Let’s start with Claude Debussy’s “Rhapsody for alto saxophone”. Debussy started its composition in 1903, but since he wasn’t very versed in the capabilities of a saxophone, he left it incomplete and was later finished by Jean Roger Ducasse. It’s an enchanting melody that will definitely stay with you.
2. Glazunov Saxophone Concerto -Rascher
“Glazunov Saxophone Concerto” was written for saxophonist Sigurd Rascher and it was designed to allow the player to showcase every skill. This is a piece that requires tonal control over the wide range tune as it goes up and down, meaning that this is not a piece for amateurs
3. Bolero - Ravel
One of the most important orchestral pieces by Maurice Ravel was composed as a ballet and it’s called “Bolero”. It was first presented in 1928 and it became Ravel’s best-known composition.
4. Job - Vaughan Williams
Another classic where saxophones are protagonists is “Job” by Vaughan Williams, a classical piece revolving around Satan and God’s curse.
5. Symphonic Dances - Rachmaninoff
In 1940 Rachmaninoff completed “Symphonic Dances” featuring a saxophone solo in the first set, a 3 note-motif followed by staccato chords and rhythmic movement. This piece was inspired by Russian church music.
6. Stairway to the Stars - Benny Carter
Another great classical saxophone music is Benny Carter’s “Stairway to the Stars” which was composed by Frank Signorelli and Matt Malneck. Benny Carter was a leading alto saxophonist from the 1930’s until the 1990’s.
7. Night Wind - Johnny Hodges
A jazzier sound but still a classical saxophone piece, “Night Wind” by Johnny Hodges is a song recorded in 1939 showcasing Hodges’ unique blues style. I
8. Saxophone Concerto - Richard Rodney Bennett
In the same line, with a fusion of jazz harmonies, we find Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Saxophone Concerto, 1st and 2nd movement”. This 16-minute piece was composed as a collaboration with saxophonist John Harle.
9. Nixon in China - John Adams
Inspired by President Nixon’s visit to China, John Adams premiered in 1987 “Nixon in China” at the Houston Grand Opera. This classical piece brings the quartet of saxophones to the center giving the instrument more power and importance.
10. It don’t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that swing)
Finally, “Hidden Love Song” by Mark-Anthony Turnage is a masterpiece on its own. Created for soprano saxophone, it’s a beautiful balance between jazz and classical music.
I hope you’ll enjoy our selection of amazing classic music pieces. If you’re also interested more jazzy sounds and make sure to check out our article on 10 popular jazz songs to learn on a saxophone to further diversify your repertoire.