Faith & Values Musical Artist You Should Know: Walter Saul

FresnoJanuary 17, 2014 

A composer, pianist and professor of music at Fresno Pacific University used a sabbatical a year ago to put together a new album.

Walter Saul will perform in a recital at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in the Fresno Pacific McDonald Hall Atrium to celebrate the release of his new CD, "Walter Saul: Sonatas and Meditations for Piano." Admission is $12, or $8 for students and seniors. The recital is part of Fresno Pacific University's Pacific Artist Series.

The CD contains three meditations and four of Saul's five sonatas for piano. The history covered ranges from 1970 to 2009, and represents his pilgrimage as a follower of Jesus Christ.

The Bee recently caught up with Saul to learn more about his work.

Question: How do you describe your style of music?


Some would call it classical modernism. I like the profound counterpoint of Bach and the classical forms of Haydn and Mozart, but also the astringent dissonances of Olivier Messiaen or Bela Bartók. Others could call me a neo-Romantic and, indeed, the music of Frédéric Chopin and Anton Bruckner resonate very strongly with me. I enjoy the serial systems and Romanticism of Alban Berg along with the jazz harmonies of Leo Sowerby.

While growing up, what was your favorite album or CD — and why?

I still wish I had the LP of Guiomar Novaes playing the Chopin Nocturnes. I still think of her as sharing Chopin with me, without any unnecessary additions or "interpretations" on her part; she truly honored the composer, and, in so doing, caused me to fall in love with Chopin's music just as I was beginning to compose at age 7.

Who has influenced your music — and in what specific ways?

Chopin showed me the marvelous intricacies of Romantic-altered harmonies as well as how to compose for the piano; likewise with Claude Debussy and his Impressionistic palette of sonorities that celebrate this instrument so well.

Benjamin Britten is my model for choral music and also for the ability to turn very simple ideas into profound monuments, such as the "War Requiem." And I turn to Bach, Bruckner and Messiaen to learn how to celebrate my Lord Jesus Christ through writing music.

How have you benefited performing on the piano from your years teaching students at Fresno Pacific?

The students — and the faculty, staff and administration — at Fresno Pacific University are my community. I was sent by the Lord to minister to them. They have always been a marvelous and receptive audience for me, and I simply love to play, especially for those I love. Hence, I am motivated to perform well and often.

What is the inspiration involving your latest CD?

For my spring 2013 sabbatical, I cheerfully promised to record all my piano music — then realized that I was looking at four or five CDs. So, here's a start, with most of the particularly demanding pieces. And yet, as I surveyed the list, I realized that the works I had chosen were my spiritual journey toward the God of grace over the last 45 years.

What are you expressing in the CD song, "On the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus"?

I cannot discuss this work without weeping. Luke 9:28-36 still haunts me, since it tells of Jesus Christ's Transfiguration, but Jesus, Moses and Elijah are discussing the death that awaits Jesus. How could the moment of supreme glory for Jesus on this Earth be so connected with the ghastly torture of the cross? Yet that is the amazing paradox of glory that saves me and the world. And, in this piece, I think I got it — by getting out of the way!

You remember two friends, Marianne and Orlin Sheets, in "Sonata #4 for Piano." What are you expressing in each of the movements?

I will start with the elegy in the middle: my sorrow over this couple dying within two years of each other from cancer, with haloes of hope for heaven in the high notes. The first movement is the joy they had for one another and for the Lord, along with their delightfully mischievous personalities. The third movement is God's ultimate laughter at death.

What is the inspiration behind your song, "For God Alone My Soul Waits in Silence"?

This work is the celebration of God's saving work in the life of Michael Spry, a homeless alcoholic who came to live in our church, Sunnyside Centenary United Methodist, in Portland, Ore. During his two years with us, he remained sober and paid off all his debts to society through community service to many other homeless persons. His anger, despair, calling by God and salvation are reflected in this meditation.

What do you want listeners to get out of the song, "Palingenesia"?

I want them to hear the restoration of everything to its pre-fall created state, as described in Romans 8:22-23. This wonderful Scripture speaks of the groaning of creation and of the followers of Jesus as we await full adoption into the family of God and the redemption of our bodies. The process is much like labor pains as they lead to birth. Labor pains were very much on my mind as our first grandchild ushered our family into a new generation.

How can people reach you or buy your music?

Through my website,, or through Fresno Pacific at (559) 453-2000.


To see Walter Saul play a piece of his music from his new CD, go to


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304 or

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