11. June 2008 · 4 comments · Categories: Ramble

There’s a review in the Merc for last week’s concerts. It’s so-so. What I expected, except he really liked the first half. A lot.

I do wonder, though, if reviewers know 1) how difficult the bassoon solo is (do they know the words? Sing along, “Why not an English horn? This note’s too high for me.”) and 2) that my friend DK played it so incredibly well. Perfectly. Truly better than the video I was watching and listening to of a major orchestra. Really.


I’m listening to a very muffled recording of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1. I’ve never even heard this one before, to be honest. (And I only found one recording at emusic.com so I’m guessing it’s perhaps not frequently played.) One piece nearly heard (an easy one) … a good number to go. (I’m starting with Prokofiev … moving alphatebetically. Or alphabetically. You choose.)


  1. Quite a few years back, I had a wonderful flute teacher who’d done some recordings of Stravinsky conducting his own music. My teacher commented that Stravinsky sometimes showed a little frustration that bassoonists had, over the years, learned how to make that opening solo quite smooth and beautiful. It seems Stravinsky wanted a certain roughness and sense of strain in that opening.

    If I were a conductor, I’m not sure how (or if) I’d cultivate that. You certainly don’t want to ask a professional musician to “sound ugly”. Still, S does seem to be going after something other than classical “pretty”.

  2. Heh … I can’t imagine any bassoonist wanting to sound ugly. It’s really against our musician’s nature to do that sort of thing. At least in my little opinion. (If I recall correctly you are a much bigger fish in the pond … I’m just an itty bitty, so what do I know? 😉

    Too bad for Stravinsky, but he can deal. 🙂

    (He wasn’t a great conductor either, from what I’ve seen and heard. Perhaps that was, then, deliberate? Tee hee.)

  3. Seems like I played one of Nelhybel’s band works (sorry, don’t remember which one) where he wanted the sound to be somewhat, I don’t know, forced or aggressive? I remember that Doc Patnoe (RIP) had actually seen the composer rehearsing it with some group, so he did his best to have us play it the way the composer wanted it. Tim Smith later did the same kind of thing the second time I came across it.

  4. The IDRS had an interesting article on just this subject a few years ago. The author’s basic statement seemed to lean away from the “ugly” idea. Based on letters from the bassoonists in the Paris orchestra during the initial rehearsals, Stravinsky first asked for it to sound strained, but a week later asked for it to sound “more beautiful”. He (author) continues that it was not written in a freakishly high register for the French bassoon at that time – recital pieces were being written that high and higher. And the fact that he wrote “Dudki” on the opening page of the score might suggest that he wished it to sound like the folk instrument – which I would interpret as somewhat simple, but certainly not ugly (how do you make a wooden flute sound ugly?). At the “Beyond the Score” presentation we heard an old recording of a folk tune (solo voice) on which the opening solo is quite obviously based (simple, but not ugly) as well as demonstrations of a few dudki playing the same tune (again, not ugly). So I’d tend to think that was more the quality Stravinkly wanted, along with the timbre of the bassoon in the upper register.

    But how exactly would you suggest manifesting a sense of strain, anyway? It certainly FEELS strained to me when I’m playing it, but I think when the strain comes out audibly for me, it’s more in the form of sharpness, delayed attacks, or cracked notes. I’m sure Stravinsky wouldn’t have wanted that! Certainly I don’t play it in auto-vibrato mode or bel canto style or anything like that, but to my bassoon-loving ears there is an undeniable beauty in that solo when played simply (but not unmusically) with all the right notes in the right place. Perhaps in the later recording sessions, he was missing the qualities of the French bassoon?