Weber Rondo for Children

I’ve written previously about the three earliest recordings of Carl Maria von Weber’s Andante and Hungarian Rondo — two featuring German-American bassoonist William Gruner (1920 and 1926), and one with French bassoonist Fernand Oubradous (1938). As a number of people pointed out, I left out another early recording by Eli Carmen from the late 40s. I didn’t have a copy at the time, but I’ve managed to get my hands on one now. This one’s a bit of an oddball: it’s only the Rondo, it was recorded for a children’s record label, and it was released on a vinyl 78rpm disc. As far as I can tell, this recording has never been rereleased, but you can listen to it below.

Eli Carmen Weber Labels

Both labels of my disc – a later Children’s Record Guild release, originally recorded for Young People’s Records.
Click for a larger version.

Eli Carmen

Eli Carmen

Elias Carmen was born in New York in 1912 to Russian immigrant parents. His father was a tailor.1 He started on the French system, but switched to the German bassoon when he began studies with Simon Kovar. Carmen and Sol Schoenbach were the first two German bassoon students at Juilliard.2 Carmen played with many orchestras during his carer, most notably the Minneapolis Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the NBC Symphony, and the New York City Ballet. He taught at both the Manhattan School of Music and Yale. Carmen died following an auto accident on December 21, 1973.3

Carmen appeared on a great number of orchestral recordings with the NBC Symphony, as well as recordings of chamber music by Beethoven, Ludwig Spohr, Arthur Berger, and Mel Powell. He also recorded Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor, “La Notte” with flutist Julius Baker on Odyssey.4 But this partial Weber is his only truly solo recording.

YPR 1009 Cover

YPR 1009 Cover

Young People’s Records was established in the late 1940s, and sold records on a subscription model. Existing children’s records were meant to be played for children by their parents or teachers. But YPR wanted kids (ages 2 to 11) to actually use the records themselves. To this end, YPR was one of the first companies to exclusively use the then-new flexible vinylite for their discs, rather than the older and much more fragile shellac. A large quantity of the recorded material was written specifically for YPR — mainly songs in various styles, but also instrumental works and even mini-operas. YPR’s editorial board, which included eminent American composers and teachers Howard Hanson and Douglas Moore, no doubt encouraged the prevalence of new commissions. Recordings of Classical or Romantic composers, such as Weber, comprised a relatively small portion of YPR’s catalog.5

Records of YPR’s recording session dates evidently haven’t survived, but Eli Carmen’s Rondo was released in November 1949. Max Goberman conducted this and YPR’s other classical selections, and what’s billed here as the “YPR Symphony Orchestra” was assembled largely from Goberman’s own New York Sinfonietta. YPR emphasized music’s educational and developmental benefits in both its advertising and its packaging. The text on this record’s sleeve give a kid-friendly explanation of Rondo form:

Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra
by Carl Maria Von Weber (pronounced Fon Vaber) 1786 — 1826

When you tell an idea in words, it is called a story. When you tell an idea in music, it is called a melody. Just as you can tell a story in many different ways, so you can tell a melody in many different ways — and one of those ways is a rondo. (Other ways are marches, different kinds of dances, sonatas, sets of variations. None of these ways of telling a melody have words or stories attached to them.)

The rondo way of telling musical ideas is to keep coming back to the first idea, or melody. In this rondo — its full name is Hungarian Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra — we hear a melody, then a new melody, then the first melody, then another new melody, then the first melody again. Sometimes these melodies are played by the bassoon alone, sometimes by the orchestra alone and sometimes by bassoon and orchestra.

And a further note “To Parents” explains why this particular work was chosen for the series:

…Young People’s Records believes the rondo to be a good form for children’s listening because it is readily apparent and acceptable. The recurrence of a basic melody is something the child can easily follow without becoming lost in intricate problems of design and form. We have chosen this particular rondo for children because of the appeal of the bassoon as an instrument.…

Hear Eli Carmen’s Rondo here:

Listen to Eli Carmen - Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra (1949)

For more about Young People’s Records and the Children’s Record Guild, see David Bonner’s 2008 book Revolutionizing Children’s Records and his web site: The Shellackophile has also digitized and posted a number of YPR titles, which you can download (thanks to him for the image of the cover above, as it’s missing from my disc).

  1. 1920 United States Federal Census, Brooklyn Assembly District 2, Kings, New York (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T625, roll T625_1146, page 6A). 

  2. Sol Schoenbach, “Remembrances of Eli,” To The World’s Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),

  3. Mrs. Ivan Kempner, “Elias Carmen – Farewell,” To The World’s Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),

  4. Donald MacCourt, “Elias Carmen on Recordings,” To The World’s Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),

  5. David Bonner, Revolutionizing Children’s Records: The Young People’s Records and Children’s Record Guild Series, 1946—1977 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008). 

The Numbering of Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerti

If you’ve ever played, listened to, or researched anything by Antonio Vivaldi, then you’ve probably run into the mishmash of different numbering systems for his works. There are in fact five separate cataloging schemes for Vivaldi’s instrumental pieces, each with its own internal logic, and there’s no simple way to convert from one to another on the fly. It can thus be incredibly frustrating to go from a scholarly article to performing editions to critical or complete works editions to recordings, as each of those media may well reference a different number for the same piece.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about Vivaldi’s 39 bassoon concerti. The Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition, for which I’m the Director of Operations, uses a different Vivaldi concerto each time around. I wrote the liner notes for the first disc of Nadina Mackie Jackson‘s series of all the concerti. Last year I created a new performing edition of his Concerto in g minor, RV 495. Throughout, I’ve been able to keep all the numbering systems straight thanks to Jeffrey Lyman‘s excellent Table of Concordances: Vivaldi Concerti for Bassoon. This table lists all 37 complete concerti along with their designations in each of the five numbering systems, and builds on work by Trevor Cramer and George Conrey.

My only complaint about this table is that it presents the data sorted by only one system, which means that it sometimes takes a while to hunt through the other columns to find what you’re looking for. So, I decided to make the completely sortable version below. As long as you have Javascript enabled, you can click on any column header to sort the by that numbering system. This should make it easy to locate whichever number you need. I’ve also added in Vivaldi’s two incomplete bassoon concerti, just for the sake of completeness. Below the table you’ll find explanations of the numbering systems, if you care to know why we have so many.

Read More

Updated Fingering Charts

Fingering Chart v.2

I first published my own bassoon fingering charts a little over two years ago. That post is far and away the most popular on this site, and I’ve heard reports from all over of people using the charts. It was always my intention to tweak the charts as I used them for teaching and received feedback from other users. But I lost my source files shortly after publishing the first charts, and have only been able to make very minor changes since then. Now, finally, I’ve rebuilt the things from the ground up and made some alterations that were long overdue.

The charts show my basic fingering(s) for each note. I may at some point add charts for alternate fingerings and/or trills, but they aren’t there yet. There are now four separate versions of my fingering chart, suitable for different uses:

  • The Beginner Chart includes fingerings for the first three octaves of the bassoon (Bb1—Bb4), uses only bass clef, and shows venting rather than flicking.
  • The Student Chart extends up to E5, uses tenor clef, and shows flicking keys in red.
  • The Pro Chart goes all the way up to Bb5 for the adventurous
  • The Extreme Range Chart just shows the very top end of my fingerings, for those who don’t need any help in the standard range

The charts now reside on their own separate page under my Resources tab. That way I can just post future updates there without having to make a new post every time. Grab them here: Fingering Charts.

AnyWhen Ensemble – The Bright and Rushing World

Douglas Detrick's AnyWhen Ensemble - Bright and Rushing World

I have long intended to write more here about specific jazz recordings that include bassoon. I have many favorites spanning basically the whole history of jazz, which I’ll get to eventually. But I’ve decided to start with a recent album from a band that’s new to me. Last month I received a copy of The Bright and Rushing World by Douglas Detrick’s AnyWhen Ensemble (thanks, Dad!). This, the group’s third album, was recorded in 2012 and released in March of this year. I’ve been listening to the disc on and off over the past few weeks, and I quite enjoy it.

The ensemble describes themselves on their web site thus:

We believe in the unexpected. Our signature instrumentation sets us apart, but we make our real impact through bold new compositions that integrate chamber music conception with jazz spontaneity. We believe that great music can happen anywhere, anyhow, anywhy, and anywhen — ours is fitting music for this bright and rushing world.

Indeed it was their uncommon instrumentation that drew my attention in the first place. The group is a quintet consisting of trumpet (Douglas Detrick), saxophone (Hashem Assadullahi), cello (Shirley Hunt), bassoon (Steve Vacchi), and drums (Ryan Biesack). This very assemblage of instruments seems to bridge the chamber music and jazz worlds rather nicely. Although they all certainly appear in both realms, saxophone and drumset tend to be associated with jazz while bassoon and cello tend to be associated with classical music. Trumpet is the one instrument here that commonly appears in both musics, and it’s perhaps fitting that Detrick, the group’s leader, occupies that linchpin position. Detrick also serves as the ensemble’s chief composer. In fact, the quintet got its start playing music for his graduate composition recital at the University of Oregon, where Steve Vacchi is Professor of Bassoon and Chamber Music.

The Bright and Rushing World is a single album-length composition, divided into ten movements/tracks. They aren’t all completely continuous, but most flow into each other without substantial breaks or strong cadences. The first word that came to my mind to describe this music was “atmospheric,” but that’s not exactly right. “Spacious” might be a better descriptor. Detrick makes judicious use of silence, as well as transparent textures. The pacing is also generally gradual – themes, textures, and grooves are given plenty of time for development. There are a few hurried moments, such as pointillistic interjections in “Into the Bright and Rushing World.” But even these are relatively short, and are bookended by silence, laid back drum grooves, and/or much simpler melodic material. It is often difficult to tell exactly where the composed music ends and the improvised playing begins, which I imagine is by design.

Detrick provides the ensemble with many opportunities for exploring interesting combinations of tone colors. In the first movement (“The door is open”), saxophone, cello, and bassoon act like a single instrument, creating a lush organ-like accompaniment for Detrick’s somewhat meandering melody. In the middle of the sixth movement (“You never thought to give a name”), the four melody instruments play overlapping slithering lines, almost the sonic equivalent of a mass of writhing tentacles. Cello, bassoon, and trumpet variously emerge as solo lines from this texture, then melt back into it. It’s a very cool effect, and I can’t really do it justice with a written description. What really makes these and other timbral/textural devices within the piece work is that these players blend with each other exceptionally well. This, combined with the fact that Detrick often places the instruments (particularly the bassoon) in extremes of range, stretches the listener’s ear, sometimes making it difficult to identify exactly who is playing.

Although Detrick certainly has his own particular treatment of timbre in this piece, it is not uncommon for a bassoonist to appear in jazz groups that make interesting tone colors a feature of their music. Symphonic jazz ensembles of the late 1920s and early 1930s employed all manner of instruments in an ongoing search for new and different sounds and tone color combinations. The bandleader Paul Whiteman employed at least six wind players who doubled on bassoon, most notably Frankie Trumbauer. Later, in the cool jazz of the 1950s, arrangers favored thick textures and warm timbres. They made frequent use of instruments such as the bassoon, French horn, tuba, and cello to achieve their desired sounds. Gil Evans, the most prominent cool school arranger, used bassoons in his arrangements for Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Don Elliott, Lucy Reed, and Kenny Burrell, as well as on some of his own albums.

But while some symphonic and cool jazz groups kept their bassoonists in the background, Detrick treats all of his players as basically equal here. I’ve touched on Steve Vacchi’s ensemble playing above, but he also takes substantial solo turns in the third, sixth, and eighth movements. His solos are fluid, and he sounds at home in the mixed chamber/jazz idiom. Over the course of the album, he explores most of the bassoon’s range, from the bottom register all the way up to high E. The recording quality is excellent, and Vacchi’s rich tone comes through quite well. Here’s the third track/movement, “A seeker, insubmissive,” which has lots of prominent bassoon work — Vacchi’s solo starts at about 1:48:

Buy/stream the album: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify | Naxos | ClassicsOnline

If that’s not enough to convince you to go buy this album, then you can hear more samples here. The Bright and Rushing World is an interesting and valuable addition to the bassoon-in-jazz canon, and I’m looking forward to checking out the AnyWhen Ensemble’s two previous albums sometime soon: Walking Across (2008) and Rivers Music (2011).

Spring Recitals

This spring, I’ve finally gotten my act together enough to give nearly back-to-back recitals at CSU Stanislaus and Sacramento State. The two programs are very similar, and feature French music from the 1930s and ’40s. I’ll be playing two pieces for bassoon and piano, both concours pieces from the Paris Conservatoire: Gabriel Pierné’s Prélude de Concert sur un thème de Purcell, Op.53 and Henri Dutilleux’s Sarabande et Cortège. At CSU Stanislaus, these will be accompanied by Eugène Bozza’s Sonatine for flute and bassoon. At Sac State, they’ll be paired with two reed trios: Jacques Ibert’s Cinq pièces en trio and Darius Milhaud’s Pastorale.

I’m especially excited that the second half of each concert will feature my swing quintet, Hot Club Faux Gitane (with Billy Gay and Eric Johnson on guitars, Gary Williams-Guichard on mandolin, Jake Myers on bass, and me on bassoon). This group (seen in the posters below), is loosely modeled on Django Reinhardt‘s Quintette du Hot Club de France, which was active in Paris in the 1930s and ’40s. I’ve been playing with the group for almost three years now. We play a mixture of the classic gyspy swing repertoire, other jazz standards, tunes from the post-Django gypsy tradition, and originals. This will be the group’s second appearance at CSU Stanislaus, but the Sac State concert will be our Sacramento debut. Details and posters for the two concerts are below.

Thursday, February 20, 7:30pm
Snider Recital Hall, CSU Stanislaus, Turlock, CA (map)
Buy Tickets – $12/$8 students and seniors
With: Yan Yan Chan (piano), Jeannine Dennis (flute), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Sunday, February 23, 6:00pm
Music Recital Hall, Sacramento State, Sacramento, CA (map)
Buy Tickets – $10 general/$7 seniors/$5 students
Live Stream
With: John Cozza (piano), Sandra McPherson (clarinet), Deborah Shidler (oboe), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Spring 2014 Poster - StanislausSpring 2014 Poster - Sac State

Posters for CSU Stanislaus (left) and Sacramento State (right). Click for larger versions.