Paris Conservatoire Contest Pieces for Bassoon

The Paris Con­ser­va­toire has, through its annu­al con­cours (con­test), added a great num­ber of works to the bassoon’s solo reper­toire. Recent­ly, I found myself won­der­ing how many of these works have been uploaded to IMSLP. I start­ed my search by pulling one of the great bas­soon ref­er­ence works off my shelf: Kris­tine Fletcher’s book The Paris Con­ser­va­toire and the Con­test Solos for Bas­soon (Bloom­ing­ton, IN: Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1988). I was lucky enough to buy one of Dr. Fletcher’s last extra copies when I was in grad school, but it’s dif­fi­cult to get your hands on today, out­side of uni­ver­si­ty libraries. I made myself a spread­sheet of all the con­test pieces, and set about search­ing IMSLP and copy­ing links for pieces that have been post­ed there. Part­way through this task, I real­ized that what I was cre­at­ing had the poten­tial to be of great use to oth­ers. So, I’m post­ing it on my site today.

When I ini­tial­ly checked IMSLP, only a dozen of these works (not count­ing Mozart, Vival­di, and Weber) were avail­able. I’ve uploaded an addi­tion­al 4 pieces by Eugène Jan­court over the last week or so, and have one by Hen­ri Büss­er in process. Some of the 19th-century works may nev­er have been pub­lished, and many of them have titles that are prob­a­bly too gener­ic for pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (e.g. “Con­cer­to”). But, there are still anoth­er 20+ pub­lished works out there that are poten­tial­ly in the pub­lic domain (at least in the US), and could be added. I’ll keep work­ing to track these down and make them avail­able. If you have orig­i­nal print­ings of any of them, please get in touch!

The table of con­test pieces needs a lit­tle extra space, so I’ve put it on its own page. You can get there either via the “Resources” tab above, or sim­ply by click­ing the image of the table below:

Table of Paris Conservatoire Contest Pieces

Paris Con­ser­va­toire Con­test Pieces—click to view the entire table

Garfield Plays Hindemith

Hindemith playing his Heckel bassoon, 1940

Hindemith playing his Heckel bassoon, 19401

German composer Paul Hindemith wrote more than forty sonatas. In addition to at least one sonata for each standard orchestral woodwind, brass, and string instrument, he wrote for a number of less-common solo instruments, including the English horn, the viola d'amore, and the althorn. Although he was primarily a viola player, Hindemith owned and could play many of the instruments for which he wrote; he apparently had a particular interest in the bassoon. An entry in the Heckel visitor's log indicates that Hindemith purchased a bassoon from the firm on October 9, 1927.2

Hindemith wrote his Sonate for bassoon in 1938, during a tumultuous time in his life. Performances of his music had been banned in Germany in 1936, and in May 1938 he was one of the composers singled out for scorn at a Nazi exhibit of Entartete (Degenerate) Musik in Düsseldorf. He soon decided to leave Germany, and emigrated to Switzerland in September 1938.3. The premiere of his Sonate for bassoon took place in Zurich on November 6 of that year, performed by bassoonist Gustav Studl and pianist Walter Frey. The concert also included his Sonata for Piano, four hands, performed by Frey and Hindemith himself.4

Bernard Garfield in the mid-1960s, with his black 7000-series Heckel

Bernard Garfield in the mid-1960s, with his black 7000-series Heckel (more info)

The earliest recordings of Hindemith's bassoon Sonate were made in the United States, to which the composer had emigrated in early 1940. As far as I can tell, the very first recording of the piece was made by Bernard Garfield (with pianist Theodore Lettvin) on EMS Recordings, released in 1950. I contacted the Hindemith Institute in Frankfurt, and they confirmed that the Garfield recording is the earliest of which they're aware. Leonard Sharrow also made an early recording of the piece for the Oxford Recording Company, probably some time in the 1950s, but I have been unable to find precise dates of recording or release.

Garfield, who will turn 93 this Friday, is best known for serving as the Philadelphia Orchestra's Principal Bassoonist from 1957 to 2000. He is one of my grandteachers — Jeffrey Lyman, with whom I studied at Arizona State, studied with him, among others. Garfield has also composed a number of works, mostly featuring the bassoon in various combinations. His recordings of some of the pillars of the bassoon repertoire are still in print, and are easily obtainable, including the Mozart Concerto and Weber Andante e Rondo Ongarese (both with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra).

But, his recording of the Hindemith Sonate has never been re-released, and is quite difficult to find (this likely has to do with the fact that the owner of EMS Recordings, Jack Skurnick, died suddenly in 1952, leaving the company's recordings to languish). I must admit that I wasn't even aware Garfield had made a recording of the piece until San Francisco Symphony principal bassoonist Stephen Paulson made a Facebook post about three months ago, asking about its availability. It took me quite a while to track down a copy, although unfortunately it's a somewhat worn and crackly one. But, I'm still happy to present a digitized version here:

Listen to Bernard Garfield and Theodore Lettvin - Hindemith <em>Sonate</em> for bassoon and piano (1950)

EDIT: According to Anthony Georgeson, Garfield acquired the 7000-series Heckel in the photo above after he made this recording; he's using a 9000-series here.

EMS-4 Label


  1. Source: http://www.hindemith.info/en/life-work/biography/1933-1939/work/the-sonatas/ 

  2. Gunther Joppig, "Heckelphone 80 Years Old," Journal of the International Double Reed Society 14 (1986), 73. 

  3. Giselher Schubert, "Hindemith, Paul," Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online. Link 

  4. Robert Peter Koper, "A Stylistic and Performance Analysis of the Bassoon Music of Paul Hindemith," (Ed.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1972), 115. 

1916 Recording of Auguste Mesnard

August Mesnard

Auguste Mes­nard, c. 19171

Auguste Mes­nard was born Novem­ber 17, 1875 in Cognac, France. He began his musi­cal career as a vio­lin­ist, study­ing at the Ecole Nationale de Musique d’Angoulème, and earn­ing a first prize from there in 1891. After an unsuc­cess­ful audi­tion to enter the Paris Con­ser­va­toire, one of his musi­cal col­leagues in Angoulème sug­gest­ed that he take up the bas­soon instead. He evi­dent­ly took to the instru­ment right away, as he man­aged to gain entry to Eugène Bourdeau’s bas­soon class at the Paris Con­ser­va­toire only two years lat­er (Novem­ber 1893). He won a first prize there in 1897, and went on to bas­soon posi­tions in the Con­certs Rouge, Orches­tra Lam­oureux, and Soci­eté Nationale de Musique. In his posi­tion as sec­ond bas­soon­ist with the Orches­tra Lam­oureux, he played the pre­mieres of Debussy’s Noc­turnes and L’Après-midi d’un faune.

In 1905, Wal­ter Dam­rosch, music direc­tor of the New York Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra, trav­eled to Paris in search of prin­ci­pal wood­wind play­ers for his orches­tra. Mes­nard audi­tioned for Dam­rosch and was hired, along with flutist George Bar­rère, oboist Mar­cel Tabuteau, and clar­inetist Léon Leroy. Mes­nard played under Dam­rosch for the the 1905-08 sea­sons, and then took a posi­tion with the Chicago-Philadelphia Grand Opera Com­pa­ny. In 1912 he turned down a job with Leopold Stokowski’s Philadel­phia Orches­tra, but soon returned to New York to join the New York Phil­har­mon­ic under Josef Strán­ský. Willem Men­gel­berg suc­ceed­ed Strán­ský in 1922, and did not get along with Mes­nard. Mesnard’s col­league Ben­jamin Kohon relat­ed a pos­si­ble rea­son:

Mes­nard and I were asso­ciate 1st bas­soon­ists with the N.Y. Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra for 2 sea­sons under W. Men­gel­berg, con­duc­tor. I imag­ine that Men­gel­berg did not like the French bas­soon sound and thus was pick­ing on Mes­nard. They had an argu­ment after a rehearsal and Mes­nard resigned. And I would have done the same thing if I had been treat­ed in a sim­i­lar man­ner.2

Mesnard’s career con­tin­ued for anoth­er 20+ years, play­ing with the tour­ing Wag­ner­ian Opera Com­pa­ny, the Cap­i­tal The­ater Orches­tra under Eugene Ormandy, the Roxy The­ater Orches­tra, and an orches­tra sup­port­ed by the Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion.3 Mes­nard retired in 1945 at the age of 70, and died in New York in Octo­ber 1974, just shy of his 100th birth­day.4

Mes­nard began writ­ing his mem­oirs in 1943, short­ly before his retire­ment, and worked on them over the next decade or so. These were nev­er pub­lished, but copies of the type­script reside in the libraries of South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­si­ty and the Inter­na­tion­al Dou­ble Reed Soci­ety. I haven’t been able to exam­ine this yet myself, but French bas­soon spe­cial­ist Lau­rence Ibisch wrote an arti­cle about Mes­nard in the Octo­ber 1978 issue of The Dou­ble Reed, with infor­ma­tion tak­en from the mem­oirs.5 Unless oth­er­wise not­ed, all the infor­ma­tion in the pre­ced­ing bio­graph­i­cal sketch comes from Ibisch’s arti­cle.

Ibisch also owns and reg­u­lar­ly plays on Mesnard’s Buf­fet bas­soon — the very one in the pho­to above.6 It was made in 1900, and has six­teen keys (rather than the 22 present on the Jan­court “per­fect­ed” sys­tem). Buf­fets are com­mon­ly made of rose­wood, but this instru­ment has only a rose­wood wing joint. The rest of the instru­ment is made of much lighter maple, which is more com­mon for Ger­man bas­soons.

Columbia A2161

Colum­bia A2161

Dur­ing his tenure with the New York Phil­har­mon­ic, Mes­nard also worked worked as a record­ing artist for the Colum­bia Gramo­phone Com­pa­ny. Record­ing com­pa­nies in that era gen­er­al­ly didn’t cred­it indi­vid­ual orches­tra mem­bers, so it’s prob­a­bly impos­si­ble to know how many ensem­ble record­ings he par­tic­i­pat­ed in. His one record­ing as a soloist was made on Octo­ber 14, 1916 — a duet with harpist Charles Schuet­ze. The piece they record­ed, Ser­e­nade by Edmond Fil­ip­puc­ci (1869–1948), is almost cer­tain­ly an arrange­ment. Filippucci’s music is not easy to come by today either in print­ed or record­ed forms, so I haven’t been able to iden­ti­fy the piece itself. But a like­ly can­di­date is his 2 Pièces pour vio­lon avec accom­pa­g­ne­ment de piano: Nº 1. Séré­nade, pub­lished in 1894.

Mes­nard and Schuet­ze record­ed four takes, the last of which was issued on Colum­bia A2161 in 1917 (backed with the Colum­bia Minia­ture Orches­tra play­ing The Music Box).7 This is from the era of acoustic record­ing (no micro­phones), and my copy of the disc has been well-used. So, the record­ing has a fair amount of back­ground noise. But, it’s still quite enjoy­able. Lis­ten to Ser­e­nade here:

Listen to Auguste Mesnard and Charles Schuetze - Filippucci <em>Serenade</em> (1916)

While you’re lis­ten­ing, read this short review of the record­ing, pub­lished in the Bridge­port (CT) Evening Farmer in March 1917:

An extra­or­di­nary Colum­bia record­ing is a wood­wind (bas­soon) and harp duet: Filipucci’s “Ser­e­nade,” played by Auguste Mes­nard and Charles Schuet­ze, solo mem­bers of the New York Phil­har­mon­ic Soci­ety. A zephyr-like harp intro­duc­tion is fol­lowed by a love­ly inter­weav­ing of beau­ti­ful inspir­ing notes. The light del­i­cate voice of the harp over the deep under­tones of the bas­soon is indeed elo­quent of evening—shimmer-moonbeams gleam­ing over the shad­ows of night. So far as is known, the “Ser­e­nade” is the only record­ing extant of a harp and bas­soon duet.8

Mesnard’s also record­ed “The Ele­phant and the Fly” with flutist Mar­shall Lufsky in Decem­ber 1916, but this was evi­dent­ly nev­er released.9 His col­league Ben­jamin Kohon record­ed the same piece in 1918 for Edi­son Records. That ver­sion was released, and is avail­able to stream from the UCSB Cylin­der Audio Archive.


  1. Arthur Edward John­stone, Instru­ments of the Mod­ern Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra: A Pic­to­r­i­al and Explana­to­ry Guide for Music Lovers (New York: Carl Fis­ch­er, Inc., 1917), 32. 

  2. Ben­jamin Kohon, “Let­ter to the Edi­tor,” The Dou­ble Reed 2, 1 (1978).  

  3. The Fed­er­al Music Project of the Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion was respon­si­ble for the cre­ation of 34 new orches­tras around the coun­try, and also sup­port­ed a vari­ety of oth­er per­for­mance, edu­ca­tion­al, and schol­ar­ly activ­i­ties relat­ed to music. Pre­sum­ably, Mes­nard was a mem­ber of the New York Civic Orches­tra, but I haven’t yet been able to con­firm this. 

  4. Unit­ed States Social Secu­ri­ty Death Index,” data­base, Fam­il­y­Search (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VSNF-26P : 20 May 2014), Auguste Mes­nard, Oct 1974; cit­ing U.S. Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion, Death Mas­ter File, data­base (Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia: Nation­al Tech­ni­cal Infor­ma­tion Ser­vice, ongo­ing). 

  5. Lau­rence Ibisch, “A French Bas­soon­ist in the Unit­ed States,” The Dou­ble Reed 1, no. 2 (Octo­ber 1978): 5–7. 

  6. Lau­rence Ibisch, e-mail mes­sage to author, March 20, 2017. 

  7. Discog­ra­phy of Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Record­ings, “Colum­bia matrix 47068. Ser­e­nade / Auguste Mes­nard ; Charles Schuet­ze,” accessed March 19, 2017, http://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/2000024351/47068-Serenade

  8. Talk­ing Machine Records,” Bridge­port Evening Farmer (Bridge­port, CT), Mar. 9, 1917. 

  9. Discog­ra­phy of Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Record­ings, “Colum­bia matrix 47247. The Ele­phant and the Fly / Mar­shall P. Lufsky; Auguste Mes­nard,” accessed March 19, 2017, http://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/2000024530/47247-The_elephant_and_the_fly

Writing Cadenzas for Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto

Last school year, I was lucky enough to be invit­ed to play Mozart’s Bas­soon Con­cer­to, K. 191 with Sac State’s Uni­ver­si­ty Orches­tra under the direc­tion of Leo Eylar. The Mozart con­cer­to is the piece that fol­lows bas­soon­ists around for their entire careers. A teacher once told me:

There are two types of audi­tions: ones that ask for the Mozart con­cer­to, and ones that ask for a con­cer­to of your choice, which means play the Mozart con­cer­to.

I’ve worked on the Mozart con­cer­to on and off since high school, have played it for count­less audi­tions, and have per­formed it with piano accom­pa­ni­ment. But this was my first shot at play­ing it with an orches­tra, and I decid­ed to mark the occa­sion by writ­ing my own caden­zas.

Mozart wrote out caden­zas for some of his piano con­cer­ti, but none for any of his wind con­cer­ti. Per­form­ers in his day would have been expect­ed to write—or bet­ter yet, improvise—cadenzas of their own. Today, some edi­tions of Mozart’s Bas­soon Con­cer­to come with written-out caden­zas, and many oth­er caden­zas are pub­lished sep­a­rate­ly. Pri­or to last year, I had always used caden­zas writ­ten by Milan Turkovic, which are includ­ed with the Uni­ver­sal edi­tion of the con­cer­to.

My first step in cre­at­ing caden­zas of my own was to exam­ine a selec­tion of those writ­ten by oth­ers, includ­ing Bernard Garfield, Jacques Ibert, Frank Morel­li, Gabriel Pierné, and Eric Varn­er (all pub­lished by Trevco Music Pub­lish­ing); Ger­not Wolf­gang (Doblinger); Milan Turkovic (Jones—not the same as the caden­zas in the Uni­ver­sal edi­tion); and unpub­lished caden­zas by the late Cal­i­for­nia bas­soon­ist Robert Danziger. I also con­sult­ed Sarah Anne Wildey’s 2012 dis­ser­ta­tion, which presents and ana­lyzes caden­zas from eigh­teen bas­soon­ists, includ­ing Steven Braun­stein, Daryl Dur­ran, Miles Man­er, Scott Pool, William Win­stead, and Wildey her­self.1 Play­ing through and pick­ing apart all of these helped me devel­op a sense of what I like (and don’t like) in a caden­za for this piece. I also lis­tened to the twenty-five record­ings that I own of the con­cer­to (Har­ry Sear­ing has cat­a­logued more than 100 extant record­ings), learn­ing some licks along the way.

Jotting Down Cadenza Ideas

Jot­ting Down Caden­za Ideas

Once I’d digest­ed all of these print­ed and record­ed caden­zas, I set about devel­op­ing some ideas of my own. I began by just impro­vis­ing in B-flat major in a pseudo-Mozartean style dur­ing breaks from prac­tic­ing the con­cer­to prop­er. When I came up with a chunk of music I liked, I’d write it down. After a few weeks of prac­tice ses­sions, I had about three pages’ worth of melod­ic chunks, but they weren’t in any par­tic­u­lar order. It took me quite a bit longer to fig­ure out which of these would fit togeth­er in what order, to tweak them a bit, and to come up with some extra bits of musi­cal mate­r­i­al to glue them togeth­er. I didn’t actu­al­ly write out the caden­zas in their com­plete form until a cou­ple of days before the per­for­mance! But all of time I’d spent work­ing on them made it easy for me to play them from mem­o­ry in the con­cert.

In writ­ing my caden­zas, I had three goals:

  1. ref­er­ence melod­ic mate­r­i­al from the con­cer­to itself
  2. quote musi­cal mate­r­i­al from else­where
  3. show off some of my strengths

In the first move­ment caden­za, I took care of goal #1 right away: it begins with a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the concerto’s open­ing motive, moves to the dom­i­nant, goes through anoth­er ver­sion of the open­ing motive, and then returns to the ton­ic. (Only lat­er did I real­ize that the first few mea­sures of this are sim­i­lar to the first few mea­sures of the oth­er pub­lished set of Milan Turkovic’s caden­zas). The very next pas­sage ful­fills goal #2; it’s a quo­ta­tion from the aria “Non più andrai,” from Mozart’s opera Le Nozzi di Figaro:

figaro-combined

Top: the open­ing of Figaro’s aria “Non più andrai“2Bot­tom: MM. 8–17 of my mvt. 1 caden­za

The sec­ond half of this pas­sage is almost the inver­sion of my mod­i­fied ver­sion of the open­ing motive of the con­cer­to, and com­ple­ments it well. Also, it seemed fit­ting to quote this here because the con­cer­to already has a con­nec­tion to the opera: Mozart lat­er reused the open­ing motive of the sec­ond move­ment in the aria “Por­gi amor.” “Non più andrai” (sung by Figaro) is the last aria in Act I of Le Nozzi di Figaro, while “Por­gi amor” (sung by the Count­ess) is the first aria in Act II. So, this is my own lit­tle nod to Mozart’s self-borrowing.

A sec­ond quo­ta­tion in the mvt. 1 caden­za allowed me to hit all three goals: it is based on a pas­sage from the Turkovic caden­za I’d used pre­vi­ous­ly (goal #2), it draws on mate­r­i­al from the con­cer­to itself (goal #1), and it allows me to show off two of my strengths: fast tongu­ing and high reg­is­ter facil­i­ty (goal #3). I always felt a lit­tle restrict­ed in Turkovic’s ver­sion of this passage—it’s meant to accel­er­ate, but it’s also too short to build up the kind of speed I want­ed. For my ver­sion I extend­ed it by sev­en beats, which also allowed me to push much high­er in the bassoon’s range.

Sixteenth note passage from my mvt. 1 cadenza

MM. 24–28 of my mvt. 1 caden­za. The begin­ning of this pas­sage is tak­en from one of Milan Turkovic’s caden­zas; I extend­ed it by sev­en beats to end on E-flat instead of F.

There’s actu­al­ly yet anoth­er lev­el of quo­ta­tion going on here; Turkovic took this pas­sage from a caden­za writ­ten by Romanian-Viennese musi­col­o­gist and com­pos­er Euse­bius Mandy­czews­ki (1857–1929). So, I’m quot­ing Turkovic quot­ing Mandy­czews­ki para­phras­ing Mozart.

The first idea I jot­ted down was an end­ing for my mvt. 1 caden­za (shown below), and I don’t think it ever changed. This pas­sage is solid­ly in the pur­suit of show­ing off my high range (goal #3), and as such doesn’t strict­ly fit with­in period-appropriate per­for­mance prac­tice.3 But even if it goes high­er than bas­soon­ists in Mozart’s time were like­ly to have played, I feel that it’s in the spir­it of caden­zas as vehi­cles for show­ing off.

mvt-1-cadenza-ending

The end­ing of my Mvt. 1 caden­za, and the first idea I wrote down. I knew I want­ed that high G!

This pas­sage works chro­mat­i­cal­ly up to an extend­ed high F (top of the tre­ble clef staff). And just when you think that’s high enough, it con­tin­ues up chro­mat­i­cal­ly to G. In per­for­mance I added to the decep­tion by putting a long decrescen­do on the F, as if fad­ing away, before com­ing back up to forte to con­tin­ue up to G. In the written-out ver­sion of my caden­zas (down­load­able below), I’ve pro­vid­ed an alter­nate end­ing for those who’d rather avoid the high G.

Watch the first move­ment caden­za:

My process for writ­ing the sec­ond move­ment caden­za was much the same. But in keep­ing with the movement’s char­ac­ter, I focused on beau­ty much more than vir­tu­os­i­ty. Also, not want­i­ng to go over­board with quo­ta­tion, I used only one motive from the con­cer­to itself and didn’t quote any oth­er works.

mvt-2-cadenza-quotation

MM. 4–7 of my mvt. 2 caden­za

The end of this pas­sage comes from the movement’s reca­pit­u­la­tion, although I’ve tak­en it down an octave here. I use the same motive, mod­i­fied only so that it descends every time, to get there from what had come before.

As far as I know, the rest of my Mvt. 2 caden­za is orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al (although it’s cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble that parts of it were uncon­scious­ly inspired by some of the many caden­zas I read through at the begin­ning of my process). Here’s the sec­ond move­ment caden­za:

Download the Cadenzas

If you’d like to try my caden­zas out for your­self, you can down­load a PDF below. If you use them in per­for­mance, please let me know!

Wells-Mozart-Cadenzas
(Released under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unport­ed license)


  1. Sarah Anne Wildey, “His­tor­i­cal Per­for­mance Prac­tice in Caden­zas for Mozart’s Con­cer­to for Bas­soon, K. 191 (186e)” (DMA Diss., Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa, 2012). 

  2. Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart, Le nozzi di Figaro (Bonn: Sim­rock, 1796). Accessed online: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:fhcl.loeb:3382512 

  3. A 1780 fin­ger­ing chart by bas­soon­ist Pierre Cug­nier goes up to high F, but there’s lit­tle evi­dence for any­one play­ing stratos­pher­ic notes in per­for­mance before Carl Almen­räder in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. 

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: yprcrg.blogspot.com. 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),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/remembrances.html

  3. Mrs. Ivan Kempner, "Elias Carmen - Farewell," To The World's Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/carmen.html

  4. Donald MacCourt, "Elias Carmen on Recordings," To The World's Bassoonists 4, no. 1 (Summer 1974),
    http://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/TWBassoonist/TWB.V4.1/elias.html

  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).