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:


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.


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.


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!

(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),

  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).