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. 

  • Carol Perrin

    March 15th, 2016

    Reply

    Your arti­cle is MOST inter­est­ing. You cer­tain­ly left no stone unturned. I had enjoyed hear­ing the caden­zas many times before read­ing this and under­stand and like them even bet­ter now. Thanks for shar­ing.

    • David A. Wells

      March 19th, 2016

      Reply

      Thanks, Car­ol!

  • Andrew

    April 4th, 2016

    Reply

    Hey, on your third foot­note:

    You’re right, it’s a bit crazy that they go up to high F (if I’m cor­rect it’s on a 5 key instru­ment — no vent keys). How­ev­er, Antoine Dard’s Op.2 (1752) bas­soon sonatas have a high D com­ing out of nowhere in them (he was one of the paris opera bas­soon­ists).

    With my Heirich Grenser (8 keys) instru­ment (he was mak­ing bas­soons in the 1770s into the 1820s) I can get up to high D and on a good day high Eb. Like­ly the instru­ment would have been more pop­u­lar in Dres­den dur­ing Mozart’s ear­ly life than any­where else, how­ev­er by the lat­er years they were going all over the place. 

    So, yes, high G not exact­ly his­tor­i­cal­ly appro­pri­ate, but not as far off as you might think.

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