Posts Tagged ‘concertos’

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: 

  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. 

A New Edition of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, RV 495

I’m very excit­ed today to release some­thing to the world on which I’ve spent a great deal of time: a new per­form­ing edi­tion of Anto­nio Vivaldi’s Con­cer­to in G minor for bas­soon, strings, and bas­so con­tin­uo (RV 495), pre­pared using a copy of Vivaldi’s own man­u­script. You can down­load the whole thing (for free!) at the end of this post. But first I’d like to talk a bit about my path to the piece and my meth­ods in cre­at­ing this edi­tion. I hope that this will all prove use­ful to some­one out there, par­tic­u­lar­ly since this is one of the required pieces for the 2014 Meg Quigley Vivaldi Com­pe­ti­tion.

Vivaldi Autograph

I’ve played a cou­ple of Vivaldi’s oth­er con­cer­ti in the past. But my rela­tion­ship with this piece began last year, after Nad­i­na Mack­ie Jack­son did me the hon­or of ask­ing me to write the lin­er notes for the first disc in what will even­tu­al­ly be a set of all the Vivaldi bas­soon con­cer­ti. I dove into the project with my cus­tom­ary gus­to — books lit­tered my desk and floor, and PDFs of mis­cel­la­neous Vival­diana deliv­ered to me by the wiz­ards of Inter­li­brary Loan sim­i­lar­ly clut­tered my lap­top screen. As far as I’m con­cerned, research is the fun part. If I could just keep find­ing and absorbing more sources with­out ever hav­ing to actu­al­ly write any­thing, I’d be that much hap­pier. But aside from the var­i­ous print mate­ri­als, I had a more-or-less con­stant Vivaldi bas­soon con­cer­to sound­track — most­ly pre-release mix­es of Nadina’s record­ing, but also ver­sions by Michael McCraw, Ser­gio Azzolini, Mau­rice Allard, and oth­ers.

By the time I had fin­ished the notes for Nad­i­na, I was thor­ough­ly fired-up about Vivaldi and his 37 bas­soon con­cer­ti (plus two incom­plete works). So much so, in fact, that I asked Lor­na Peters, Sacra­men­to State’s won­der­ful harp­si­chord (and piano) teacher, if she’d con­sid­er pro­gram­ming one of them with Cam­er­ata Capis­tra­no, the school’s Baro­que ensem­ble. Hap­pi­ly for me, she agreed, and I set about pick­ing a piece. It’s prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing that I chose one of the con­cer­ti from Nadina’s disc (RV 495), with which I’d been singing along for weeks. There are many things I love about this con­cer­to. The first move­ment is fiery and flashy. The sec­ond move­ment foregos the upper strings entire­ly, cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful and pas­sion­ate dialog between soloist and con­tin­uo. The third move­ment is just all-out inten­si­ty — it starts with the whole ensem­ble in dri­ving unison (almost the Baro­que equiv­a­lent of pow­er chords), and con­tains what I think is one of the best licks ever writ­ten for bas­soon (mm. 53–56).

I first per­formed the piece with Cam­er­ata Capis­tra­no in Feb­ru­ary of this year, and luck­i­ly we’ve had many chances to present it again since then. Our ten­th per­for­mance will come this Sun­day, as part of the Bravo Bach Fes­ti­val in Sacra­men­to. This is the first time I’ve per­formed a sin­gle solo work so often, and I’ve found it to be an incred­i­bly instruc­tive and free­ing expe­ri­ence. The abil­i­ty to actu­al­ly take chances and try new things over the course of mul­ti­ple per­for­mances can shape your per­cep­tion of and rela­tion­ship to a piece in ways that are dif­fi­cult — if not impos­si­ble — to recre­ate in the prac­tice room or in a stand-alone per­for­mance. Even though I fin­ished school a num­ber of years ago, the one-and-done degree recital men­tal­i­ty is some­thing I’m still try­ing to shake. But that’s a top­ic for anoth­er post.

As soon as I’d set­tled on this con­cer­to, I knew that I want­ed to cre­ate my own per­form­ing edi­tion. At the time, I couldn’t locate an edi­tion with string parts (I’ve since found one, avail­able only from Ger­many). Plus, what bet­ter way to learn a piece back­wards and for­wards than to study the man­u­script and make up a new score and set of parts? I could eas­i­ly have used as my source the score pub­lished in 1957 as part of Ricordi’s Com­plete Works edi­tion. But the edi­tor, Gian Francesco Malip­iero, pro­vid­ed no crit­i­cal com­men­tary and appears to have made some edi­to­ri­al deci­sions with­out explic­it­ly indi­cat­ing that he’d done so. So instead, I went right to Vivaldi’s own man­u­script.

Vivaldi's shorthand for whole-ensemble unison writing

Vivaldi’s short­hand for whole-ensemble unison writ­ing

Vivaldi’s bas­soon con­cer­ti (and indeed most of his works) were not pub­lished in his own life­time, and are only known to us through a mas­sive col­lec­tion of man­u­script scores that now resides at the Bib­liote­ca Nazionale in Tur­in, Italy. Most of the­se are in the composer’s own hand, and the col­lec­tion con­tains many incom­plete sketch­es and drafts. The­se are strong indi­ca­tions that the col­lec­tion was Vivaldi’s own com­pendi­um of his works, and as such, the scores are far from performance-ready. The com­poser made exten­sive use of short­hand tech­niques, includ­ing dal seg­ni that would be awk­ward in per­for­mance and sim­ply indi­cat­ing unison parts instead of writ­ing out the same music on mul­ti­ple lines (see the exam­ple at right).

Beyond expand­ing this short­hand, I endeav­ored to keep my edi­to­ri­al hand as light as pos­si­ble. But inevitably, there were a few instances in which I made changes or inter­pre­tive deci­sions. I have detailed the­se in a crit­i­cal report with­in the score. I have not added any artic­u­la­tions, dynam­ics, orna­ments, or any oth­er per­for­mance sug­ges­tions; the­se are total­ly “clean” parts. There are, how­ev­er, a few impor­tant ways in which this edi­tion dif­fers from the Ricordi edi­tion (and oth­er edi­tions that have used Ricordi as their source):

  • Through­out the con­cer­to, Vivaldi indi­cates that the soloist should join the con­tin­uo line dur­ing tut­ti sec­tions. Except for the few pas­sages in which Vivaldi did not make such an indi­ca­tion, I have pro­vid­ed the soloist with the bass line in small nota­tion. The Ricordi score leaves rests for the bas­soon in all of the­se pas­sages.
  • Mea­sures 211–214 of the Presto are in D minor in Vivaldi’s man­u­script. In mea­sure 211 it appears that he has writ­ten and then wiped away or scratched out a sharp sym­bol on an F in the Vio­la part, but there are no oth­er F-sharps marked in those mea­sures. There is then a sud­den change to D major in mea­sure 215. The Ricordi score places the whole pas­sage in D major.
  • Mea­sure 260 of the Presto does not exist in the Ricordi edi­tion. This comes at the end of the last solo sec­tion, and the final ritor­nel­lo is a repeat of mea­sures 23–55. In Vivaldi’s man­u­script, he wrote out a full mea­sure of res­o­lu­tion (my bar 260), and then indi­cat­ed a dal seg­no to mea­sure 23. Ricordi omit­ted this mea­sure, and instead elid­ed the last solo cadence with the begin­ning of the final ritor­nel­lo.
  • Vivaldi wrote artic­u­la­tion marks over the eighth notes in the solo part in mea­sures 249–252 and 258–259. The Ricordi edi­tion ren­ders all of the­se marks as stac­cati. But in Vivaldi’s hand, the marks in mea­sures 258–259 are clear­ly longer than those in 249–252 (see below). Thus, I have marked the eighth notes in 249–252 as stac­ca­to and those in 258–259 with wedges.
Two types of Vivaldi's articulation marks

Two types of Vivaldi’s artic­u­la­tion marks

For the actu­al engrav­ing of the score and parts, I used Lily­Pond, which I also used for my fin­ger­ing charts. It can be kind of a has­sle but pro­duces very ele­gant results. Also like my fin­ger­ing charts, I’m releas­ing this under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basi­cal­ly, it means you can use, alter, copy, or dis­trib­ute this how­ev­er you’d like, so long as you give me cred­it and don’t sell it.

It is impor­tant to note that this edi­tion does not include a key­board reduc­tion. It is suit­able only for study or for per­for­mance with string play­ers and a com­pe­tent harp­si­chordist. If you need a ful­ly written-out key­board part, I would rec­om­mend the new bassoon/piano edi­tion pub­lished by TrevCo Music Pub­lish­ing (they list it under its Fan­na num­ber: F8#23).

And now, with­out fur­ther ado, here it is:

Complete Score and Parts (ZIP)

Vivaldi RV 495 — Com­plete Set

Individual Files (PDFs)

Vivaldi RV 495 — Bas­soon
Vivaldi RV 495 — Vio­lin 1
Vivaldi RV 495 — Vio­lin 2
Vivaldi RV 495 — Vio­la
Vivaldi RV 495 — Bas­so Con­tin­uo
Vivaldi RV 495 — Bas­so Con­tin­uo (alter­nate ver­sion with the sec­ond move­ment in score)
Vivaldi RV 495 — Score

Although I’ve gone over all of this with a num­ber of fine-tooth combs, I’d wel­come any cor­rec­tions, com­ments, or oth­er feed­back.

Zwilich Bassoon Concerto

When I was work­ing on my Master’s degree at Flori­da State, I had the great for­tune to have a lesson with Pulitzer Prize-Winning com­poser Ellen Taaf­fe Zwilich on her Con­cer­to for Bas­soon and Orches­tra (1992). At the time, I wrote up a lit­tle report on my expe­ri­ence and post­ed it on a pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion of my web site. I’d more-or less for­got­ten about it (the post, not the expe­ri­ence!) until a cou­ple of days ago. My friend and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Nico­lasa Kuster men­tioned that she’d found it while search­ing for infor­ma­tion on the con­cer­to. I’ve decid­ed to repost my expe­ri­ences here, with just a few edits for clar­i­ty.

Late­ly, I’ve been work­ing on Ellen Taaf­fe Zwilich’s bas­soon con­cer­to. I want­ed to work on some­thing new (to me) for this year’s con­cer­to com­pe­ti­tion. I con­sult­ed with pro­fes­sor [Jef­frey] Keeseck­er, and he sug­gest­ed either the Jolivet Con­cer­to or the Zwilich. Both are tough, but he said that the Zwilich is more both audience- and performer-friendly. I ordered a CD, lis­tened to the piece, and decid­ed to play it. Anoth­er rea­son for choos­ing the Zwilich is that she is on fac­ul­ty at FSU. She is the Fran­cis Eppes Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Com­po­si­tion, but is only in res­i­dence for one week each semes­ter. A few weeks ago, I found out that she’d soon be in town, and I man­aged to get an appoint­ment with her.

I was quite ner­vous in the days lead­ing up to my lesson. I’d been prac­tic­ing the piece like crazy. After all, it’s not every day that you play a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s piece for her. When I arrived at the appoint­ed time, I found that Dr. Zwilich had been double-booked. I had some time to spare, so I let the oth­er stu­dent, who is pur­su­ing a Mas­ters in com­po­si­tion, go first. I wait­ed out­side for half an hour, then my turn came.

Dr. Zwilich was very laid-back and friend­ly. She said that while she’d enjoyed writ­ing for the bas­soon, she doesn’t com­plete­ly under­stand the instru­ment, and cer­tain­ly doesn’t under­stand why any­one would want to play it. I have to say that I often agree with her! Appar­ent­ly when Nan­cy Goeres, the prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist of the Pitts­burgh Sym­pho­ny and ded­i­ca­tee of the work, exam­ined the first move­ment of the work-in-progress, she said that she liked it, but that it need­ed to be hard­er to be a con­cer­to. So, Zwilich turned around and wrote a sec­ond move­ment based on octa­ton­ic scales with lots of sixteenth-note runs at quar­ter note equals 168bpm. When Goeres received that move­ment she asked, “What did I do, wave a red cape at a bull?”

I start­ed by ask­ing a few ques­tions about artic­u­la­tion, phras­ing, and her nota­tion. Then, I played the first move­ment and much of the sec­ond (and final) move­ment. Dr. Zwilich seemed quite hap­py with what I was doing, and was com­pli­men­ta­ry of my play­ing. She had a few gen­er­al com­ments about the first move­ment, and offered some sug­ges­tions for attack­ing the blaz­ing­ly fast sec­ond move­ment. She also want­ed me to change a cou­ple of things in the sec­ond move­ment caden­za. For­tu­nate­ly, many of her sug­ges­tions and changes will actu­al­ly make the piece eas­ier to play.

We end­ed up going twen­ty min­utes over into the next person’s time, so I got almost the full hour I’d been allot­ted, despite her being dou­ble booked. Before I left, she com­pli­ment­ed my play­ing again, and asked me to keep her post­ed about my pro­gress in the con­cer­to com­pe­ti­tion. I’m very glad that I had the chance to talk to and be coached by Ellen Zwilich. It’s not often that a musi­cian, let alone a stu­dent, is offered the chance to work one-on-one with an emi­nent com­poser on one of their pieces.

Although I didn’t end up win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion, I did per­form the Con­cer­to in reduc­tion (with piano and per­cus­sion) a cou­ple of times in the fol­low­ing year or two. It’s prob­a­bly about time for me to revis­it the piece!