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:

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. 

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!