Posts Tagged ‘Sac State’

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. 

Spring Recitals

This spring, I've finally gotten my act together enough to give nearly back-to-back recitals at CSU Stanislaus and Sacramento State. The two programs are very similar, and feature French music from the 1930s and '40s. I'll be playing two pieces for bassoon and piano, both concours pieces from the Paris Conservatoire: Gabriel Pierné's Prélude de Concert sur un thème de Purcell, Op.53 and Henri Dutilleux's Sarabande et Cortège. At CSU Stanislaus, these will be accompanied by Eugène Bozza's Sonatine for flute and bassoon. At Sac State, they'll be paired with two reed trios: Jacques Ibert's Cinq pièces en trio and Darius Milhaud's Pastorale.

I'm especially excited that the second half of each concert will feature my swing quintet, Hot Club Faux Gitane (with Billy Gay and Eric Johnson on guitars, Gary Williams-Guichard on mandolin, Jake Myers on bass, and me on bassoon). This group (seen in the posters below), is loosely modeled on Django Reinhardt's Quintette du Hot Club de France, which was active in Paris in the 1930s and '40s. I've been playing with the group for almost three years now. We play a mixture of the classic gyspy swing repertoire, other jazz standards, tunes from the post-Django gypsy tradition, and originals. This will be the group's second appearance at CSU Stanislaus, but the Sac State concert will be our Sacramento debut. Details and posters for the two concerts are below.

Thursday, February 20, 7:30pm
Snider Recital Hall, CSU Stanislaus, Turlock, CA (map)
Buy Tickets - $12/$8 students and seniors
With: Yan Yan Chan (piano), Jeannine Dennis (flute), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Sunday, February 23, 6:00pm
Music Recital Hall, Sacramento State, Sacramento, CA (map)
Buy Tickets - $10 general/$7 seniors/$5 students
Live Stream
With: John Cozza (piano), Sandra McPherson (clarinet), Deborah Shidler (oboe), and Hot Club Faux Gitane

Spring 2014 Poster - StanislausSpring 2014 Poster - Sac State

Posters for CSU Stanislaus (left) and Sacramento State (right). Click for larger versions.

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon at U-Nite

TuBassoon with modern dancers during a U-Nite promo shoot for Good Day Sacramento. (Craig Koscho, Sac State Public Affairs)

On the evening of April 11th, I performed as part of the second annual U-Nite, a mini-festival of the arts at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum. The event featured faculty and students from the various parts of Sacramento State's College of Arts and Letters. Performers and exhibitors were stationed around the museum, presenting short programs of music, dance, film, theater, visual arts, and the written word. My colleague Julian Dixon and I played in one of the galleries as the duo TuBassoon.

Surrounded by gorgeous California landscape paintings, we played 25-30 minutes of music drawn from numerous sources. We had previously played P.D.Q. Bach's "Dutch" Suite for bassoon and tuba, so that was an easy choice. Although there are at least a couple of other works written specifically for bassoon and tuba, we ended up adapting the rest of our repertoire from other sources. We played the first movement of Mozart's gorgeous Sonata, K. 292 (for bassoon and cello), one movement of a Telemann canonic sonata, and a suite of short tuba duets by Walter Sear.

The morning of U-Nite, Julian and I were part of a live segment on the morning show Good Day Sacramento. We're playing P.D.Q. Bach's "Panther Dance" in the background while reporter Courtney Dempsey interviews U-Nite's organizers:

Incidentally, if TuBassoon continues, we might just have to make Courtney's description our motto. Tubassoon: A lil' tuba, a lil' bassoon.

After our evening performance, I was able to catch Citywater's performance of a new piece by Stephen Blumberg, which was great. But unfortunately, between grabbing a bite to eat from the museum café, getting set up, and talking to audience members after our performance, that was all I was able to take in. But this video collage from Sac State's Office of Public Affairs provides an excellent overview of what I missed, and shows off the excellent range and diversity of the event:

Spring Events at Sacramento State

Sacramento State logo

Today begins an excit­ing semes­ter full of bas­soon events at Sacra­men­to State. Most events are free, and all are open to the pub­lic. We’ve got stu­dent per­for­mances, guest artists, a mas­ter­class or two, and I’m play­ing both a baroque con­cer­to and two pro­grams of new and recent music. See the Music Depart­ment Cal­en­dar for park­ing and tick­et infor­ma­tion and oth­er details.

Tay­lor Haug­land with John Coz­za, piano
Junior Recital
Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 28, 4pm (Capis­tra­no Hall Room 151, free)

Junior Performace/Music Edu­ca­tion major Tay­lor Haug­land will per­form works by Camille Saint-Saëns, Carl Maria von Weber, Jean Daniel Braun, and Carl Nielsen.

Brett Van Gans­beke, baroque bas­soon
Guest Artist Recital and Mas­ter­class
Thurs­day, March 14, 4pm (Capis­tra­no Hall Room 151, free)

Brett Van Gans­beke holds the Doc­tor of Music degree from Indi­ana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he stud­ied with one of the world’s pre­em­i­nent Baroque bas­soon­ists, Michael McCraw. Dr. Van Gans­beke will per­form a short recital of works by Baroque com­posers, and then work with Sac State bas­soon­ists in a mas­ter­class for­mat.

Scott Pool, bas­soon and Steven Caplan, oboe with Nat­su­ki Fuku­sawa, piano and Robin Fish­er, sopra­no
Guest Artist Recital
Tues­day, April 2, 7:30pm (Capis­tra­no Music Recital Hall, $10 gen­er­al, $7 senior, $5 stu­dent)

Guests Scott Pool (Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Bas­soon, Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Arling­ton) and Stephen Caplan (Pro­fes­sor of Oboe, Uni­ver­si­ty of Neva­da Las Vegas) are joined by pianist Nat­su­ki Fuku­sawa and sopra­no Robin Fish­er in a recital of works by Rach­mani­nov, Sun­ny Knable, Jen­ni Bran­don, Miguel del Aguila, and oth­ers.

TuBas­soon (Julian Dixon, tuba and David A. Wells, bas­soon)
U-Nite at the Crock­er Art Muse­um
Thurs­day, April 11, 5–9pm (216 O Street, Sacra­men­to, CA, free with muse­um admis­sion or Sac State ID)

This low-down duo will per­form numer­ous short works as part of an evening of music, dance, the­ater, pho­tog­ra­phy, design, art, film, and poet­ry at the Crock­er Art Muse­um.

Ohne Name (Dana Jessen and David A. Wells, bas­soons)
Faculty/Guest Artist Recital
Thurs­day, April 25, 4pm (Capis­tra­no Hall Room 151, free)

Ohne Name per­forms 20th and 21st cen­tu­ry reper­toire writ­ten or adapt­ed for two bas­soons. This con­cert will include works by Igor Stravin­sky, Sofia Gubaiduli­na, Marc Mel­lits, and William Davis.

Sac State Bas­soon Stu­dio Recital with John Coz­za, piano
Tues­day, May 7, 8pm (Capis­tra­no Music Recital Hall, free)

Fea­tur­ing indi­vid­ual per­for­mances by the mem­bers of the bas­soon stu­dio plus the antics of the Sac State Bas­soon Quar­tet.

David A. Wells with Cam­er­a­ta Capis­tra­no, under the direc­tion of Lor­na Peters
Vivaldi’s Bas­soon Con­cer­to in G Minor, RV 495
Sun­day, May 12, 4pm (Capis­tra­no Hall Room 151, $10 gen­er­al, $7 senior, $5 stu­dent)

Anto­nio Vival­di wrote a stag­ger­ing 39 con­cer­tos for bas­soon, of which 37 exist in com­plete form. The Con­cer­to in G minor (RV 495) is one of the most intense of these, and dis­plays the composer’s mas­ter­ful grasp of both the tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­i­ty and emo­tion­al depth attain­able on the bas­soon. Oth­er works TBA.

Recital — Festival of New American Music

2012 FeNAM Poster

2012 FeNAM Poster (larg­er image/pdf)

On Fri­day, Novem­ber 9, I’ll be giv­ing a recital as part of Sacra­men­to State’s 35th annu­al Fes­ti­val of New Amer­i­can Music. The fes­ti­val itself runs from Novem­ber 1 until Novem­ber 10 and includes numer­ous con­certs, mas­ter class­es, composer’s forums, and per­for­mances in local schools. Augus­ta Read Thomas is this year’s keynote speak­er, and oth­er guests include Third Coast Per­cus­sion, City­wa­ter, Cal­liope Duo, JACK Quar­tet, Travis Brass, Allen Viz­zu­ti, and Root­stock Per­cus­sion. And amaz­ing­ly, all the events are free and open to the pub­lic. See the poster at right for the full sched­ule.

The idea for this con­cert came to me last year. While plan­ning for my April recital, I real­ized that I had a whole stack of recent music by Amer­i­can com­posers that I want­ed to per­form. So, I set much of that aside for this fall. In its now final form my pro­gram con­sists of five pieces, which I think do a good job of demon­strat­ing the wide vari­ety of music that has recent­ly been writ­ten for bas­soon. Four of the five pieces were writ­ten in the last five years; the “old stan­dard” of the pro­gram is André Previn’s Sonata, pub­lished way back in 1999. I’m excit­ed to be play­ing works by three com­posers who I know per­son­al­ly, and to be giv­ing the pre­miere of a work by one of them, my Sac State col­league Stephen Blum­berg. My recital (and many of the oth­er FeNAM con­certs) will be broad­cast live via the school’s Livestream Chan­nel.

The details:

Fes­ti­val Ensem­ble: David A. Wells, bas­soon and friends
FeNAM 2012
Fri­day, Novem­ber 9, 8pm
Capis­tra­no Hall, Sacra­men­to State (map)

Stephen Blum­bergDesert Rains for clar­inet and bas­soon (World Pre­miere)
David DiesKai-‘r/xhqt(i)s (West Coast Pre­miere)
André PrevinSonata for Bas­soon and Piano
Erik Span­glera fire­fly in the bel­ly for bas­soon and elec­tron­ics (West Coast Pre­miere)
Ger­not Wolf­gangLow Agen­da

With:
John Coz­za, piano
Thomas Derthick, bass
San­dra Moats McPher­son, clar­inet