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