Bassoons Part 4 – The Basson and the Fagott

The differences between the German and French schools of wind playing have been noted for centuries.  German players tend to play with a thicker, darker sound, whereas French players play with a lighter, reedier sound.  These differences are most apparent in the Bassoon.

Most of our modern woodwinds are French in origin/construction.  In America we use French oboes and clarinets.  Saxophones are of French design.  Flutes are essentially French in nature.  But the bassoons, here we have an instrument so solidly German, that it becomes the antithesis of the French ideal.

In America, we only use the German Bassoon, hereafter known as the Fagott. (I use this term to separate it from it’s French counterpart).  However, there was a time when the French Bassoon (hereafter known as the Basson) was widely used (roughly 100 years ago and prior).

The Basson is not seen much any more, even inside of France.  It’s sound is very dissimilar to that of the Fagott.  It sounds much more like a saxophone.  It is reedy and nasal, exactly what one would expect from the French school of wind playing.

Some American plays have made an effort to play on both the Basson and the Fagott, but very few have made this effort.  The two instruments are very different in design.  Everything from the reed to the fingerings are different.  As a bassoonist (Fagott), it would take me several months to a year to learn how to play the Basson.

One well-known feature of the Basson is its ability to play very well in the high range.  Passages up to the high F in the treble clef are not unheard of.  When these works get performed on the Fagott, they become infinitely harder.  Case in point, the Rite of Spring solo was conceived for the Basson and not the Fagott.

These two excerpts are some of the best Bassoon playing I’ve ever heard.  Note how different the Basson sounds from the Fagott.

Finally, the Saint-Saens Sonata for Bassoon performed by Maurice Allard (the godfather of the Basson).  Take note of the final notes of the 2nd movement where the Basson ascends to a high E.  This passage is dangerous at best on the Fagott, but relatively easy on the Basson.