What to Do with New Instruments? Part 7 – The Tenor Bassoon

For the majority of this series, the works I’ve looked at have been from the early part of the 1900s and have been major works by major composers.  I can’t do that this time.  No major works by major composers have ever been written that include a Tenor Bassoon in their orchestration.  I’ve search high and low for years, but none exist.  There’s some speculation that Rossini might have intended it in the overture to William Tell, but this is highly doubtful.  The premier of that work was in Paris in 1829.  The English Horn was well known at the time and used to great effect just one year later by Berlioz in Symphonie Fantastique.  However, the Tenor Bassoon in G was known at the time and used in some French opera houses as a substitute for the English Horn.  The confusion comes from what is called “Old Italian Notation” for the English Horn, which is writing the part an octave lower than intended in the bass clef.  The best answer as to why this is not a Tenor Bassoon part is simply that the part is in F and not G.  The majority of the Tenor Bassoons in France were in G.

Instead, I must turn to my own works for the instrument, for, as far as I can tell, they are the only works ever written for the Tenor Bassoon in a orchestral or band setting.

As of now, I have completed 3 large scale works that include the Tenor Bassoon.

Background

I purchased a Wolf Tenor Bassoon in F in 2005 with no idea what I was doing.  The idea was just there in my head that I wanted one and wanted to promote the instrument as a new and viable sound for composers.  I spent the next few years practicing and composing for the instrument.  The culmination of my usage was the creation of a few poor videos for YouTube.

As to what the proper name of the instrument is, I’ve heard it called Tenor Bassoon, Tenoroon, Fagottino, Quint/Quart Bassoon, Mini Bassoon, and a few others.  After communicating with the late William Waterhouse, one of, if not the leading expert on bassoon history, he assured me that the best name for the instrument is the Tenor Bassoon.  There should be no name difference between the instrument in F and the instrument in G.

Osiris: Lord of the Duat – Symphonic Poem for solo Tenor Bassoon and Orchestra (2005)

This is the first ever concertante/concerto written for the Tenor Bassoon.  It is based loosely on the Egyptian myths of Osiris and his celestial realm called the Duat.  I never fully called this a concerto, as it is in one 11 minute long movement and is never meant to be a virtuoso piece.  Instead, it is more akin to Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela.  

This is the lightest orchestra I have ever used consisting of:

Alto Flute, English Horn, A Clarinet, Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone, Crotales, 2 Vibraphones, Chimes, Bass Steel Drums, and Strings along with the solo Tenor Bassoon.

In the work, I used the entire range of the instrument from a written low A-sharp1 to C5. For most of the work, the Tenor Bassoon is the prominent solo voice, but there are times with it becomes part of the ensemble.

tenoroon 1

tenoroon 2

Black Mass (2006)

This is a work for large wind ensemble and handbell choir.  The standard wind ensemble is augmented by Alto and Bass Flute, Bass Oboe, Bass Saxophone, and Tenor Bassoon.  The brass section is bolstered by 6 Horns and Trumpets 1 and 2 play on B-flat Piccolo and D Trumpets respectively.

In this work, I use the Tenor Bassoon a little more conservatively.  The range is from B-flat1 to F-sharp4.  The part is designed, if needed, to be played by a normal Bassoon.  However, the lighter tone color is what is scored for.

The Tenor Bassoon has two main roles in the work.  One is as a mate to the Bass Oboe, while the other is as the upper voice of several bassoon family chorales/chants.

Tenoroon 1 tenoroon 2 tenoroon 3

Symphony 1 for Double Reeds (2006)

This work falls outside of standard orchestration due to the fact that the whole work is scored for nothing but the various members of the oboe and bassoon families.

Once again, I use the full range of the instrument from a written low B-flat1 to C5.  However, most of the range is well inside these extremes.

The Tenor Bassoon fulfills two main roles in this work.  One is as one of the upper two (along with the Alto Bassoon) voices in the large bassoon ensemble (Alto Bassoon, Tenor Bassoon, 4 Bassoons, and 2 Contrabassoons).  The other is as a lower voice to the “middle ensemble” (English Horns, Bass Oboe, Alto Bassoon, and Tenor Bassoon).  There are several solos for the instrument as well as ensemble played.

tenoroon 1 tenoroon 2 tenoroon 3 tenoroon 4 tenoroon 5

In addition to these three works, I am working on my Symphony 2 which does include a part for the Tenor Bassoon.  I’ve also written several smaller, chamber works that include the instrument.

While the Tenor Bassoon is not  standard instrument, it is unjustly overlooked by composers and orchestrators.  Its unusual, light, happy sound is a wonderful addition to the middle range of the woodwind section.

Sadly, none of these works has ever been performed or recorded.  I have also sold off my Tenor Bassoon, but when finances are more abundant, I plan to get one of the newer models that are vastly improved from my old instrument.

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3 thoughts on “What to Do with New Instruments? Part 7 – The Tenor Bassoon

  1. Alex Kindel

    Would you say the tenor and alto bassoons relate to the bassoon the same way sopranino and piccolo trumpets do to soprano trumpets? Not extensions of range, strictly speaking, but capable of handling the pitches that fall at the extreme high end of the lower instrument more comfortably and flexibly, along with their lighter timbres. For example, would the opening of the Rite of Spring be easier, played at pitch on a tenor bassoon?

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