Bassoon

Bassoon

bassoon range

Repeat this mantra after me: I am not a bass instrument, I am not a bass instrument, I am not a bass instrument.  The Bassoon is a tenor instrument that happens to have a range extension that takes it into the bass range.  If you keep the Bassoon in the doldrums, then you aren’t using the instrument to its fullest capacity.  Bassoonists have what we call the money range.  This is the range in which nearly all of our major solos occur, roughly from the F in the bass clef to the G or A in the treble clef.  I like to say “keep the Bassoon singing.”  If you think of the instrument as you would think of an operatic tenor or baritone, then you know how to write for the Bassoon.

The low register is best for filling out harmonies.  Very few solos have ever been written in the low register (Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony is one of the lone examples, and that solo makes Bassoonists cry).  The lower the Bassoon goes, the louder it can become.  Try and avoid writing the lowest B-natural at a soft dynamic; it is impossible to play softly.  In fact, this one note is something odd among all the woodwinds.  It possesses a different characteristic than does the entire rest of the instrument, harsh and blaring.

Some interesting possibilities are of course as a member of the double reed choir.  I find that the Bassoon mixes quite beautifully with the saxophone family (all members).  Their sound is more akin than is given credit for (when the saxophones play with a controlled sound that is!).  Bassoon in it high register with flute is quite good (and a common combination for composers of the Classical era).  Many Romantic composers used the Bass Clarinet as the bass voice to the Bassoon ensemble.  I’ve found that when playing along with the low clarinets, that the Bassoon must alter their sound slightly to match the sound of the vibrato-less clarinets.

A study was once done to see which instruments were most alike in sound.  This study took sound samples in a computer, eliminated the attack of each note, and only listened to the sustained pitch.  The Bassoon, it turns out, is most closely allied with the Horn in this regard.  It may be odd to think of a woodwind and a brass being the closest sound match to one another, but composers have realized this for a long time.  Two Bassoons have often been used as members of the Horn section in an orchestra (often serving as “Horns” 5 and 6).

Because of range similarities, the Bassoon will often share duties with the trombones.  An odd combination, but if we think all the way back to the Renaissance we will find ensembles of sackbuts and dulcians (the predecessors of trombones and bassoons respectively).  Why not treat these two families like their ancient cousins?  The other low brass (namely the tuba family) can mix with interesting combinations with the Bassoon.  Think here the oddly effective “duet” between four Bassoon and two Tubas in the Dies Irae section of Symphonie Fantastique where the Bassoons are playing one octave below the Tubas.

Bassoon and trumpet…well it was interesting enough for Hindemith to write a double concerto for these two instruments.  Muted trumpets will work far better in the mix, as will Piccolo Trumpets.

Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto played on period instruments (tuning is probably at A=430)

John Williams’ Five Sacred Trees a concerto for Bassoon and orchestra.  Perhaps one of the crowning achievements of modern Bassoon compositions.

Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony.  Note: this opening solo is considered extremely difficult due to its low range.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring opening solo.  Again, a very difficult solo due to range.

Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 2nd Movement.  To me, some of the most beautiful Bassoon solos in existence.  Notice the range is in the upper middle register.

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Contrabassoon

Contrabassoon

contrabassoon range

Ah, the Contrabassoon.  Much has been said about this wondrous beast.  Much has been wrong.  The Contrabassoon is pitched one octave lower than the Bassoon.  However, unlike any of the other members of woodwind families, the Contrabassoon is an instrument unto itself.  Continue reading “Contrabassoon”

Semi-Contrabassoon

Semi-Contrabassoon (Bass Bassoon, Great Bassoon?)

semi-contrabassoon in F

This is an instrument pitched midway between the Bassoon and the Contrabassoon.  It does not exist.  I wish it did.  It should be no more difficult to produce than a regular Bassoon.  It would not have to be made in the complex folded manner of the Contrabassoon, but rather built as an over-sized Bassoon.  These instruments have existed historically, but no modern instrument has ever been constructed. Continue reading “Semi-Contrabassoon”

Tenor Bassoon (Tenoroon)

Tenor Bassoon

tenor bassoon in g range

tenor bassoon in F

The Tenor Bassoon or Tenoroon is like the Alto Bassoon in that it is an old instrument that has recently been revived.  The current instruments come in two flavors; F and G.  The F instrument (also known as a Quart-Bassoon) is pitched a fourth higher than the Bassoon, while the G instrument (also known as a Quint-Bassoon) is pitched a fifth above the BassoonContinue reading “Tenor Bassoon (Tenoroon)”

Alto Bassoon (Octave Bassoon)

Alto Bassoon

alto bassoon range

The Alto or Octave Bassoon is an old instrument that has recently been revived along with the Tenor Bassoon.  It is pitched one octave higher than the standard Bassoon.  As the instrument is currently constructed, it has very limited keywork and range.  Thus, technique is severely limited.  The range is only two-and-a-half octaves, an octave less than the Bassoon.  The bottom range is not fully chromatic lacking the bottom B-natural and C-sharp. Continue reading “Alto Bassoon (Octave Bassoon)”