What Is a Bassoon Concerto?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A bassoon concerto is a work of music featuring a solo bassoon player and a large supporting ensemble. Most bassoon concertos fall into the classical genre. They are performed at formal concerts and typically are paired with other works for other soloists or which are of the same theme or style.

Bassoon concertos first appeared in France during the baroque period, in large part because King Louis XIV was a major supporter of music and the arts.
Bassoon concertos first appeared in France during the baroque period, in large part because King Louis XIV was a major supporter of music and the arts.

Bassoon players usually play bassoon concertos with full orchestras, especially when recording the concertos professionally. Some contemporary bassoon concertos, however, are scored for bassoon and a wind orchestra, which has no string players, instead of a standard orchestra. Players who want to perform bassoon concertos in more intimate settings, or who are not yet of a reputation to work with full orchestras except at great expense, typically use piano reductions of the orchestra parts.

Mozart wrote bassoon concertos.
Mozart wrote bassoon concertos.

Similar to works for oboe, bassoon concertos first began to appear primarily in the baroque period, specifically in France, where King Louis XIV was an active supporter of the arts and sought to develop more instruments for court music. Before this period, the instrument that eventually gave way to the modern bassoon's design, the dulcian, wasn't designed in a way that accommodated much virtuosity. The version of the bassoon for which baroque composers began composing concertos and other works with seriousness had only three to six keys compared to the roughly two dozen of modern bassoons.

Perhaps the most important composer who wrote bassoon concertos is Antonio Vivaldi. This is not because Vivaldi's concertos are significantly better than those of other composers. Vivaldi's importance in terms of bassoon concertos is in the number he wrote. Over three dozen bassoon concertos by Vivaldi exist in complete form, making him one of the most prolific composers of any time for this particular type of music. Other important composers who wrote bassoon concertos during the baroque, classical and romantic periods are Carl Maria von Weber, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Stamitz and Johann Christian Bach. Contemporary composers who have penned bassoon concertos include musicians such as Friedrich Schenker and Sophia Gubaidulina.

A bassoon concerto follows the standard concerto form, meaning it has three movements. The first and third movements usually are of a moderate to fast tempo and show the dexterity and flexibility the bassoonist has in fingering and general technique. The second movement, although usually slower, is no less demanding, however. The second movement usually is where the composer requires the player to demonstrate the most control in terms of breath support, embouchure and beauty of tone.

Combined, it is not unusual for the movements of a bassoon concerto, like those for other instruments, to last 15 to 20 minutes. The length of a complete bassoon concerto means that some players, particularly students performing standard recitals, play only excerpts during concerts. This allows them to play other pieces for the audience. Most bassoon players at the professional level do just the opposite, however, performing the concerto in its entirety, usually as one half of a concert in which the orchestra or wind orchestra also performs other works.

Normally, when performing on the bassoon, bassoonists sit down, as the bassoon is a large, heavy instrument. When playing a bassoon concerto, however, bassoonists often stand. This is much more physically taxing and requires the player to support the instrument with a neck strap or other apparatus.

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