The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature.
It's tough being a contrabassoonist. You practice for hours, and it's still hard to coax the sound you want from your instrument. Lipnick, 64, who joined the NSO in 1970, gave the world premiere of the first-ever contrabassoon concerto in the repertory, but even he can't defend the thing. The very lowest notes, he says, "can easily 'misfire,' with rather unmusical results."
The bassoon has never gotten the attention it deserves from composers—despite its historical prestige as one of the earliest woodwind instruments to become a regular member of the orchestra and its practically bipolar ability to negotiate a range of moods, from heartbreaking poignancy to slapstick clowning. Sure, it's useful, the workhorse bass of the wind choir, but far from glamorous; not a romantic lead, but a character actor—the William H. Macy of the orchestra.
Taking matters into his own hands is bassoonist Seth Krimsky, first-chair player in the Seattle Symphony and a composer of several fascinating and groundbreaking works for his instrument. His March 4 recital at Cornish College will not only put it in the spotlight at last, but make you rethink what it can do, as a showcase for his explorations with what he calls "electric bassoon fusion madness." Amplification and various distortion, delay, and looping effects bring a synthesizer's worth of startling sounds out of his instrument, from spacey to raucous, growling to ethereal, evoking the sax, cello, didgeridoo, accordion, feedback-laden guitar, and more.
As a composer Pfeiffer was hardly prominent, for like the vast majority of 18th-century musicians he composed primarily for himself, although a set of six quartets for bassoon and string trio was published in 1785. To the bassoonist of today, however, whose repertory is hardly dominated by household names (Mozart's one-off Concerto and one or two other pieces apart), Pfeiffer's fairly substantial output of bassoon music is important, since it is thoroughly idiomatic and well-conceived for the instrument and is composed in a tuneful, attractive and formally- disciplined Classical style.
There is no doubt that Pfeiffer, first and foremost a bassoon virtuoso, revels in his own undisputed virtuosity. His writing for the bassoon is undoubtedly fine, and is far superior to that of most contemporaries of his who wrote for the instrument but did not play it themselves. His melodic material for the instrument is thoroughly idiomatic, written as it generally is in the tenor register and lying easily below the performer's fingers, as in the opening of Bassoon Sonata "no. 1," where Pfeiffer exploits the high b' flat of the instrument's register
The contrabassoon basically hasn't changed since the late 19th century. With the contraforte, which has been in development since around 2001, Guntram Wolf and Benedikt Eppelsheim, two independent instrument makers in Bavaria, set out to fix the problems that contrabassoon players have been struggling with for decades -- "unfortunate tones," said Peter Wolf, Guntram's son and co-worker, "or that buzzing sound it makes."
Although possessing a unique sound, the bassoon was however under much criticism in the early 19th century for its weak sound in comparison to the body of the orchestra. Hector Berlioz, eminent composer and scholar, remarks that the bassoon totally lacks in éclat and nobility, has a propensity for the grotesque which must be borne in mind when giving it prominence. Due to the design, the bassoon lacks the brilliance and strength borne by the other members of the woodwinds, and unfortunately is often covered by the brighter sound of the flute when playing with an orchestra.
In the Middle Ages shawms – wind instruments played with either a single or a double reed – were common throughout Europe. The forerunner of modern bassoons and oboes was a kind of shawm which generally had seven sound holes, a conical tube and a double reed. This was the bombarde or pommer.
Since the early 16th century, the bassoon has emerged as one of the most longstanding and important woodwind instruments in the western art music scene. It is a wooden conical wind instrument, forming the base for the tenor and bass of the woodwind choir. It developed from the dulcian in the early 16th century to the mature bassoon in the mid 17th century.
Beside the name dulcian the appellations fagot, curtall and basson were also adopted very early in the instrument’s history and were used at the same time. The French term fagot meant “bundle of sticks, faggot”, and was first applied to a musical instrument in Italy in the early 16th century. Since the middle of the 18th century the bassoon has been known as the Fagott in German-speaking countries and the fagotto in Italian.