The Bassoon – Funny But Beautiful Sound

So, the bassoon…  An instrument that a bit like the Cor Anglais tends to make people laugh rather than listen to seriously.   This is a pity, as in fact it is an instrument that has considerable gravitas when needed as I hope to show you here.

What is a Bassoon?

Lets get this out of the way first, so we know what it is I am talking about.  A definition of the bassoon would be as follows…….

The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor clefs, and occasionally the treble.    The bassoon is a non-transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, variety of character and agility. Listeners often compare its warm, dark, reedy timbre to that of a male baritone voice. Someone who plays the bassoon is called a bassoonist.

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So now you know what it is at least, now lets have a listen to what it actually sounds like to start us on our way.

That tiny extract from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, being Grandfather’s theme, gives a pretty good idea of the sound of this rather pleasing instrument.  And as you can hear, nothing intrinsically funny about it either.

It has such a beautiful, fat and round sort of a sound, and also has an undercurrent of a sort of creaky feel, which of course is is exactly why Prokofiev chose it for the Grandfather theme, as it so accurately creates the feeling of a ponderous, but active old man.

As I remarked above, the bassoon is often the target of amiable digs, all implying that it is not really an instrument to be taken seriously – most famously it was often the target of Gerard Hoffnung‘s humour, such as in the example below………

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I have always loved this particular bit of silliness…  She looks so stunned, poor woman.

So, now we have looked at the bassoon, know what it looks like, what it is actually intended to do, and what it sounds like…   So now lets have a listen to it in a number of different settings, starting with a very “standard” setting.

Here we have a piano – bassoon duet by Schumann that shows off remarkably well the entire tonal range of the bassoon (also known as the Fagott in some countries).   Whist the music may not be everyone’s taste, it is a superb bit of bassoon playing that is for sure!

Of course, like all instruments, the bassoon is not limited to simply being part of the classical music world, but is also found in more or less all other musical genres, such as here, as part of a very swinging jazz band, the Alexandre Silverio Quartet.

Now that was really enjoyable I thought.. Hope you feel the same way about it as I do.

OK, of course, the bassoon is obviously best known for its part in the “serious” world of classical music, and perhaps one of the best and most enjoyable examples of this would be the following.

So that was the well known Bassoon Concerto by Mozart, played with great verve and skill by Aligi Voltan.   This is simply (as always with Mozart) simply a joy to listen to, and brings me at least almost to tears it is so beautiful, in spite of the mad duck like voice of the bassoon.   I also like this particular recording, as the soloist looks so cheerful and happy in his work.  I am also fascinated by the rather curious hair of the viola player behind him.

So those are several more or less standard ways of playing the bassoon, but as always in the wonderful world of music, there are those inventive souls who are not satisfied to use instruments as intended, or at least for the sort of music that seems reasonable… but looks around for weird and wonderful ways of using them.  And of course, the bassoon, with its eccentric voice is no exception to this rule, so now we open the goodies box of unusual uses of bassoons, and see what is lurking in there.

First we have this one…. Alexander Posikera (bassoon) Svatoslav Lips (piano) Vassily Sherbakov (piano) Nikolina gora, playing something written by Efrem Podgaits – “The strange dancing” for bassoon & piano 4 hands.   To be honest, I do not like this, but include it for the sake of showing the range of this wonderful instrument…

Not exactly beautiful, but I suppose it has some point or merit, but sadly it escapes me.

Bassoon Tandoori?   Hmmm….  Well it is different I suppose.   Not sure what to make of this one either to be honest.

And now for something rather different, but fun too.

Jeff Burke playing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky on the bassoon and theremin.  Truly an unusual combination of sounds, but they work remarkably well together I feel.    Rather fun in fact.   Not much to be said about it though, simply enjoy t for the bit of musical eccentricity that it is.

And finally, a very strange set-up.   It looks like a sort of extended family, all of whom play the bassoon.    No idea who they are and why they have released this video, but they are obviously having one hell of a good time together, and the small soul who appears at the beginning and comments on their playing all the way through is also obviously happy.  Altogether fun, and music as it should be.  Nothing sacred here, but music being made in the bosom of the family. I love it and the whole atmosphere of having fun with their music.. as it should be!

 So, there you have it, a brief look at what a bassoon is all about.  I hope you enjoyed some of the music at least, and found the post interesting enough to return to see what I write about next time.

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