A Gift to Be Simple

A Gift to Be Simple

Governor General's award

A Gift to be Simple

by George Zukerman

When Murray Adaskin and his Saskatoon Symphony orchestra gave the world premiere of his Prairie Suite  in late 1959 I was in the far North of the Province of Saskatchewan, on an organizational trip.  I decided to attend the concert.  What had looked like a perfectly ordinary secondary road on the map  turned out to be a  Department of Natural Resources Forestry Trail  better designed for jeeps and 4-wheel drive vehicles than a  compact rental car.

When I arrived in Saskatoon four hours later, I was weary, dusty and in need of a stiff drink. 

The music Department at the University of Saskatoon  was housed in two rooms in the Agriculture Building.   Earthy  farm aromas filled the air in Murray’s  teaching  studio.

I found the Maestro in great despair.

“Thank goodness you are here…do you have your bassoon with you?”

He waved a sheet of music in front of me, and I recognized his immaculate music penmanship.  In those  days before computer music programmes,  the art of music copying was a form of  elegant calligraphy, and Murray was a master of the art.

“Our bassoon player has just called  and she  is ill, and cannot make it tonight.”  “But I don’t have a bassoon with me. I’m on a business trip!”.   “We’ll get you one,” he insisted.  “You have to play tonight”   “But I haven’t rehearsed”     “That doesn’t matter.  You are a good sight reader.  You know my style. I’ll cue you.”   “The Union will not let me perform with non-Union members”  “Our second clarinetist is the Union Secretary. Well obtain a special waiver for you”  “I don’t have any decent stage clothes”  “That doesn’t matter…just dust-off  a little, you’ll be fine!   Here’s  your music”   And with that he thrust the music into my hands.

Before I could protest  any longer, a borrowed   high school bassoon  appeared  complete  with three ancient reeds – one caked solidly with  lipstick,  one cracked down the middle,  and the third which was  made barely playable  after ten minutes of ardent  scraping with a hastily procured kitchen-knife

An hour later, I was on stage  sight-reading  the bassoon part of a world premiere of a new piece  under the composer’s baton…[Somewhere in my curriculum vitae,  is it listed  that I was for one night  a member of the Saskatoon symphony! ]

Murray’s Prairie Suite was a triumph  that evening.  Saskatoon symphony-goers in the late 50’s were not traditionally well-disposed to contemporary works.  Yet, many in the audience  that night  sensed a new significance  in  the performance of a  work   which was so obviously inspired by their Province.

Secretly,  it was  a joy to participate in such an evening of community-music  making,   A fee for the performance was the last thing that had crossed my mind.

A  year later a package arrived in Vancouver.

It contained the score of Murray’s  bassoon  concerto,  which he had written during the intervening summer, and dedicated  to me.  I sometimes look upon  that  gift from his heart  as the finest concert fee that  I ever received!

I premiered the concerto in 1960 with the Vancouver Symphony.  Murray  had a lifelong appreciation of the instrument,  and he wrote several other works for me including a quintet for bassoon and string quartet; his Vocalise #2  for solo bassoon, and a remarkable trio for violin, bassoon and French horn [his Divertimento #3].   Before he died in 2002 I had asked him if he would ever consider writing a second bassoon concerto.  “Murray” I said,   “if  there were two  bassoon concertos…just think of it.  When I suggest the Adaskin to a conductor he or she would be compelled to answer “yes, but which one”?

 

George Zukerman, July 2020

BASSOONASYOUAREREADY

[reprinted with permission from galley proof manuscript of, CONCERTO FOR TWO HATS, scheduled for publication, 2021]

My First Encounter With The Bassoon

My First Encounter With The Bassoon

Uta Messerhuber

My First Encounter

by Uta Messerhuber  

About 20 years ago my world was shaken by a devastating loss. As a result, my perception of the world shifted. Many memories became very precious. And many unexpected wondrous moments presented themselves.

One of these magical moments was my first encounter with a bassoon – actually, a bassoonist and her bassoon.

It happened while heading to the Indigo/Chapters bookstore in Eaton Centre, Toronto with my new dear friend, H. In order to avoid some of the traffic noise and sidewalk hustle, we chose to pass through the Trinity Square park tucked behind the Bell Canada head office, where years ago I used to work. Wedged into this tiny park is a simple but pleasant water feature that splashes and trickles across the square and between office towers and a hotel. To the eastward side of the grassy area stands a small elegant structure, the Holy Trinity Church, a gothic revival built in 1870. Though modest in scale, it makes up for it with an emphasis on height and architectural techniques which draw the eyes heavenward.

I’ve always loved this little church and on work days would occasionally partake in the odd canteen lunch served by the parishioners who used the proceeds to help the needy. But on this particular Saturday, a sandwich board positioned on its steps announced a free concert including a bassoonist.

So, with my life having abruptly opened different paths, this one seemed to be leading me directly up the church steps towards the music. But not any music. This was a sound that was new to me. A reed woodwind that sounded like no other. Timidly but determinedly, we found seats facing beautiful 5-storey tall stained glass windows shimmering with light from the afternoon sun. Once we quietly settled, the music took our full attention. A bassoonist was playing accompanied by a few other musicians. Up to that day, my knowledge or awareness of the bassoon was embarrassingly paltry. I knew of the bassoon, and naively thought that it simply and squarely played a minor supporting role in formal orchestras, relegated mostly to pompous concert-hall scaled symphonic events.

Yet here it was, taking centre stage, raising its own voice heavenward in the hands of a highly skilled and passionate musician. A woman with short spikey blue hair embraced this unwieldy looking contraption of highly polished black wood and silver keys, taking short strong breaths to produce the most amazing music. I sat there transfixed, listening. For the first time, encountering the power, grace and singular voice of the bassoon. Not just any bassoon. It was clear that this woman was a skilled master at creating the most sublime music. Don’t ask me what the names of the pieces were. Something classical. It wasn’t that critical that I remembered the names of the pieces. But what I did realize was that this would be one of those precious memories. Of pure release from the pressures of the everyday, lifting my spirits and penetrating my inner swirl of emotions. This mini-concert seemed to remind me that to struggle, to wrestle, to collaborate and breathe deeply (in life or into a bassoon!) in order to release expressions of pure beauty was what this life is all about.

Since then, I have followed the bassoon and her blue-haired muse on her own journeys, listening raptly,  fascinated by the beauty they bring into the world. I am so grateful for that first encounter. Little did I know that it would bring so much pleasure and joy into my life.

The Beautiful Bassoon! Art of  4 Centuries

The Beautiful Bassoon! Art of 4 Centuries

Jesse Read

The Beautiful Bassoon!

Art of 4 Centuries

By Jesse Read

The ancestor of the bassoon, the dulcian, shows up all around Europe in many forms.  Paintings, graphics, church alter decorations can all show us important information about these instruments, their construction and use.

 

Art and architecture has always featured musical instrument images

and wonderful versions the bassoon can be found on alters and niches of ancient cathedrals, in murals, paintings, etchings, and later in reference works, teaching materials, song title pages, historical photos, decorative objects and more recently, movies and videos.

Here are a few important, and some less common examples of our instrument from early sources through modern times.  Some are from my own collection, some are unidentified, and some are very famous. Known or unknown, they all have interesting stories.

 

A bass dulcian from 1660 in Görlitz, Germany
A very early image from a book on “trades” or “professions” from Germany in 1698.Titled “Pfeiffenmacher” or “flute-maker” who obviously doesn’t only make recorders, also shown below the workbench.  But the most interesting aspect of the image is that he is working on a dulcian like the one in the first picture, the older relative of the bassoon, and there, resting on the bench, is a version of the “modern” bassoon, probably with at most, 4 keys.
Each page of images has a poem attached, moral in character.  It reads:

The Flute Maker

He who is generous, let him be silent,

He who takes-let him be noisy

Poverty is like a flute;

Let it use love’s breath,

Let generosity move the fingers.

Its voice of thanksgiving enriches your joy

By piercing through the clouds

And bringing blessing in return.

Is the poet talking about the voice of the bassoon in the last three lines?

BOSS logo
Christoph Wiegel, Der Pfeiffenmacher, 1698
Joseph Majer, Nürnberg, 1732
Here is a fingering chart for a bassoon from that time.  I love the artist’s conception but I think he didn’t actually get a good look at any bassoon!!
 

As the bassoon became more sophisticated it also was used more as a solo instrument in the baroque period.  Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philip Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and many others wrote solo parts to feature the bassoon.  This famous painting shows a bassoon from that time.

BOSS logo
Hermann Hals (attributed), The Bassoon Player, ca. 1660
bassoon in art 1774
 

This portrait is of the court bassoonist Felix Reiner, who was among the most illustrious musicians in the south German court of the time.  The portrait is from 1760.  The inscription gives his birthdate as 1732.

Felix Reiner Bassoon Mozart
Felix Reiner, bassoonist (1774) by Peter Jakob Horemans (1700 – 1776)
bassoon mozart
bassoon mozart whisper key
These two bassoonists are playing left-handed! That was possible because the low F key was a “swallowtail” key that could be reached by the little finger on either hand. There was an alternative Ab key until finally it was decided that the left hand would be uppermost, and that key arrangement was dropped.  But the beautiful ornamental key remained as a memory!

bassoon art left handed
  Musicalisches Theatrum  Johann Christoph Weigel  app. 1710
Left handed bassoonists black and white
Bassoon Swallow Tail Keys
Swallowtail key
 

 

 

A beautiful print of a late Baroque bassoon playing a duet with a vertical harpsichord from the music dictionary of J.-B. de La Borde’s ‘Essai sur la musique’ (1780)

upright harpsichord with baroque bassoon
organ loft bassoon angel
Organ loft in south Germany with a baroque bassoon
London music party 1780
The Old and New Ways of Performing a Concert, London, ca.. 1780
It seems that the bassoon was not considered appropriate with the guitar, harp and flute!
Midsummer's Night Dream bassoon
Midsummer Night’s Dream by R. Dudley,1890
By contrast, this painting illustrating Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream shows the bassoon as the only instrument, emerging from a plant!
Bassoonist seated drawing
David Bles, Sitting Bassoonist, 1860
 

Does he have a secret??

Degas opera bassoonist study
A study(above) for the painting was hardly known until fairly recently, as it was not often on display at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.  It shows the bassoonist in dark colours, but the bright red reed and Degas’ signature on the lower right give it a special quality.
Degas Bassoonist
Edgar Degas, The Orchestra at the Opera, 1870
devil song bassoon
Mr Dihau, in addition to his fame as a bassoonist, wrote popular song for which he engaged the equally famous artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, to illustrate covers. This song, Pour Toi!… shows the composer as he receives inspiration from a rather playfully devilish face!
Another Toulouse-Lautrec illustration for songs by Dihau.  This time Dihau is shown with a dancing bear, and his bassoon under his arm.  There is a story here! Were they going to perform on the streets of Paris? Or going home for dinner?
Toulous-Lautrec Bear Image
Angel Bassoon Gaudi
La Sagrada Familia Gaudi bassoon angel
 

 

 

The famous still unfinished cathedral of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain designed by the great artist Anton Gaudi, was started in1882.  Over the portico surrounding beautiful stained-glass windows is a nativity scene with musicians, including a striking sculpture of a bassoonist. She is holding the instrument correctly and the bassoon is perfect in its simple design as sculpture.

Paul Klee, Fatales Fagott Solo (Fatal Bassoon Solo), 1918.
Paul Klee, the famous Swiss artist, created a marvelous, curious, whimsical and mysterious drawing he called Fatales Fagott Solo (Fatal Bassoon Solo) in 1918.
 

The bassoon was often used in church for singing hymns, playing along on the bass line to keep the singers in pitch.  Here an illustration from about 1880 shows choir boys rehearsing with the bassoon and an ophecleide, an early tuba, assisting.

ophicleide and bassoon
Village Choir
Tom Webster, The Village Choir, London,1847
 

 

A striking and dynamic abstract oil painting by Ben Jaccov, 1981

Ben Jacob modern art bassoons
eleven fingered bassoonist
James C. Christensen, The Bassoonist, 1996
 

 

 

Artist James C. Christensen says this about his 1996 creation:

“If you look closely, you’ll see that this is not your everyday bassoon and the bassoonist isn’t ordinary either. Note how our hero has adapted: he has eleven fingers . . . just a little something extra I was pleased to include.”­­

Blue haired bassoonist
Bassoonist by Wendy Hart Penner, 2009
 

 

Charcoal on  paper, an life drawing, 18″ x 24″,  made by artist Wendy Hart Penner. The subject is Canadian bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson during a matinee solo concert for the Vernon Performing Arts Centre in Vernon, British Columbia in 2009. The original has been lost.

The Old Musician by Jujian Falat, 1891
The poor indigent steps with his bended form-They have grown old together, his bassoon and he.

“How different it was”, he plays, “when once we were young and new!”

And sometimes yet with a soft tone, the thought tugs at his heartstrings:

“Ah, that which so swiftly has flown away; one’s youth-and one’s fortune”

 

 

 

Rops was a lesser known Belgian artist who had a very prominent career as an illustrator and painter in Paris where he died in 1898

Félicien Victor Joseph Rops, Le Basson, ca. 1890
William HogarthA Musical Party, 1730
Thank you for visiting and see you again soon, with more bassoon art!

Jesse Read

Name this artist!

© The Council of Canadian Bassoonists. Website by Mighty Sparrow Design.

I picked up the bassoon at age 75

I picked up the bassoon at age 75

Philip Morehead - Council of Canadian Bassoonists

I picked up the bassoon at age 75

By Philip Morehead

My route back to the bassoon was somewhat circuitous.

I picked up the bassoon for the second time at the age of 75.

After a long career as a pianist, coach and conductor, both as a freelancer, then at the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1981 until 2015, I “retired” and moved with my wife, oboist and composer Patricia Morehead, to Canada. Without consulting me, Pat decided to rent a bassoon as my Christmas present. She felt it would secure my upper respiratory health and overall longevity.

After the initial shock, I dutifully accepted the well-intended gift and was pleased to rediscover this remarkable instrument.

I did have some background to fall back from my student years, including studying the bassoon briefly with the great John Miller in Boston in the early 1970’s while at the New England Conservatory. I was studying piano and accompaniment and my goal was to better understand how wind instruments work. With John’s expert help, I learned to circular breathe and joined some ensembles. Prior to that, at the time I met my wife Patricia in France at Fontainebleau, we were both studying with the famous French teacher Nadia Boulanger. While in France, I took some lessons on the oboe with Pat’s teacher at the time, Myrtil Morel, and maybe this was the tinder for my interest in the bassoon.

After that, life intervened, our family grew as did my core musical responsibilities, and I had to sell my bassoon.

Now, all these years later, after raising our family, starting new music groups, playing and conducting around the world, and moving to Canada, I have been playing with two orchestras (interrupted alas by COVID-19), playing chamber music, and enjoying rediscovering the pleasures of the bassoon. Instrumental (pun intended) in this process was my friend Nadina Mackie Jackson, who gave me a few reeds and found a good bassoon for me to purchase. And who kicked my butt to join the Board of the Council of Canadian Bassoonists.

www.philipmorehead.com

Donovan Tong – I started playing the bassoon in Grade Six

Donovan Tong – I started playing the bassoon in Grade Six

donovan tong - bassoon

I started playing the bassoon in Grade Six

By Donovan Tong

Hi, my name is Donovan Tong. I started playing the bassoon, the most wonderful instrument I have ever seen, in 6th grade.

It all happened by chance.

In the summer of 5th grade, my dad went on a business trip to Chicago. It was nothing out of the ordinary: 3 days and 3 nights, plus a few dinners out with co-workers. On the plane ride home, my dad just happened to sit next to a music teacher. For some very special reason, they started to chat with each other. Throughout the flight, the music teacher told my dad all about the bassoon. He explained how it was one of the highest in-demand instruments that no one really knew about, and that I should check it out. When my dad came home that night, we watched videos for hours on the bassoon and marveled at its beautiful yet unique sound. Shortly after, we rented my first bassoon and I played my first note. This was the start of my bassoon journey.

In today’s modern world, interest in classical music is fading. Important instruments for symphonic music are being played less than ever by younger musicians. Some of these instruments are on the verge of becoming extinct. The bassoon is one of these instruments at the top of the list.

I am a high school student living in California (just finished 9th grade), and I am working on a new project to try and raise awareness for the bassoon to young musicians worldwide! I created a simple website that hopefully will help young musicians who may not know about it or starting off on it to be excited about the bassoon. The reason I want to do this is that over the years many teachers and conductors have been telling me there are not enough young musicians playing the bassoon.

I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot. Currently, young musicians who know about the bassoon are often intimidated by the complexity of the instrument or don’t have the right resources to begin. However, I feel the more prominent problem is that many of the materials and websites do not really make the bassoon seem appealing to younger musicians, which goes hand in hand with not enough younger musicians knowing about it.

B.O.S.S. started in Spring 2020 based on two simple but important goals:

1) Create resources to help young musicians become more aware and excited about the bassoon.

2) Increase the number of musicians advocating for this unique instrument, gaining the help of groups within the youth music community to help inspire and overcome the challenges the bassoon is currently facing.

The resources on B.O.S.S. would not be possible without the help of the global bassoon community and really talented musicians who support us. Many of our supporters represent countries around the world including UK, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Holland, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

If you are passionate about the bassoon, a bassoon teacher, or anyone in the bassoon community who may be concerned about these challenges and interested in spreading awareness about the bassoon to younger musicians, please contact us at info@bossbassoon.com

Together with everyone’s support, we hope to make a difference for the next generation of bassoonists.

Thanks and take care,

Donovan