Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Monday, 1 July 2013

Concert I

Last night was in so many ways fabulous that I can't go into all of it now, and not in one simple post.   The second half of the concert was the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique.   This is one of my favourite pieces, yet one I have not listened to for some time, and one I have not played for around 30 years.  

When I have played it before I have been very wrapped up in my own part, one of the two tuba parts.   These were originally written for ophicleide but after Berlioz heard the Symphony played with tubas playing the parts he decided that he preferred the sound of newer instrument, and in the second edition of the score the parts are marked for tubas.   However the French tuba of that time was a very different instrument to the ones we use now, with a relatively small bore and pitched in the tenor C with six valves they played in a higher register than we find comfortable these days, so both parts in the Fantastique are high as well as exposed.   This all means that when I have played the work before I have been tied up with my own problems and not really listened to what was going on around me.

Last night I was playing Bass Trombone, the part is still challenging but sits nicely in the register and, knowing the work, not too difficult, so I had a bit more of a chance to pay attention to what was going on around me (I dare say that being 30 years older helps as well).   One thing that really struck me as very impressive was the writing for bassoons.

An orchestra will usually have two bassoons filling the role of bass for the woodwind section, Berlioz does something quite different here, instead of two he uses four bassoons and organises them like horns to play in two duets first and third together and second and fourth together.   Indeed in any ways the way the parts are written mirrors the way horns are used, as a separate section in their own right.   I found this very effective as well as innovative it gives the orchestra a slightly different "feel" and balance the woodwind tonality with the brass in way that doesn't normally happen.

On reflection I am a little surprised that this idea has not been picked up on by other composers and more widely used.

There are lots of jokes about bassoons my favourite is; Why is a bassoon better than an oboe? Because it will burn for longer! in that case I suppose four bassoons must be a whole furnace full.   And as an aside since the Italian term (it is Italian that is the international musical language) for bassoons is Fagotti, with four last night would that constitute a bunch of fagots?
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