Repertoire classification method

Historically, the bassoon often had a specific function as an accompanying instrument integrated in the basso continuo group in the Baroque period, although also specified in chamber and solo works. The turn of the nineteenth century gradually led to a process where the bassoon acquired new roles in orchestral, chamber and solo music, with more use of the tenor register. Written scores show this transition of the bassoon’s role, but in some cases the traditional practice of barely specifying or hinting of the instrument required for certain music still existed. Therefore, the usage of a full-size bassoon was not always consistently and explicitly marked “bassoon/ basson/ fagotto/ Fagott” in scores. 

In 1885, Ebenezer Prout commented on this practice in his description of Bach and Handel orchestras, noting that: 

“[bassoons] … are generally implied though seldom marked in the score; the proof being the numerous cases in which, in the middle of a movement, senza Fagotti may be seen on the bass line, though only Tutti bassi, or simply Bass–rarely if ever Bassi e Fagotti–has been indicated at the beginning of the number” (Prout 1885: 356). 

It must be noted that scoring conventions for the bassoon, in particular before the mid-1800s, were not consistent. Yet despite missing instructions in scores, the participation of the bassoon in many standard Baroque and Classical works is generally not put into question. The issue concerning when and when not to play still confronts bassoonists today in much pre-Romantic music. Many composers, including J. S. Bach and G. F. Händel (but also J. Haydn and W. A. Mozart), did not always specify bassoon(s) in their scoring, although it is generally assumed that this instrument was present in their orchestras. The decision if and what to play is often delegated to the leader or performer. See, for example the chapter on bassoon by Dreyfus (1987: 108–31).

Parallels can be drawn to historical performance practices found in other instrument groups with overlapping registers, with various sizes, such as the oboe family, as discussed by authors such as Hubmann (2011: 71–84) and Kopp (2012: 229–224). Precise indications of the appropriate instrument size may, or just as often may not, be given by a composer. It is plausible that this also applies to bassoon instruments, and therefore selected works should be re-considered.

It is not therefore surprising that in the case of small-sized bassoons, only a few examples explicitly specify “fagottino” or “tenoroon”. Moreover, references that appeared in original manuscripts are sometimes no longer printed in subsequent editions of the music, making it even harder to identify the music conceived for small-sized bassoons. Nevertheless, the existence of a substantial number of surviving instruments indicates that those instruments were indeed in use during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. On this basis, we are actively starting to reconsider bassoon repertoire, bearing in mind the suitability of which-sized instrument to the music. Our goal in this study consisted of identifying works specifying small bassoons, as well as determining other titles which may be appropriately played on them, including the suggestions of several scholars, such as Klaus Hubmann, James Kopp and Steffen Voss. After examining titles specifically notated for small bassoons, we began reviewing selected repertoire having similar parameters, considering the playability on different instruments, and what musical results could thereby be attained. 

Repertoire review: What was written for fagottino or tenoroon? 

Aside from the obvious cases, when, for instance, the instrument name is indicated in the score, we have developed a method to determine the suitability of the small bassoons for a specific piece of music. The goal of this process is to identify possible fagottino music and to collect data that makes it possible to answer the key question of what music is suitable for those instruments. The analysis addresses questions such as the range and viability of performance with a transposing instrument, as well as other musical aspects. Music hypothetically conceived for small-sized instruments is also connected to the instrument catalogue, thereby positioning works in a musical context of its time. In this way it is possible to draw connections between specific instruments or instrument makers and their regions, where direct contact with composers was certainly a probability. Additionally, the repertoire list includes several discussion points explaining why it is arguable that a specific piece of music be performed on a fagottino, a tenoroon in G, or one in F.  

Our repertoire review approaches selected works in a contextualized manner. This approach, for instance, enables cross-referencing between instrument models found in a particular region/time with specific composers active in that period. This point can best be demonstrated by taking into account works by Telemann, played in Northern Germany and the possible connection to a model such as a Scherer (octave) fagottino, a popular maker in that region. Or the information from the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano (June 19, 1847: 199) that the Neapolitan fagottino virtuoso Pagnoncelli performed contemporary potpourri arrangements of Verdi opera arias, as well as his own compositions (eventually using a tenoroon in G made by the Neapolitan Raffaele De Rosa, like the one found in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London).

To analyse a musical work, we note characteristics such as musical context and setting, dynamic markings, and tempo. The range is regarded, focusing on passages composed in the upper register and considering the boundaries of the various transposing instruments. The subject of tonalities is tied to transposition of instruments and therefore is considered together with technical possibilities by reviewing fingering combinations required. High-register fingering combinations on the full-sized bassoon are generally complicated. Using smaller transposing instruments, these difficult combinations can be effectively avoided, enhancing an overall musical fluency and minimizing any number of specific technical problems sometimes viewed as insurmountable with the full-sized instrument. A good example illustrating this problem of facility in the high register can be found in L. van Beethoven’s Trio in G for piano, flute and bassoon, Wo.37, II. Adagio.

Questions have arisen about the notable absence of transposed parts for small-sized bassoons, especially when evidence would indicate that performance with a transposing model was very likely.  After reviewing the mechanics involved, we suggest a plausible explanation for this phenomena: In a tradition already established centuries ago, bassoon players commonly read music in at least two, if not three or four different clefs: bass, tenor, and occasionally also alto and treble. Kopp (2012: 225) also mentions the possibility (using a “Hochsext” bassoon) of reading treble clef as if it were bass clef and changing the key signature. In order to transpose notation written for a full-sized bassoon into a part for a tenoroon in F, bass clef is read as if tenor clef, and one flat is removed from the key signature. Alternatively, to use a tenoroon in G, a passage written in tenor clef is read as if bass clef, and the key signature changed by adding one flat. Other similar transposition tools have been identified which make written-out, transposed parts superfluous. A good example of how scores written in tenor clef can be transposed for a tenoroon in G is seen in the above mentioned example of L. van Beethoven’s “Trio für Klavier, Flöte und Fagott,” WoO 37, II. Adagio. Kopp (2012: 225) suggests that this work was composed for an amateur, Count Friedrich Westerholt-Geysenberg, who presumably used a tenoroon for this movement. Transposing by changing clefs would have eliminated the need to write out new parts, and therefore explains how transpositions were tacitly carried out on the spot by performers themselves. 

Works are eventually added to the suggested repertoire list, including an appraisal of playability with a specific instrument. In addition to searching for more works specified for small-sized bassoons, we aim to review selected bassoon repertoire in a systematic order. This method of assessment uses historical contextual information and organological aspects. Chronicles and newspaper reviews, together with performative analysis of the scores, may all lead to correlations that will help to write the history of these instruments.

Methods of collecting data

For the purpose of the music analysis, data were collecting using a chart that systematized some of the characteristics described above which are key to determine the possibility of music for small–sized bassoons. The information extracted using these charts was schematized, facilitating the suggested repertoire list.

The table below illustrates an example of a repertoire data collection chart.

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