Dearest readers, I apologise for the lack of blogs in the past month, I am still trying to find a golden balance with my work load. I feel like I am nearly there now, so hopefully blogs will return to being published more regularly. To celebrate the next Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra concert this coming Saturday (10th March), I am writing this blog on Carl Maria von Weber, and his Bassoon Concerto.
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was born in 1786 (and died in 1826). He is now known as one of the first significant composers of the original Romantic school. Weber’s music, especially his operas, influenced the development of composers such as Mendelssohn, Wagner and Meyerbeer. As well as being a forefront figure in Romantic Opera (Romantische Oper), Weber was also a great pianist. He composed sonatas, concertos and a concert piece for piano, which was further acknowledged and interpreted by the likes of Liszt and Chopin.
Weber is remembered for his forward-thinking compositional style. His Concertino for Horn and Orchestra asks the soloist to use multiphonics (producing two notes simultaneously), which is a technique that is not only very difficult, but rarely used in classical music of this time. Weber wrote concertos for clarinet, bassoon and horn, all of which are popular with instrumentalists today.
Homage has been paid to Weber from popular 20th Century composers, such as Debussy and Stravinsky. Mahler also completed Weber’s unfinished comic opera Die drei Pintos. Paul Hindemith also composed the popular concert piece Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber – which you can read all about here.
Weber’s ever-popular Bassoon Concerto in F Major was originally composed in 1811, but was later revised in 1822. Whilst visiting Munich in 1811, Weber was asked to put a concert on for the Queen. After impressing the court with his Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra, Weber was on the lookout to write a new concerto. Weber took interest in German bassoonist, Georg Friedrich Brandt, and composed his Concerto for Bassoon. It took Weber a mere four days to compose the work, and the first performance took place on 28th December, 1811.
The revisions took place four years before Weber’s death. He made a deal with Schlesinger (a music publisher) to publish some of his older works, the Concerto for Bassoon being one of these. Not huge changes were made, but an expansion of some orchestral sections, and some re-scoring were made.
It is often noted that Weber’s father wanted his children to become ‘the next Mozart’, and perhaps this was not the case. However, Weber followed in Mozart’s footsteps when it came to composing outstanding bassoon concertos. Both Weber’s and Mozart’s bassoon concertos are among the most popular in bassoon repertoire.
The concerto consists of three movements:
I. Allegro ma non troppo (F Major)
II. Adagio (Bb Major)
III. Rondo: Allegro (F Major)
The first movement is in classical sonata form. It is in 4/4 time, and is in the tonic key of F major. There is an orchestral introduction, which focuses primarily on the tonics and dominants of F major. The melodic material is taken from the first and second themes, which come later in the movement. The march-like introduction could be argued to be a dramatic build up to the soloist entering, which highlights Weber’s flair for opera and theatrics. Two bars before the soloist enters, the timpani is left playing an F at pianissimo, creating an expectancy of the soloist. The bassoon then enters triumphantly with the militaristic first theme.
The dotted rhythms throughout the first movement characterises the bassoon, and it is a skill that Weber has become known for. The virtuosity of the solo part is built up on theatrics also. With long scalic runs, jumping from high and low registers, and tricky trills and arpeggios, this bassoon concerto is difficult for even the modern bassoon. The final cadence, for instance, in the first movement sees the bassoon ascend to a high D, which was, at the time, the highest note a bassoon could reach (the modern bassoon can now go higher, but not without a lot of effort still!). It is often argued that the style of this first movement is resonant of both classical and romantic styles, to which Weber is known to be a significant figure in both.
The second movement, Adagio, is in the subdominant key of Bb major. This movement has been likened to that of slow arias from opera, especially Italian operas, due to its stylistic features. The bassoon melody is perhaps on the of the most beautiful melodies written for the instrument. This movement is less about the virtuosity of the soloist, but the overall colour and texture of the work. There is a small section in the middle where Weber experiments with the solo bassoon playing in a three-part texture with two horns. It is unusual, but also rather poignantly placed in the movement. This movement ends with the only cadenza in the concerto, which Weber wrote out for the soloist.
The third movement returns to the tonic of F major, and is a lighthearted rondo. The quick pace of the this movement makes it very exciting to listen to. The soloist must have keen dexterity, however, as again, there are many scalic passages, with tricky key changes. The humour of this movement is certainly my favourite characteristic of this work, and this, for me, is what makes it the most exciting. The finale is perhaps one of the most virtuosic to ever be written for bassoon. A flurry of scalic passages and arpeggios showcase the musical dominance of the bassoon.
I do hope you have enjoyed exploring this wonderful concerto with me today. If you fancy seeing it live (with me also playing the orchestra – bonus!), then come on down to see Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra play on Saturday 10th March. May Weber’s music live on for many years to come!