Edward Elgar: Romance for Bassoon
Genesis of Romance for Bassoon
Composed in 1910 for the principal bassoonist of the London Symphony Orchestra – Edwin F James – this work is from the Edward Elgar’s most creative periods. Romance for Bassoon was composed between two of Elgar’s largest works, the Violin Concerto (1910) and the Second Symphony (1911).
In contrast to these two large-scale works, the Romance for Bassoon is much gentler and shorter in length. What is really poignant about this work is the portrayal of the bassoon as a solo instrument. This is obviously not saying that solo works for bassoon had not been done in the past, however, this particular work shines a delicate light on the often comedic-sounding instrument.
Unlike a concerto, this work is not a showpiece for the bassoon, but more of a musical interlude. The opening burst of musical material from the orchestra is unmistakably in Elgar’s style at the time, with other works also using this same technique. The bassoon enters and plays through the main theme of the work. This opens up a balanced dialogue between the orchestra and soloist.
Although this would be considered a ‘minor work’, due to its length and structure, what it lacks in length it certainly makes up for in spirit. The noble character of the bassoon is portrayed with dominance, but also with a real sense of delicacy too. The minor tonality also hints at the character of this work, which fluctuates between reflectiveness and romance.
Elgar uses the string section of the orchestra to create the passionate and romantic countermelodies and foundations for the soloist to sit on top of. The lush orchestration that changes from sparse to rich in the space of a few bars creates opposing emotions throughout. Romance is extremely expressive, and the upper register that Elgar writes for the soloist adds to this effect.
There is a level of grandeur also celebrated in this work, with the short climaxes of the work resembling those from a symphony or concerto. The ending certainly feels like a natural conclusion to the work, with the bassoon dropping down to its lower register creating that end-of-piece feeling. The woody sound of the bassoon blends very easily with the lower-pitched instruments of the ensemble, and Elgar has made a conscious effort in this work for all instruments to blend with the soloist, whatever their octave is.
Romance for Bassoon is an effective piece of music that highlights the seldom seen fragility of the bassoon. The way that Elgar creates a dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra creates what can only be described as a romantic affair. The hushed recollection of the theme in the closing bars is perhaps the most poignant of the whole work.
Ⓒ Alex Burns