Camille Saint-Saëns: Bassoon Sonata in G


Saint-Saëns’ Bassoon Sonata in G was composed in 1921, and was one of the composer’s last works before his death later that year. Throughout his career, Saint-Saëns only composed three sonatas for solo wind instruments, the others being for oboe and clarinet. Although the Bassoon Sonata was the last in the trio to be composed, all three of these wind sonatas were composed in 1921. Saint-Saëns wanted to expand the repertoire for instruments he felt were neglected in this genre:


“At the moment I am concentrating my last reserves on giving rarely considered instruments the chance to be heard.”


The Music

The sonata was popular when it premiered and is still performed today. The music mixes Saint-Saëns’ light-hearted style with some peaceful contemplation, all within three short movements.


Movement I – Allegro moderato

The opening movement starts with a sparkling piano introduction before the high-pitched bassoon enters. Saint-Saëns’ musicality here is evident as the usually humorous soloist is bound by broad and lyrical lines of music. The piano keeps the pace moving with fast scalic runs and sparkling decoration, which adds to the power of the bassoon sound. As the two grow together, the higher register of the bassoon really sings out, creating a unique atmosphere. A reprise of the opening theme closes this movement with dignity and peace.


Movement II – Allegro scherzando

The jaunty central movement is full of life and energy as the pair work together to perform Saint-Saëns’ intricate writing. Quick movement from both parts creates a complex texture that shows the versatility of the bassoon. Small fluctuations between lyrical and fast scherzo themes creates excitement within this movement which is fully-realised by the end of the piece. A call and response figure leads to the exciting conclusion of this movement. 


Movement III – Molto adagio

The longest of the three movements, the finale begins quietly with a piano introduction. The solemn-sounding bassoon enters with a sombre theme. The control displayed by the bassoon here breaks down a lot of stereotypes related to the bassoon, which is very positive and what Saint-Saëns was aiming for. The bare accompaniment leaves room for the soloist to create luscious long lines of melody, whilst always holding control. The tempo changes during the central section to Allegro moderato, which amps up the urgency a bit more. The two voices work as a team to develop the main themes of the finale movement. A climax is heard with the bassoon reaching a very high note. This leads to a short section in the very bottom range, once again showing the versatility of the instrument. This movement concludes the sonata with a quick theme that is full of excitement and thrill, leading to the final flourish.  


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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