The two bassoon duets in the second movement are very similar, with the most substantial difference being the addition of a triplet sixteenth note figure in the second.1 These two passages often appear together on second bassoon auditions, and are commonly used as a duet to be performed with the principal player in the final round.
Interestingly, although the score includes a tempo marking of ♩= 74, the marking Bartók gives in his handwritten piano reduction is ♩= 94. This latter tempo is closer to the range I prefer (about ♩= 86-94), and is also closer to the tempo of Reiner’s recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (approx. ♩= 90) and Stokowski’s recording with the Houston Symphony (approx. ♩= 92). Meanwhile, Skrowaczewski’s recording with the Minnesota Orchestra more closely resembles the indication in the published score, clocking in at around ♩= 78.
While at first glance it may appear that the first and second bassoon parts are similarly challenging, it quickly becomes clear that the second player is faced with one of the most devious technical issues in all of our orchestral excerpts. The moment in question appears in m. 15, where the second bassoonist must execute a G♯ – A♯ trill that normally involves moving the thumb, ring finger, and pinky of the right hand. In comparison, the E2 – F♯2 and E3 – F♯3 trills in the Bassoon I part are fairly straightforward with the fingerings shown in Fingering 4.1 and Fingering 4.2. Returning to the G♯ – A♯ trill, the best fingering I have found (Fingering 4.3) is comprised of the following two components:
- Finger a G with the thumb B♭ key, and trill the right hand ring finger
- Round the embouchure and create either an “AAH” or “OOH” vowel syllable in order to bring the G♯ down to pitch
Also, I find that using the standard G♯ fingering creates the smoothest transition between the previous F♯ and the trill, though some may prefer to use the above G♯ trill fingering instead (making sure to use the same vocalization to bring the pitch down). Unfortunately, this fingering combination does nothing to help ease the difficulty of the F♯ – G♯ turn at the end of the trill, which requires either excellent pinky strength to reach the front F♯ key, or a nimble thumb to transition quickly from the B♭ key down to the back F♯ key.
Developing Rhythmic Accuracy
With the awkwardness of the trills comes the danger that the turns will occur too late. However, this is certainly not the only instance where maintaining a steady tempo can be problematic: notes that come immediately after the quarter and dotted-quarter notes can have a tendency to be late, the sixteenth notes can sometimes rush, and the repeated eighth notes can get bogged down by their staccato markings. The only true solution to these issues comes from practicing with a metronome and mentally subdividing from the start of the excerpt. Using the problematic trills as an example, Example 4.1 demonstrates the type of additive process that can be very useful for developing the rhythmic integrity this excerpt requires.
The key part of this sequence involves ending the trill early (marked “END” in Examples 4.1b and 4.1c) in order to get comfortable with playing the turn on time. As for other sections of the excerpt, one effective practice strategy is to replace all of the longer notes with the equivalent amount of sixteenth notes (similar to Example 4.1b). For the triplets in the second excerpt, thinking of them as broad, “sticky” notes can help alleviate any rushing issues. And remember, each note in the triplet should last for an equal length of time.
Example 4.1. Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra, Mvt II. – mm. 15 to 16, practice sequence for developing rhythmic stability
Articulation and Dynamics
I use two different types of staccato articulation in these passages—one for the eighth notes and one for the sixteenth notes. Because they move so quickly, the staccato sixteenth notes should be stopped with the tongue; however, if we were to articulate the eighth notes in this manner, we would end up with an undesirable “pecky” articulation. Instead, we can give the eighth notes a very quick breath release, which will make the notes sound much bouncier and livelier than if we ended them with the tongue.2 Be careful not to let this type of staccato create extra space between the notes, however, since this will cause these measures to drag.
The execution of the crescendo and accent markings should also be approached with great care. Most of the accents appear under slurs, and as such require a push of air from the abdomen to suddenly and sharply increase the volume; however, these accented notes are in a piano dynamic context, so they should only reach a dynamic level between mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte.
Though we should never remove all semblance of musical gesture from our playing, in this particular excerpt we must be very careful not to show any overt crescendos or diminuendos where they are not marked. For example, while the third eighth notes in mm. 9 and 10 are the two goal notes in each of their respective measures, the inflection must be subtle enough that the listener does not perceive any sort of written accent, crescendo, or diminuendo.
1 There is also, of course, the addition of the third bassoon’s continuo line, but it is not relevant to our discussion here.