The bassoon solo in the Larghetto is the third statement of the main theme that first appears in the strings, horns and clarinet. The violins and violas support the clarinet during its melody, while the lower strings join in with the bassoon. In each solo, the violin is busy with a series of florid melodic lines over top.
As you can hear in the examples, the tempo of this section varies greatly amongst the different violinists, ranging anywhere from below ♪ = 70 to almost ♪ = 100. You will also notice that many of the soloists take a lot of time with their melodic figures that intercede the bassoon phrases, and typically push forward during the last few bars into the final cadence. The choice of tempo here—as well as the amount of relaxation and pushing—is really a matter of personal taste.
Nuanced Gestures in Larger Phrases
The simplicity of this solo is also what makes it so difficult, since even the smallest blemishes are magnified with such a clear line. We are tasked with conveying long, singing phrases, but we cannot forget to also incorporate smaller, nuanced gestures. This concept of a smaller gesture inside a longer phrase is especially applicable to the dotted-eighth-sixteenth motive that appears throughout the solo. The overall musical goal of this figure is the quarter note on the downbeat, which can be clearly seen by replacing the dotted-eighth-sixteenth rhythm with a quarter note as in Example 6.1. The first note is a pickup note that should lead into the downbeat quarter note, while the following note should come back away.
Example 6.1. Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvt. II – mm. 20 to 22, melodic reduction
The presence of the dotted-eighth-sixteenth rhythm gives us a chance to make the figure more interesting by including a small lift between the two notes (denoted by a V marking in Example 6.2).1 The overarching line of the three notes should remain unchanged regardless of this addition.
Example 6.2. Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvt. II – mm. 20 to 30, phrasing suggestions
Example 6.2 also includes crescendo and diminuendo markings to indicate the larger phrases, all of which still exist within a piano to mezzo-forte dynamic level (with the exception of the written crescendo Beethoven gives for the last three bars). I’ve also added a number of legato markings to reiterate that the final eighth notes in each three-note figure should be held to their full length.
The A2 in the second-to-last bar has been given a legato marking for a different reason: to help highlight the fundamental line to the cadence. Beethoven could have simply written this A as a half note leading to the final G, but instead he made it much more interesting by giving us a slight melodic embellishment. Lingering just a hair on the A helps bring out this fundamental descending line (Example 6.3).
Example 6.3. Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvt. II – mm. 28 to 30, fundamental line of second-to-last bar
With the addition of this stress on the A, we must be careful to stay in tempo with the rest of the orchestra, especially since many violinists and conductors push forward to the final bar. Weisberg writes:
We must realize that when a single note is changed, the timing of the rest of the measure is also altered. This can be in one of two ways, the choice being governed by musical considerations. The first involves lengthening the note, and then “catching up” with the other notes so that the beat is not altered and the basic length of the measure remains unchanged. The other is to lengthen the note in the same manner, but not “catch up,” which makes the other beats occur later and therefore increases the length of the measure. If the player is part of an ensemble or an orchestra, then it is probably better to use the first method, so that the group will stay together.2
The two best demonstrations of this very small gesture occur in Isaac Stern’s performance with the New York Philharmonic and Hilary Hahn’s performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The bassoonists in each recording linger just slightly on the A, adding that extra, small level of refinement that is missing from the other interpretations.
One final note—executing a long, sustained crescendo on the D in m. 26 can be very difficult, so try using the voicing scheme in Example 6.4 to gradually open up the sound into the downbeat of m. 27.3
1 This lift is very apparent in the strings’ phrasing at the opening of the movement.
2 Weisberg, 128-29.
3 See Voicings for more information on this concept.