The bassoon solo in the third movement is made up of two melodic sections separated by seven bars of rest. Each passage is presented first by the violin and then repeated by the bassoon, and as the bassoon plays, the violin continues over the top with a florid variation of the melody. As for the tempo, I prefer the brisk recordings of the Baltimore and Boston Symphony Orchestras (with soloists Hilary Hahn and Jascha Heifetz, respectively), which each take a tempo around ♩. = 90-94 for this section. Also, there is some question over the accuracy of the slurs in mm. 151 and 153. They seem like they should actually be identical, but we can see from the included pages of Beethoven’s autograph score that these slurs are indeed meant to be slightly different.
Flicking & Half-holing
The very beginning of this solo requires us to make a difficult decision: should we use the whisper key on the first D2, the D flick key for the D3 on the downbeat, and the C flick key on the following B♭3? While some bassoonists may feel perfectly comfortable using all three, others may find that using only one or two can greatly ease the awkwardness of these opening notes. Of course, before deciding which thumb keys to use and which to omit, we should record ourselves to make sure we know what notes do and do not speak cleanly without them.1 I personally use the whisper key on the first D to give me a nice solid note to start on, omit the flick key for the following D, and then flick the B♭ (Example 6.5).2 The sequence you choose all depends upon your specific instrument, bocal, and quality of reed, but with my setup I find that I can create a clean attack on the D by internally voicing an “EEE” for that note.3 Using some, all, or none of the thumb keys is up to personal preference, but I recommend that everyone experiment with combinations of each to discover what creates the easiest and cleanest line with your setup. Finally, rather than flicking the A to prevent cracking, we can actually use a slight half-hole with the first finger of the left hand. Some players may find this half-hole more reliable with the whisper key down, but I usually do not notice a difference.
Example 6.5. Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvt. III – mm. 134 to 136, flicking and half-hole indications
Phrasing and the Fundamental Line
Like most melodies, this bassoon solo can be broken down into a simple line consisting of steps and harmony-based leaps. For example, the first eight notes of the solo can be reduced to a basic line of D – B♭ – A – G (outlining a G minor chord with a passing tone A),4 while mm. 141 to 142 and mm. 157 to 158 are essentially motions from the dominant to the tonic. Example 6.6 shows the fundamental line of the full solo, along with the phrasing indications we should use to bring out this line.
Example 6.6. Beethoven, Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvt. III – mm. 134 to 158, melodic reduction
Excellent examples of this phrasing are given by the bassoonists of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the New York Philharmonic (2002). However, the clearest display of these gestures by far is found in the beautiful playing of Hilary Hahn. Regardless of your own personal preference, though, remember that the primary objective in an orchestral setting should be to match the soloist’s phrasing as much as possible.
1 See Bolero for more on recording ourselves in practice.
2 I also do this in mm. 154-55, but in m. 139 I find it relatively easy to flick both the D and the B♭ since the thumb should already be on the D flick key for the tongued eighth notes in m. 138.
3 This voicing also helps raise the pitch of the D enough so that the octave leap doesn’t sound too narrow, and since D is the fifth scale degree of the underlying G Minor harmony, it is acceptable if the pitch is slightly on the high side.
4 Though the underlying harmony is I – V 7 – I, the V 7 acts as more of a prolongation of I, than a fundamental harmonic shift. We can also think of the fundamental line as being D – G – F♯ – G, but the same hairpin phrasing would apply. I prefer the one included above because it brings out the descending quality of the line.