The idea for this project and website came from numerous conversations with my late bassoon professor, Arthur Weisberg, with whom I was fortunate to study with during my first year of coursework at Indiana University. One of the aspects of bassoon playing that Mr. Weisberg always seemed very fascinated with was the concept of articulation—its mechanics, its expressive possibilities, and even its use in delineating phrase structure. In his 1975 book The Art of Wind Playing,1 Mr. Weisberg examined the available variety of articulations in great detail, and this book remains one of the best available resources on this subject. These same concepts were brought up in almost every lesson I had with Mr. Weisberg, and were ultimately what led to this project.
Working with Mr. Weisberg on orchestral excerpts was always particularly engaging—a fact that I attribute to his long and illustrious career as both an orchestral bassoonist and conductor. He often had interesting—if sometimes unorthodox—views on each excerpt; for example, he believed that all of the grace notes in The Rite of Spring should be tongued to help bring out their ornamental function. One of the most memorable discussions occurred while we were working on the beginning of Bolero: he casually remarked that in the original version of the part, the opening B♭s did not all appear under one overarching slur—instead, each B♭ was originally supposed to be articulated. His assertion came as a huge surprise. Could it really be possible that the standard version of Bolero—the only one I had ever come across in all my years of bassoon playing—was incorrect? If so, how could that even happen? Surely, if true, someone would have noticed such a glaring error and taken steps to have it corrected. But what if it really was a mistake?
This single, off-hand remark raised a number of questions for me. If a well-known excerpt like Bolero could contain such errors, then how many other excerpts could have similar misprints? In the same vein, what about excerpts where the discrepancies are already well-documented, such as Stravinsky’s Firebird or Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel? Could these misunderstandings also be the product of similar printing errors? My curiosity was piqued, and I felt that these questions could potentially form the basis for my dissertation. It was simply a matter of deciding where to go from there.
I had toyed with the idea of incorporating a website into my dissertation for some time, with the hope that other bassoonists would be able to easily access my work if they wanted to. Frankly, I had grown frustrated with the closed ecosystem surrounding many important bassoon resources, and found that—even as a doctoral student—accessing pedagogical materials like dissertations and IDRS articles was far more tedious than it should be. Therefore, I decided to put this project online where it could be accessed easily and openly.
The actual idea for a multimedia website focusing on bassoon excerpts had been with me since my time as a MM student at Florida State. My friend and colleague, Dr. David Wells, had set up a webpage through the school that allowed our studio to access the bassoon excerpts for that week’s excerpt class, along with a few recorded samples of each. It was an incredibly useful tool for that class, and in time I began to imagine the possibilities that a large-scale version could have as a pedagogical tool. Despite hanging on to this idea for a few years afterwards, there was no real impetus to start such a massive undertaking until the Bolero conversation with Mr. Weisberg. Though I was still intrigued by the question of part accuracy, the decision to create a website made me realize the real focus of the project should be on performing the music, not the technicalities of how it appears in the parts. Mr. Weisberg brought up this articulation discrepancy as a pedagogical tool to demonstrate how different articulations can affect the musical gesture, not as a history lesson. With this philosophy in mind, the process of finding accurate parts simply became the starting point for this project, not its main goal.
Instead, the ultimate purpose of this project is to provide student and professional bassoonists with the resources necessary to prepare these excerpts for both audition and orchestral performance. To create such a resource, I focused on providing the following materials for each excerpt on the site:
- Accurate parts so users will be aware of any common or uncommon misprints
- Accurate scores so users can study the context of the excerpt
- A variety of recordings so users can hear the context and various interpretations of each excerpt
Twenty-five excerpts have also been chosen for a more in-depth examination. In addition to the parts, scores, and recordings, the sections for these main excerpts also include:
- A historical overview to help users better understand the significance of the piece, as well as any role the bassoon plays in terms of the program of the work
- Pedagogical comments to give users suggestions on interpretive and technical problems
- Fingering charts that can be useful for certain notes or trills in the excerpt
- Harmonic analyses to help users better understand the underlying accompaniment, the bassoon line’s function in the harmonies, and how this should affect the player’s phrasing and tuning adjustments
My hope is that this resource will help players develop their own practice strategies and interpretations for these excerpts, while also educating users on the history and stories of the pieces they are taken from. It is, in essence, everything I wish had been available when I first began studying these excerpts, and I hope others will find this resource to be as useful as I do.
1 Arthur Weisberg, The Art of Wind Playing (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1975).