Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116
by Béla Bartók
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. 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.
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
by Ludwig van Beethoven
The bassoons have a number of fast tonguing passages in the finale of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. This short, four-bar solo is the most famous, and is requested on almost every principal bassoon audition. A fast-moving tongue is essential for this excerpt, and a more detailed discussion on this skill can be found in the Articulation section. Though many players become obsessed with performing this excerpt as fast as possible, in truth a tempo of ♩= 138-144 is sufficient. In fact, the only included example with a tempo significantly faster than this is Dohnányi’s recording with the Cleveland Orchestra. If you do find yourself in an uncomfortably fast orchestral situation, you might consider Archie Camden’s advice to slur the first two notes of the solo since the beginning is mostly covered by the resonance of the preceding cadence anyway.
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
by Ludwig van Beethoven
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.
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.
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
by Hector Berlioz
This staccato passage from the “March to the Scaffold” appears shortly after the movement’s dark and ominous introduction. It is performed by all four bassoonists, and should be thought of in 2/2 with a tempo of approximately half note = 80. On the surface, this bassoon passage appears to be nothing more than a long line of accompanimental eighth notes—certainly nothing that would typically be considered “melodic” in nature. But although the strings continue on their melody from the previous phrase, at this point it is transformed into a light, pizzicato accompanimental line. The bassoons—despite the stepwise, continuo nature of their line—indeed have the melody.
A screeching, trill-laden E♭ clarinet solo leads into this tutti bassoon passage from the “Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath.” In audition settings, mentally hearing this clarinet introduction can be very helpful in preventing yourself from inadvertently beginning the excerpt too fast. Berlioz gives us a marking of ♩. = 104, but feel free to take it a couple notches slower if it allows for a cleaner performance.
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
by Johannes Brahms
The opening of the second movement appears on almost every second bassoon audition today, and while the tempo can vary greatly amongst violinists—as it also can for the slow movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto—a tempo of ♪ = 52-58 seems fairly standard. I may be biased as a bassoonist, but I much prefer the forward-moving pace of Heifetz’s 1955 recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which maintains a tempo of about ♪ = 60-64. I find that imagining the oboe solo as I play this excerpt can help keep the line moving forward, even at such a relatively slow tempo. Observe the hairpins and dynamic markings closely—especially the pianissimo marking given to the extended section from mm. 19 to 22—but do not let the soft dynamic context of the excerpt inhibit the creation of musical line and phrasing.
"Una furtiva lagrima" from Act II, Scene VII of L'elisir d'amore
by Gaetano Donizetti
This lyrical bassoon solo opens one of the most famous tenor arias in the entire classical repertoire. Be mindful of the constant rhythmic motor of the arpeggiated harp accompaniment and how it creates the illusion of a duple-versus-triple feel by essentially subdividing the 6/8 meter into four dotted-eighth notes per bar (which contrasts a subdivision in the bassoon line of six regular eighth notes per bar). Most of the included examples take a tempo of about ♪ = 76-78, though James Levine and The Met are much closer to ♪ = 86.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
by Paul Dukas
The two excerpts from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice are probably the most well-known bassoon passages to non-musicians; out of the two, the second, longer excerpt is more likely to be asked on auditions. I recommend a tempo of about ♩. = 114-118, which seems pretty standard fare (in fact, the Berliner Philharmoniker recording is the only included example that takes a tempo significantly faster than this).
The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The passage at the recapitulation of the overture is an extended version of the opening melody; remember, it is the melody, so don’t neglect the musical inflections!1 As for choosing an appropriate tempo for auditions, McGill provides some very useful insight:
[…] in an audition, time seems compressed and we tend to feel that our tempos are not fast enough, so we rush. But those listening are not worked up as you may be. They hear everything as its real speed. To be safe, and to avoid being your own worst enemy, take each quick excerpt one or two metronome markings slower than you feel it should be played. Clarity adds a sense of speed. Fast and sloppy versus a little less fast and clean—you be the judge.
Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 'Haffner'
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
When Mozart finally sent the remainder of his Haffner serenade to his father, he only had this to say about the finale: "The first Allegro should be done with great fire, and the last should go just as fast as possible." Like most of the technical excerpts discussed here, a tempo of ♩= 138-144 is acceptable for auditions, and this is the tempo taken in many of the included examples as well.
by Maurice Ravel
The bassoon solo in Bolero comes near the beginning of the piece, directly after the opening solos of the flute and clarinet. These two instruments begin with statements of the A theme, which is a consonant melody characterized by its metric and rhythmic regularity, and one octave range. The bassoon follows with the first appearance of the B theme, creating an overarching antecedent-consequent melodic structure. In contrast to the A theme, the B theme is highly dissonant and often places the metrical emphasis on parts of the measure other than the downbeat. Also noteworthy is that the B theme spans a range of two octaves and a minor second—over twice that of the A theme.
Piano Concerto in G Major
by Maurice Ravel
The solo in the first movement primarily tests the player’s ability to produce a smooth, in-tune high E. This melodic figure first appears in the piano, so we should try to emulate the style of the pianist as much as possible by playing broadly on the accented quarter notes. The tempo Ravel takes at this section in his recording with Marguerite Long is around ♩= 90, therefore we can safely assume that this is an appropriate tempo for us to take as well.
This immensely tricky bassoon passage appears about halfway into the third movement, restating the piano’s opening theme. Like the excerpts from Mozart’s Figaro and Haffner, a tempo of ♩= 138-144 is perfectly acceptable for auditions, though faster tempos that also allow for clean technique should not be discouraged. In orchestral situations, though, be prepared for tempos of ♩= 160 and above. Also, be sure to observe the crescendo into the third bar before Rehearsal 15 since the horn entrance can often cover up the bassoon at this point.
Scheherazade, Op. 35
by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
This bassoon solo follows directly after the opening violin solo, introducing the main theme of the second movement. Though not marked on the bassoon part, the full score provides a metronome marking of ♪ = 112. Practice the entire solo with this tempo first, and then from there you can experiment with pushing and pulling the tempo of specific phrases. Make sure, however, to perform the first few bars in strict time so the audience will have a reference point for any tempo fluctuations you include later on.
Further into the second movement, the clarinet and bassoon each play a series of three florid cadenzas. The tempos can vary wildly from player to player, but as with all technical excerpts, you should not play faster than your technique allows. Luckily, we can create the illusion of reaching a faster tempo by starting the sixteenth notes more slowly, since it is the relative difference in speed that the audience will notice, not the absolute difference.
Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70
by Dmitri Shostakovich
The lengthy bassoon solo spanning the fourth and fifth movements of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony presents a number of challenges that are solely unique to this excerpt. At around four minutes in length—easily the longest principal bassoon solo in our standard orchestral repertoire—it not only challenges the player’s lyricism and musicality, but also the limits of his or her endurance. Furthermore, it is not enough to simply play the solo expressively—there also needs to be enough variety in the phrasing to hold the listener’s attention for its entire duration. Since the fifth movement passage is comparatively straightforward, I will be focusing this discussion on the lyrical solo in the fourth movement.
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28
by Richard Strauss
A tempo of ♩. = 120-126 is common for this section of the piece, though in many recordings there is a noticeable relaxation at Rehearsal 32. The melodic line at the end of this excerpt is a variation of the opening theme in the solo horn.
The Rite of Spring
by Igor Stravinsky
The opening solo of The Rite of Spring hardly needs any introduction, although younger players may not be as familiar with the second—and arguably more difficult—C♭ solo. Stravinsky gives us the tempo of ♩= 50, and while the solo is marked ad lib., this indication mostly applies to the fermata notes at the beginning. Stravinsky gives us incredibly detailed rhythms here, so we need to play them as accurately as possible; if we push or pull too much, the audience will be completely lost in regards to what rhythms we are playing.
by Igor Stravinsky
The bassoon solo in the “Berceuse” is the Firebird’s lullaby to Kastchei and his monsters that have danced themselves to exhaustion during the “Infernal Dance.” We might assume that Stravinsky’s own recordings could be used as reference for an appropriate tempo, but the tempos of each are quite varied. For example, Stravinsky takes a tempo close to ♪ = 92 in his 1946 recording with the New York Philharmonic; fifteen years later, however, he takes a tempo closer to ♪ = 120 with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. I prefer a tempo in the former range (about ♪ = 90-100), which can be heard in the recordings of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony.
Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
The bassoon solo at m. 274 brings the Andantino full circle by recalling the pizzicato orchestration of the opening oboe solo (the actual melody, of course, appears throughout the movement). I recommend a tempo of at least ♩= 62-64, which is fast enough to maintain the singing quality of the line, yet slow enough to allow the finer nuances of the phrasing to come through. Many students have a bad habit of playing this solo much too slowly, and that only tends to highlight the problems discussed below.
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
This excerpt from the “Valse” starts at the very beginning of the movement, though the primary solo does not begin until the second bar of Rehearsal D. It is customary to hesitate slightly during this first entrance here at Rehearsal D, and gradually get up to full speed by the first high F♯. The tempo I prefer is similar to the one taken in the BBC and Leningrad Philharmonic recordings, which is in the range of ♩= 150-160. This tempo is significantly faster than some of the other recordings (like the Boston Symphony Orchestra example), but to me sounds much more like a tempo for dancing. When I listen to the BBC Philharmonic performance, I cannot help but imagine dancers pirouetting across the stage, as if the music actually belonged to one of Tchaikovsky’s many ballets instead. This tempo range also encourages thinking of the entire passage in one, which allows the music to feel much lighter in character.
Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique'
by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
One of the most interesting features of this opening solo is that it begins the symphony in E Minor instead of the indicated B Minor. Along with the descending chromaticism in the basses, this gives the opening a very unstable feeling; and even when we do reach B Minor at the end of the solo, it takes the form of a lingering half cadence. Tchaikovsky gives us the tempo of ♩= 54 in his score.
Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg
by Richard Wagner
The opening of Tannhäuser appears on almost every second bassoon audition, and, like the opening to the Adagio of Brahms’s Violin Concerto, requires great endurance and control over the lowest range of the instrument. The second bassoon is the bass voice in the opening chorale of horns, clarinets, and bassoons. An important note about the parts—the rhythm of the fourth full bar is often incorrect in both first and second bassoon parts. The correct rhythm is a half note and a quarter note, not a dotted half note.1 The tempo shown in the score is ♩= 50, but for audition purposes I prefer to take a more manageable ♩= 60. When performing in an orchestral setting, focus on blending and supporting the sound of the horns.