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.

Phrasing Considerations
A common phrasing issue that occurs in many performances of these cadenzas is the overemphasis of the Gs. While it is natural to want the highest note of a phrase to also be the loudest, in this case the emphasis of each grouping should actually be placed on the Fs. Players often concentrate so intently on playing difficult notes like the G that this same concentration actually becomes part of the problem. Focusing on the D – G interval can cause the transition between the two notes to be rushed, which in turn almost ensures that the G will never speak cleanly with any real consistency.

As in Figaro, this is an instance where we can employ David McGill’s process of “mentally eliminating” an awkward interval by realizing that the two notes of the interval do not actually belong to the same note grouping.1 Once this is discovered, adjusting the airflow to show the true gesture will eliminate the difficulty of the interval. In this case, the interval we want to mentally eliminate is D – G. This requires the emphasis to be shifted away from the G and back to the F, which can be practiced in two ways (either individually or simultaneously):

  • Overemphasizing the dynamic hairpins
  • Adding fermatas to the D to help reinforce that note as the final note of the grouping (and helping to eliminate any tense rushing between the D and G)

These markings are shown in Example 15.2. While we do want to show these hairpins in our musical gesture, it is important to note that the air flow must still continue between the D and G; in fact, as with all upward leaps, a slight push of air is necessary. Most importantly, however, is that the corners of the embouchure must be actively engaged in order for the slurred leap to sound.2 If the corners are not applying sufficient pressure to the sides of the reed, then no amount of air support will force the Gs to speak consistently.

Example 15.2. Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Mvt. II – bar 4 of Rehearsal L, with added hairpins and fermatas

As we discussed with Symphonie fantastique, the decisions composers make in regards to note beaming do not always emphasize proper phrasing. McGill elaborates on this point:

The beams that connect notes together can lead to unnatural grouping and breathing. Groups of two, four, or eight eighth notes connected by a common beam can lead one to hammer out each beamed group, beat, or bar. But in almost every case, beams do not indicate phrasing. For the most part, they exist for one reason only: rhythmical subdivision. And that reason is completely unrelated to musical phrasing.3

This is also the case for the cadenzas of Scheherazade. In Example 15.3 you can see that rearranging the beam breaks clarifies the true note groupings and musical gesture.

Example 15.3. Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Mvt. II – bar 4 of Rehearsal L, re-beamed music with added hairpins and fermatas

To hear the difference between cadenzas that emphasize the Gs and cadenzas that emphasize the Fs, listen to the included examples from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra. The inflection to the Fs in the BBC SSO recording—which is especially noticeable during the ritards—creates an incredibly smooth and clean line, whereas the emphasis on the Gs in the SNO recording makes for a comparatively disjointed and sloppy performance.

Tempo & Variety
The main musical challenge the cadenzas present us with is how to keep a sequence of three very similar phrases interesting. Because all of the notes occur under slurs, we are left with only two main ways to create variety: by altering the tempo, and by altering the dynamics. These cadenzas have an inherent drama to them because each passage presents an overarching D – E – F – E – D melodic line that only finally resolves to C♯ at the end of the third and final passage. The underlying harmonies also propel the cadenzas to the very final C♯ by outlining an exotic ♭VII7 – N – V♭9 – I progression over the course of the solo. In order to bring out this building tension, we can apply the following principles to each successive cadenza:

  • Hold the half note F longer and diminuendo to a softer dynamic
  • Start the sixteenths slower and softer4
  • Reach a faster tempo at the fastest point
  • Reach a louder dynamic at the end (within good taste)
  • Slow down more at the ritard

Following this plan means that the first cadenza will be fairly straightforward, while the third and final cadenza will be by far the most dramatic. This approach of doing “a little more” for each cadenza gives us a tangible musical plan to follow, and the more clear our musical plan is to us as players, the more clear it will be to the audience.

Of the included recordings, the bassoonist from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra comes closest to demonstrating the approach detailed above. My only complaint with this recording is the way the ritards are handled—I prefer to quickly "slam on the brakes" at the last G instead of gradually slowing down before the a tempo. A great example of this type of ritard can be heard in the 1973 Philadelphia Orchestra recording with Eugene Ormandy.

Alternate Fingerings and Other Considerations
Many players will be tempted to use an alternate fingering for the Es in the third cadenza (first finger left hand), but this should be avoided if at all possible. Although many alternate fingerings are often only noticeable to the bassoonist using them, in this case the fingering is very noticeable since it is more like a “fake” fingering than an alternate fingering. Weisberg might agree:

Too many players resort to these “false” fingerings, however, as a way of escaping the work necessary to make the right fingering possible. These players will often use a “false” fingering that can definitely be heard, simply because their standards are too low.5

An additional benefit of following the plan outlined above is that the sixteenth notes in the third cadenza begin very slowly, meaning that you will still be at a very manageable tempo when you arrive at the Es. This is yet another example of how musicality and technique are invariably intertwined.

Finally, be sure to mentally hear the triplets that occur in the strings between the cadenzas—the accuracy of the triplets we open each cadenza with depends on it. It is very common to hear bassoonists play these two quarters as duplets instead, and this is simply incorrect. To emphasize the correct rhythm, give each quarter a heavy nudge on the front and a slight taper on the back.6 Once again, the examples from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra provide an excellent comparison.

1 McGill, 264-65

2 See Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony for a further discussion on the role the corners play in performing wide slurred leaps.

3 McGill, 86.

4 This is specifically mentioned by McGill (Orchestral Excerpts for Bassoon, Track 18) and Camden (Bassoon Technique, 50).

5 Weisberg, 84.

6 This style of accent should be very similar to Weisberg’s “expressive attacks” that are discussed for Bolero.