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.
Terminology and Score Discrepancies
As with each orchestral excerpt or piece of solo literature, the first task should be to decipher the written markings provided by the composer; however, this process is more challenging than usual with this particular solo. The beginning is marked Capriccioso, quasi recitando, which basically translates as follows:
- Capriccioso – a lively, free style
- quasi recitando – in a somewhat declamatory or reciting style (resembling the informal rhythm of speaking)
In addition, there are also the following markings:
- ad lib. – “at one’s pleasure” in Latin1
- dolce ed espressivo – gently, sweetly, and expressive
The combination of these terms can be difficult to make sense of, especially considering that some of them seem to either overlap or contradict each other. How can you play both lively and gently at the same time? How can you be expressive while simply speaking? It is rare to find an excerpt where even the terminology is open to interpretation, but looking at all the phrases together, the reading I prefer is along the lines of the following:
- “Gently and sweetly. In an informal manner (as if speaking to someone), with the freedom to choose where to slightly push/pull the tempo and where to play more lively and expressive.”
The solo closes with a much more straightforward rit. assai (meaning “slow down a lot”) followed by an a tempo.
In addition to the ad lib. marking, there are also two crescendos in the bassoon part that are not shown in any published editions of the score I examined;2 these crescendos appeared in the fifth and sixteenth bars of the solo in the original version of the part, and have been removed from the version included on the site. I am not exactly sure why these crescendos have endured in most published versions of the printed part, though I do agree with the phrasing ideas they indicate.
This solo is a particular favorite of mine because it allows for such a wide range of interpretive decisions. The solo consists of three sections—the A theme and its variation, the B theme and its variation, and a final coda.3 Example 15.1 shows the basic skeletal structure and sections of the solo, along with my suggested phrasing indications. There are a number of ways to show these sections in our playing—through variety of articulation, changes in dynamics, pushing and pulling the tempo, and so on. My approach is to distinguish the sections by giving each a certain quality:
- Section A – straight tempo with gentle phrasing
- Section A’ – more impassioned phrasing and vibrato, with rubato in first and last bars (slight rubato and crescendo in first bar, and slight rubato and diminuendo in the last bar)
- Section B – slightly faster tempo to create a feeling of 1 instead of 3/8, combined with broader and more connected phrasing
- Section B’ – gentler, softer “floating” quality in first half followed by a crescendo and slight rubato leading into the Coda
- Coda – deliberate phrasing to signal the end of the solo (and to help the conductor follow into the downbeat at Rehearsal A)
You can see above that there are a few typical interpretive ideas that I personally like to avoid, such as singling out a specific phrase to play much more slowly than the rest (which I feel can break the flow of the solo), and also the “question and answer” style of phrasing that makes the first half of a particular phrase much louder than the second half (which, in my opinion, is as overused as the “slur two-tongue two” articulation is for Classical period music).
Example 15.1. Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Mvt. II – m. 5 to Rehearsal A, melodic skeleton, phrase structure, and suggested phrasing
Another way we can add a layer of refinement and variation to the solo is by using different articulations. This solo provides a great place to use what Weisberg describes as “resonant endings.”4 In short, a resonant ending is performed by quickly tapering the ending of a note by decreasing the air stream while simultaneously increasing the pressure from the embouchure—specifically the corners—to offset the drop in pitch. Another way to think of resonant endings is to imagine performing a morendo in only a fraction of a second (as opposed to over the course of numerous beats).5 The combination of resonant endings and a legato, connected articulation adds an extra layer of refinement and nuance to the opening phrases of the solo.
It is also necessary to decide exactly how to approach the staccato and accent markings. Giving the staccato notes a sharp ending with the tongue creates a nice contrast to the previous two phrases, creating a sequence of articulations that looks like this:
Resonant endings ==> Legato & connected ==> Sharp & separated
Not only is the tongue-stopped staccato musically interesting here, it also achieves the more practical purpose of keeping the airstream, jaw, and embouchure set during the passage. This minimized movement is helpful for playing staccato notes in this range, and especially with more resistant notes like F♯3.6 This technique prevents the staccato notes from disrupting the phrase, allowing the player to maintain a long, lyrical line despite all of the articulated notes. As for the accents, we should give them the same warm, full shape that we give the ones found in Ravel’s Bolero.
Rimsky-Korsakov provides much less room for personalized articulation choices in the second half of the solo, instead presenting the player with only slurs and legato markings. This is clearly meant to emphasize the broad, singing quality of this section, but there are still some excellent places to add resonant endings, such as on the final notes of each slurred grouping.
1 This marking was originally missing from the included bassoon part, and has been added in Photoshop.
2 These markings are found in most editions of the parts as well, not just this one.
3 McGill, Orchestral Excerpts for the Bassoon.
4 Weisberg, 39.
5 For more on resonant endings, see the Articulation section.