musings of a professional bassoonist

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pagliacci


One of the unusual aspects of playing in the Columbus Symphony is that we regularly perform opera.  This week features the condensed version of Pagliacci.  The condensation is interesting- the orchestra does not appear to be reduced much, probably because of the full complement of strings.  The reductions appear in the woodwinds and brass- there are two flutes, one oboe, two clarinets, one bassoon, two horns, two trumpets and a tenor and a bass trombone.  What this amounts to is that each wind part has additional music to fill in the missing parts.  I've played the original version before.  This one is infinitely more difficult, and I've had to practice it diligently each day since I obtained the part. 



Although there are many exposed bassoon passages in this version of Pagliacci, the above solo stands out.  It is truly operatic- the bassoonist is a singer.  In this staged production, the woodwinds are seated on risers in the very back of the stage, behind the brass!  (I have wondered if this might be a response to my persistent request to not be seated in front of the trumpets!)  The singers are very far away from the winds, and we can barely hear them.  Thus, it is not practical to expect to derive inspiration from the vocalists, and I just pull out all the stops and apply my best operatic vibrato to this solo.

I have noticed that many bassoonists tend to stop the vibrato on pickup notes for some reason- in this solo, that note would be the E2 at the end of the first line.  While I admit that sometimes that technique can be useful for creating tension before resolution, I can't imagine Caruso or Pavarotti singing this solo that way.  I vibrate on the E2 as well as each of the other notes.  One of my colleagues maintains that I should bring a neck strap and stand for that solo.  I'll have to clear that with the opera company first.....



 
The above page is daunting indeed.  The appearance of this page bothered me- it may not be clearly evident in this photo, but the page is completely marked up with accidentals penciled in which should have been obvious from the key signature.  Due to the arrangement of the orchestra on stage, with the cello section located a mile away from the bassoon, it sounds like a bassoon solo to myself and those around me, even though the cellos play it also.  I rewrote the page, eliminating the unnecessary markings:

 
Although the above photo isn't impressive, this re-write has rendered the passage playable!  I thank bassoonists Ryohei Nakagaw and Otto Eiffert for teaching me the surprising importance of the visual aspect of the music.  My preparation often involves tweaking of the visuals.

I'm pleased to report that it's raining today in Columbus , Ohio!  This means that my reeds will be in top form for tonight's Pagliacci....

5 comments:

Franzen Shenanigans said...

Just want to say thank you for your blog! I love checking it to see what little tid-bits of insight you give us :)

Good call on re-writing the page. Just the backwards stems on notes would drive me nuts on that piece! I recently had a piece of music where the bassoonist had written in the notes for the tenor clef portion. It bothered me so much I couldn't play it until I erased the markings.

B.S. said...

Dear Franzen,

Some of us are more visually-oriented than others, but there are certain things, like backward stems and notes written in the tenor clef parts, that probably drive everyone nuts whether we realize it or not! I didn't realize how affected I was by the visual until it was pointed out to me.

Thanks for your comment!

G Lucciano said...

Ive never come in contact with a bassoonist. Its great to see your world!!

B.S. said...

Thank you!

T.B. said...

So did you stand?
And what happened to Cav?
It's a different world in Cols. now, isn't it...

I don't blame you for rewriting it. That must have taken forever. And what's with bass trombone but only one bassoon? Priorities (*sniff*).