I was surprised to discover that the Halloween repertoire features so many challenges for the bassoon. It would be possible to hold a principal bassoon audition based upon Halloween repertoire alone!
For tonguing, there is no greater test than "Sleigh-Ride" from The Devil and Daniel Webster by Bernard Herrmann. Take a look:
Here's a closer look:
The tempo requires this passage to be double-tongued, and of course, double-tonguing is quite difficult in the lower range of the bassoon. Low range double-tonguing varies greatly from reed to reed, and I was fortunate to find a reed that cooperated. I still had to practice it, though, using my usual approach of first perfecting it all slurred and then adding the tonguing. I kept my fingers very close to the holes for this passage, which is a technique promoted by my teacher K. David Van Hoesen.
I had never heard this intriguing little piece before. It has an eerie quality to it, making it a wise choice for Halloween. I'm glad to have another tongue-twister under my belt.
A more familiar number on this program was the Saint-Saens Danse Macabre, a Halloween staple.
At letter A, the bassoon and oboe play the melody in octaves. This solo can be a finger twister. I like to practice it at a range of tempos so that I'm ready for anything, and so that I'm capable of moving it if I have to. When practicing a passage like this in which the fingers can become entangled, I focus on complete relaxation above all. As soon as tension sets in, the fingers seize up. This type of passage is another example of one which I practice all slurred, to ensure that the fingers are moving with total evenness.
Here's another Halloween piece which was new to me:
The solo starting in measure 21 is awkward at the fast cut-time tempo. For odd passages like this, the best solution seems to be familiarity. I went over it slowly many times to make it automatic, focusing on being relaxed at all times. As soon as tension creeps in, the accuracy diminishes.
Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain is another Halloween favorite. Two of its tricky passages appear on this page:
At the top of the page, the bassoon joins the oboe in octaves to provide the melody. If your fingers are secure, you have the freedom to employ a bit of rubato and push ahead on the eighths. For me, the coordination between tongue and fingers is best ensured by first practicing the passage all slurred. (I know- I keep saying this!)
Five measures after F, the 1st clarinet and 1st bassoon start an accelerando. Once again, if your technique is secure, alteration brought about by either rubato or tempo change is no problem. I always try to prepare passages to such a level which allows for such flexibility. You never know what's going to happen in the orchestra.....
I'm sure there's a bassoon audition list appropriate for each holiday- in fact, I'm already envisioning a Christmas audition list. The Tchaikowsky Nutcracker Ballet (the complete ballet, not the suite) provides plenty of fodder for a bassoon audition- add to that the Resphighi Adoration of the Magi, and every imagineable aspect of bassoon playing is covered!