Monday, October 15, 2012

Baroque masterpiece for orchestra (with a great bassoon part)

Jean-Féry Rebel (1666~1747) was a child prodigy violinist who studied composition with Jean-Baptiste Lully and served as court composer for Louis XIV.  At age 71 he came out of retirement to produce a shocking ballet, Les Élémens, in which he set out to depict the settling of creation into its natural order.

Rebel wrote of the work :“I have dared to link the idea of confusion of the Elements with that of confusion in Harmony. I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound”.  Yes, he really does begin the piece with dissonance - the first "tone cluster" in the history of music!  The man was indeed a rebel.

Although the original score is lost, fortunately the parts (or some of the parts) were preserved.  The bassoon part, assuming it's original, was written for a virtuoso, as evidenced by the following passage in the Chaconne, in cut time:

This reminds me of an intriguing fact I read recently.  Apparently double-tonguing used to be common on the bassoon in bygone eras, which explains some rapid tongued bassoon passages written by Handel, Vivaldi and of course Beethoven.  In more recent times, at least over the past century, double tonguing on the bassoon fell out of favor, possibly due to the fact that oftentimes it doesn't sound very good due to the presence of the reed in the mouth.  During the past 20 years or so, however, double tonguing has again become an important aspect of bassoon technique, fortunately for any bassoonist performing Les Élémens.

There is also a movement featuring the bassoon as soloist: 

Here's a performance of the entire work, with a dancer:

If you live anywhere near Columbus, Ohio, please do come to hear the Columbus Symphony with Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni perform this piece live on Friday, Saturday or Sunday in the Southern Theatre.  Here are the program details and ticket-buying links:.

Masterworks 2:

In Nature's Realm

2012-13 Masterworks Series
Jean-Marie Zeitouni guides you through Beethoven's enchanting landscapes of the countryside in the refreshing Pastoral Symphony. Even though written in the 1700's, Jean-Frey Rebel's surprisingly contemporary tone poem Les élémens (the elements), depicts the creation of the world and all its creatures. The program is completed by Rossini's William Tell Overture painting a musical picture of a Swiss Alps dawn, storm, pastoral calm, and the famous cavalry charge gallop.
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
ROSSINI Overture to Guillaume Tell (William Tell)
REBEL Les élémens
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, Pastoral
Russian Soul
Venue: Southern Theatre
Oct. 19, 2012 - 8 pm

Oct. 20, 2012 - 8 pm
Oct. 21, 2012 - 3 pm

Masterworks Series Sponsor:


Andrew said...

It's a very interesting piece. Judging by this and the Rameau Opera parts, France had some sick bassoonists.

We might look into that double tonguing business. The wind treatises we tend to look at for articulation (ex. Quantz, Hotetterre, Corrette) label the notes in their examples in a way which we might easily get confused with. The authors are trying to point out an inherent variation in their their articulation (mimicking the strokes of a violin bow).

I wonder that if someone were looking for evidence of double tonguing in these treatises, they might have been confused by du-gu-du-gu, tu-ru-tu-ru, ta-ka-ta-ka notation. Or maybe I'm way off and this is all based on something else...

B.S. said...

Andrew, you could be right about possible confusion regarding double tonguing. I have a hard time imagining bassoonists during the Baroque era being able to master double tonguing on top of trying to sound decent on the bassoon of the day. Double tonguing seems like a luxury they could ill afford, if you know what I mean.

Thanks for your input!


Andrew said...

I'll ask around about it this week at the Schola!



B.S. said...

Thank you, Andrew. Please report your findings!


Fiona said...

Hello, I would just like to say that I absolutely adore your blog! I'm 16, and I aspire to be a professional bassoon player.
I especially love how you explain the way you practice difficult spots in the music. It really helps me improve the way that I practice spots in my music that I have trouble with.
You are an inspiration, and thank you for writing about your experiences!

B.S. said...

Thank you very much, Fiona. Please let me know if you have any specific questions or ideas for blog posts!

Best wishes,


Tina B. said...

Wow, that video was Different...

Andrew said...

Hi Betsy,

Sorry this is coming incredibly late!

I've talked to a number of people and it seems that my previous comment is most likely correct. As far as anyone can tell here, there is really no mention of double tonguing as we know it today. What you read must have been a confusion over the terminology in the wind treatises which cover variation of articulation.

Why variation? Well, there is much to explain about that, but let's just say that this variation falls under the general heading of 'inégal' (which is a loaded term, of course. Almost as loaded as 'authentic'!).

Sorry again for the slow response!