Concerto da camera

for Bassoon and Small Orchestra

Dan Welcher

Publisher: Elkan-Vogel, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

This work is my second concerto, following my 1973 Flute Concerto by two years. But the first movement had been written earlier, in the late summer and fall of 1972 following my first season with the Aspen Music Festival. I had played second bassoon all summer next to the celebrated American bassoonist Leonard Sharrow, who had been Toscanini's youngest principal player in the NBC Symphony, and I wanted to thank him for that experience.

The Flute Concerto and two other works intervened before I was able to complete the second and third movements, however, and I had undergone something of stylistic change in the meantime. What surprises me now, writing these words some twenty years later, is how similar the musical language is despite that pause in the creation of the work. When the musical signature of Dmitri Shostakovich (D-E flat-C-B) makes its appearance in the last movement, one has the sense that it was present in the other two as well---and in fact, it was. Shostakovich had always been a favorite composer of mine, in no small part because of his masterful writing for the bassoon, and I had heard of his illness while working on the final movement of this work. When I made the deliberate insertion of his initials in the piece at that point, I had forgotten that those same pitches were integral to the entire scherzo, and in lesser ways to the first movement as well. In a way, then, the entire composition became a memorial to Shostakovich, who died as I was writing the last pages.

The Concerto da Camera is symphonic in scope, despite the rather limited sonic and acoustic range of the solo bassoon. Many passages are scored with the bassoon virtually unaccompanied, and those that are accompanied are very transparent---early critics remarked that this was one of the few bassoon concerti where one could actually hear the soloist!---but the overall effect is of a 25-minute chamber symphony with a very prominent bassoon part. The first movement is a sonata-allegro form, with an introduction, a cadenza, and an epilogue-coda. The mood is brooding and introspective, with a sad little waltz as a second theme. It begins and ends in a loose version of B-minor.

The scherzo, which contains some of the first music I wrote for the piece, was originally going to be a tragic play on the "clown of the orchestra" sobriquet, which bassoonists despise. There is even a recurring motive in a dotted rhythm which is lifted from Leoncavallo's sad-clown opera PAGLIACCI ---but that is all that survived of what was intended as a pastiche. The rest of the music is original, and follows a traditional scherzo-with-trio form. The bassoon, which had been primarily lyrical in the first movement, is given a rigorous technical workout here. The tone is serious, but very animated., and after the climax the entire orchestra rushes down to a single note.

The finale begins with an extended interlude over this note, B-natural. Again, this is an in-joke for bassoonists: in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, there is a surprisingly difficult passage where the solo bassoon links the first movement to the second with a held b-natural that (depending on the conductor) can feel like the end of the world. But here, the solo violin has a hypnotic soliloquy that prepares the way for the bassoon's re-entry---a reversal of the Mendelssohn trick. A gentle lullaby ensues, in F-major. The tone becomes more earnest, and finally the orchestra breaks out in a highly charged double fugue, in which the soloist does not participate. Instead, at the very height of the action, the bassoon literally screams his three-note lullabye motive, and the orchestra shouts him down. He persists, however, and in an accompanied cadenza, the soloist succeeds in bringing the lullaby music back. The epilogue uses this music again, but in a kind of lost, otherworldly way. The final utterances of the three-note tune by the soloist have the effect of singing someone to sleep, which in fact is the case: Dmitri Shostakovich's initials, played pizzicato, form the last music we hear.

The Concerto da Camera was premiered by Leonard Sharrow, with the Louisville Orchestra conducted by the composer, in 1975.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Composition Date 1975, rev. 2005
Duration 20:00
Orchestration Solo Bsn.; 1 1 1 0 - 1 1(in C) 0 0; Perc. Pno. Str.
Premiere 1975. Leonard Sharrow, Bassoon, members of the Louisville Orchestra, conducted by Dan Welcher.


I. Freely
II. Scherzo
III. Calmo

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