Spurn Point [1'18]
Van Dieman's Land [1'30]
This joyous new disc takes us deep into the wondrous world of ‘all-things bassoon’—original pieces, arrangements time-tested and well loved, and new versions for the instrument of old favourites.
Longfellow described the bassoon as ‘a distant voice in the darkness’—Laurence Perkins takes up the challenge in his arrangements of wordless songs by Fauré and Ravel; folk song finds its place—a nod to the instrument’s distinguished ancestry dating all the way back to the medieval period; and humour, of course, is never far away—the bassoon is after all (to paraphrase Ashlyn’s bizarre dialogue between voice and bassoon) an instrument as much suited to the innuendo-laden serenading of one’s lover as to the killing of rodents …
‘… a distant voice in the darkness’ (H W Longfellow)
To refer to the ‘voice’ of the bassoon seems to me entirely natural – the instrument’s highly expressive vocal qualities have long been recognized by composers, even before Mozart created a slow movement in his Bassoon Concerto that could have come straight out of one of his operas. But somehow, the sound world of the bassoon has remained in a kind of darkness – partly the fact that it is a lower woodwind voice, but also because it has never quite found its place in the musical world as a soloist. It remains in a dark corner of many people’s musical perceptions – a distant voice from within the depths of the orchestra, with occasional brief moments of greater prominence offering a tantalizing (and often surprising) glimpse of what the solo bassoon can convey in a whole range of musical contexts.
The diverse musical programme on this CD does not attempt to be a comprehensive survey of every aspect of the bassoon, but it does have a number of specific focuses to it. The inclusion of numerous folk melodies – not often associated with the bassoon – is a reflection partly of one of my own musical enthusiasms, but also of the instrument’s history as a member of the City Waites (as the dulcian or curtal, the bassoon’s predecessor) and other similar ensembles who performed popular dance and folk melodies as far back as medieval times. Certainly these wonderful melodies find their ideal voice in the modern bassoon’s characterful, expressive sound. The instrument’s lyrical qualities – especially its beautiful tenor register – prompted the inclusion of the Fauré and Ravel pieces (both originally for wordless voice), which are as well suited to performance on the bassoon as those works written specifically for the instrument, Elgar’s Romance being a particularly fine example. Of course, the instrument’s inimitable humour is never far away, whether it is light-hearted Victoriana such as Fred Godfrey’s Lucy Long or the classic English light music of Gilbert Vinter in his irresistible piece The Playful Pachyderm.
I would like to dedicate this CD to the late Ted Perry, founder of Hyperion Records Ltd. In 1981, when recordings of bassoon recital repertoire were virtually unknown, not only did Ted take on my French and English programme of little-known works for his recently formed Hyperion label, but he insisted on using the bizarre name of one of the pieces as the title of the entire recording. He adorned ‘L’aprés-midi d’un dinosaur’ with a picture of a large green dinosaur (with a bassoon as its tail!) standing on a piano keyboard suspended in mid-air – an award-winning design which helped to create a mini-legend of its time! It was this imagination, along with his vision, enthusiasm, determination and musical perception that led to the creation of one of the finest record labels, and a contribution to the musical world which is inestimable.
I would also like to thank the following people for their valuable contributions to this recording: Graham Melville-Mason, Richard Moore, and Karel Spelina and Jírí Formácek in Prague for information on Fucik’s Der alte Brummbär; Matthew Hall at UMP and Michel Crichton at Alphonse Leduc for information on Fauré’s Pièce; Philip Scowcroft for information on the Godfrey family and J Ord Hume; and to many other friends and colleagues who took part in or contributed towards this recording in many valuable ways – especially Catriona McKay for managing to slot in her recording session (and two flights with her clarsach) in an impossibly tiny space between two overseas concert tours.
We begin with the charming concert polka Mein Teddybär (‘My Teddy Bear’), the best-known work by the composer and violinist Johann Wilhelm Ganglberger, who was born near Vienna and studied orchestration with Richard Heuberger and conducting with Carl Ziehrer. He went on to direct numerous Viennese orchestras from the violin, and was eventually appointed as Orchestra Director at Radio Wien in 1925, by which time he had become very popular with the Viennese musical public.
Composed in 1910, Edward Elgar’s short Romance Op 62 came from one of his most prolific and richly creative periods, sandwiched between the First Symphony (1908) and the Second Symphony (1911), written in the same year as the Violin Concerto. Yet, the work has links with the composer’s humble beginnings as a young musician in Worcester, when he played the violin in local orchestras, conducted the Glee Club, and played the bassoon in a wind quintet with two flutes and no horn, also composing a number of works for this unusual combination. His love for and understanding of the bassoon is evident in all his major orchestral works, and it was the playing of his friend Edwin F James (principal bassoonist in the London Symphony Orchestra) that inspired Elgar to compose this lyrical, somewhat reflective work. The majority of the Romance was written on 11 January 1910 when Elgar was busy working on sketches for his Violin Concerto, and comparisons between the opening tuttis and solo entries of both works reveal a striking similarity of ideas. It was first performed by James in a Herefordshire Orchestral Society concert conducted by the composer on 16 February 1911. The rather melancholy character of the Romance may well be a reflection of Elgar’s sadness following the recent deaths of two close friends whom the composer immortalized in his ‘Enigma’ Variations – A J Jaeger (the dedicatee of Variation 9, ‘Nimrod’) and Basil G Nevison (Variation 12, ‘B.G.N.’). Beautifully written for the instrument, with a sensitive and imaginative accompaniment, this is undoubtably one of the great miniature masterpieces for the solo bassoon.
Jean Baptiste Senaillé’s attractive Allegro spiritoso began life as the last movement of a Violin Sonata – indeed Senaillé was regarded as one of the leading violinists in Paris at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This has always been a well-known piece in the violin repertoire, but it entered a new era of identity in the 1920s when the legendary English bassoonist Archie Camden made the first ever recording of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with conductor Sir Hamilton Harty. As the concerto required five sides of a three-disc 78rpm set, a short additional item was needed to fill the remaining side, so Harty and Camden put pen to paper and turned Senaillé’s solo violin piece into a lively, characterful miniature for bassoon and orchestra that has arguably become more popular than the original work.
Gånglåt fran Äppelbo is the first of the folk tunes on this CD, and one with a very personal history alongside the melody’s origins in Swedish folkmusik. This gånglåt – literally walking (gång) tune or song (låt) – comes from Äppelbo in the Darlana region of Sweden. It is an old melody which remains popular to this day amongst Swedish folk musicians or spelmân, and nowadays is also played in rather upbeat versions by bluegrass musicians. This tune was introduced to me in the most unlikely of settings – in Nairobi, Kenya, on a concert trip I made to a music festival organized by the British Council in 1983. The gånglåt was the favourite folk melody of Susan Scott, a bassoonist living and working there, who had learned the tune from Scandinavian musicians living there at the time. Four years after our first meeting we were married in England – and two years later, in June 1989, she died of cancer just two weeks before her thirty-fourth birthday. A few days after her death, I was playing the piano at home one evening, with this tune very much on my mind. This setting with string orchestra came to me, and literally flowed from pen to paper in little more than an hour. My arrangement is dedicated to Susan – to the memory of a warm and charismatic person who brought joy to many people through her love and enthusiasm for music.
The traditional music of Scotland offers a wealth of magnificent melodies, of which Mist-covered Mountains is one of the best known. This tune, with its numerous versions each with their own subtle differences, has also been known as Hoping to see Ballachulish (Duil ri Baile Chaolais fhaicinn) and Johnny stays long at the fair. It has words written by John Cameron of Ballachulish (Glen Coe) in 1856, and was included in Archibald Sinclair’s The Gaelic Songster (An t-Oranaiche), published in Glasgow in 1879. Cameron’s gaelic words are those of the traveller looking forward to his return to the mist-covered mountains of his homeland, to see again the sunset over the woodlands, the glens and the people he knows. My arrangement was partly inspired by the magnificent clarsach playing of Catriona McKay, who joins me on this recording – the distinctive sound of the Scottish folk-harp has a haunting quality heard at the very beginning in the musical creation of swirling mists. After a wild, stormy central section (such weather conditions are not uncommon in that part of the world!) the music subsides into a gentle stillness – yet another reflection of the captivating beauty of the Scottish highlands.
Gabriel Fauré was an outstanding miniaturist – his ability to convey powerful musical ideas in a composition lasting sometimes only two or three minutes was one of the qualities that made him such a great composer of songs. Alongside these are a considerable number of chamber works, yet he wrote no music specifically for solo bassoon. Fauré composed this Pièce originally as a Vocalise-Étude pour voix élevée avec accompagnement de piano in E minor, which was first published in 1907. It has since been transcribed for numerous solo instruments, but the lyrical melody line in Pièce fits so perfectly into the bassoon’s expressive middle and tenor registers that it is hard to think of it as anything other than an original work.
It was impossible not to use the extraordinary name of Gilbert Vinter’s delightful The Playful Pachyderm as the title for this CD! Here is music by another bassoonist – Gilbert Vinter was born in Lincoln and trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he later became a bassoon teacher. He is chiefly remembered for his numerous highly imaginative compositions, and for his work as a light music conductor with the BBC Midland Light Orchestra from 1946 until his death, and briefly with the BBC Concert Orchestra in the early 1950s. A sample of Vinter’s characterful bassoon playing can be heard on a 10-inch 78rpm record of him playing Godfrey’s Lucy Long and Ganglberger’s Mein Teddybär, but after his wartime service, a busy conducting, composing and teaching schedule left little time for playing work. His compositions for brass band are frequently performed, as are his chamber and instrumental works, notably Hunter’s Moon for horn and strings, and Two Miniatures (From Norfolk and From Devon) for wind quintet. There is also his delightful Scherzo for three bassoons, subtitled ‘Three Men in a Tub’. In addition to a Quintet for bassoon and string quartet, he left two solo compositions for the bassoon – a lyrical Reverie, and The Playful Pachyderm, which was first published by Boosey and Hawkes in 1942. It was originally written with piano accompaniment, but the characterful writing seemed to cry out for orchestral colour, hence my orchestration which was made specifically for this recording. Vinter did not provide any notes or information about the piece, but my visualization of it is that of a large Disney-like creature sleeping (perhaps snoring) at the beginning, until he suddenly wakes up and, with little jumps for joy, greets the day. Then he is off on his journey, which certainly does turn out to be a playful one – until the music suddenly stops. A new melody emerges – languid, amourous, possibly an encounter with a female pachyderm? There is a respectful but nevertheless tongue-in-cheek nod in the direction of Debussy here (another animal-inspired piece) before our pachyderm returns to his fun-filled journey. Then, as the music winds down near the end, our thick-skinned quadruped returns to slumber after his exhausting adventures.
By the time Ralph Vaughan Williams had created his Studies in English Folk-song in 1926 (there are six studies in all) he had been travelling around the country collecting English folk songs for a quarter of a century. Along with Cecil Sharp, he preserved for posterity many examples of an English musical tradition that was already dying out, and now is almost totally non-existent except within specialist societies and groups of enthusiasts. These studies were originally written for the cellist May Mukle, who gave the first performance at the Scala Theatre in London on 4 June 1926.
Almost a century before Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams, one of the pioneers in the collecting of folk songs was John Bell, whose findings in the early 1800s included a memorable tune from Northumberland that was eventually published in Northumbrian Minstrelsy in 1882. It almost certainly began life as an instrumental melody – it is often heard to this day as a solo on the Northumbrian pipes – but the title Bonny at Morn is taken from the words which describe a rather laid-back family life (‘Thoo’s ower-lang in thy bed, Bonnie at morn’) in a rural Northumbrian setting. I have to say that these words had very little influence on me when arranging this evocative melody which, when separated from the words, creates for me the image of a gentle sunrise on the beautiful Northumbrian coast. Once again, the bassoon’s lyrical sound seems to be the perfect voice for such an expressive, timeless melody.
The Godfrey clan were an important influence in the British musical scene throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Charles Godfrey (1790–1863) played in the Coldstream Guards Band in 1813, becoming their Bandmaster twelve years later. He had five sons, of whom the second was Adolphus Frederick (known as ‘Fred’) – the composer of Lucy Long. (The most famous of the Godfreys was Dan, the son of Fred’s younger brother Charles, who formed and conducted the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.) Fred trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London, taking over as Bandmaster of the Coldstream Guards after his father’s death. His compositions include the Marguerite Waltzes (based on themes from Gounod’s Faust), a piccolo solo Yankee Doodle, and Recollections of England which featured in the early London Promenade concerts. It was in the popular Lancashire seaside resort of Blackpool that Lucy Long received its first performance, written for and played by the orchestra’s seventeen-year-old bassoonist Philip Langdale. The work also featured in the very first London Promenade concert conducted by Henry J Wood at the Queen’s Hall on Saturday 10 August 1895, when the soloist was Edwin F James (for whom Elgar composed his Romance fifteen years later). Lucy Long went on to become a favourite at the Proms – by 1900 James had given another five performances in the series. Its popularity over the years led to several recordings, including those by Ernest Hinchcliff, Gilbert Vinter and Archie Camden, but (to my knowledge) this is the first ever recording featuring Godfrey’s original full orchestration. The solo part on this recording is my own version based on the significantly different solo parts reproduced in the orchestral set and the edition with piano accompaniment, both published in the nineteenth century by Hawkes.
The gently humorous Funeral March of a Marionette, by Charles-François Gounod, one of France’s greatest and most prolific composers of the nineteenth century, has enjoyed an ongoing popularity ever since it was first created as a piano solo in 1872. Gounod orchestrated the piece in 1879, and it is on this orchestral version that my present arrangement is based. The work’s association with the bassoon goes back a long way – I have an old recording of the piece played as a bassoon solo, dating from around the time of the First World War. However, the piece achieved widespread fame as the Alfred Hitchcock signature tune in the 1950s, an appropriate choice given the nature of the music with its dark humour.
Julius Fucik was born in Prague and studied the bassoon in the city’s Conservatory with the legendary Ludwig Milde (who wrote technical studies still used by bassoonists to this day). Fucik studied composition with Antonín Dvorák, and his output of nearly three hundred works – mostly shorter pieces in a lighter style – are colourful, well-written and in some cases quite inspired. His compositions for solo bassoon include a Concertino, and this delightful Polka Der alte Brummbär (‘The Old Grumbler’) with its rather downbeat humour. It was written in 1907 and was originally scored for string orchestra, but this characterful music cries out for a wider orchestral colour, hence the various arrangements for orchestras and bands over the years. This bear is a little more ‘grumbly’ than Ganglberger’s teddy bear and certainly not as mischievous as Vinter’s pachyderm – except perhaps at the very end of this piece where he finally breaks into a romp, concluding with a delicious low B flat raspberry!
The success of Emmanuel Chabrier’s orchestral piece España (1883) established a trend for music by French composers in a Spanish style which became so popular that one cynical commentator stated that all the best Spanish music was being written by French composers. Even Debussy (who visited Spain only once, for one day) was moved to write Ibéria as the second part of his Images for orchestra. Though something of a rebel as a young composer, the idea nevertheless captivated the thirty-two-year-old Maurice Ravel, and it was while he was composing his opera L’Heure espagnole in 1907 that he created his vocalise-étude, Pièce en forme de habañera. Being for wordless voice, it does of course lend itself very well to instrumental performance, and the versatile tenor register of the bassoon seems to me to be an ideal voice for this subtle, expressive music, especially with Arthur Hoérée’s delicious orchestration made in 1930.
James Ord Hume is chiefly remembered nowadays for his work in the field of brass bands, as a composer, conductor and as an adjudicator at competitions. Born in Edinburgh, his father was an army bandmaster, and James’s early musical experience was as a cornet player in the Royal Scots Greys, but he disliked military service and arranged for a discharge. He then pursued a career as a largely self-taught composer, writing some two thousand works (including works under several pseudonyms) including Diamond Jubilee (written for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897) his prize-winning march BB and CF, and a test piece for the first Brass Band National Championship at the Crystal Palace in 1900, based on tunes by his close friend Sir Arthur Sullivan. His bassoon solo, The Carnival, is a colourful miniature tone-poem, with impressive fanfares introducing equally impressive cadenzas and themes reminiscent of the various acts in a Victorian carnival, ranging from the gently lilting melody earlier in the piece to the energetic virtuoso finale.
J Quenton Ashlyn’s humorous song The Bassoon, with its mildly outrageous lyrics and bassoon-fuelled innuendos, has understandably been very popular amongst bassoonists for many years. However, virtually nothing is known about the composer. He was a singer and songwriter (presumably based in London) working in the music halls in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – several of his songs were issued by various publishers, including Just at that Critical Moment, The Ladies, Marriage à la Mandoline and Very Embarrasing, Very!. One of the songs, published between about 1895 and 1900, shows a photograph of him aged about thirty-five to forty years old, but beyond this there appears to be virtually no information about Ashlyn. The internet reveals nothing useful, the British Library has the published songs but no details, the PRS/MCPS copyright database contains no useful information, an in-depth search of the Stationer’s Hall entries at the Public Records Office in London produced nothing (he is not even listed in the 1901 census, which suggests that the name is a pseudonym), and searches of music publishers’ archives revealed nothing beyond the fact that his name began with ‘J’. An appeal for information from anyone who knew Ashlyn or knew of him, sent to every relevant national and regional newspaper in Britain, produced nothing. We do not even know his birth and death dates. All we know about the song is that it was originally published by Reynolds (a popular and prolific London-based song publisher in the late nineteenth century), and first appeared in about 1900. We can be confident in assuming that he did not play the bassoon, as the song does not offer a bassoon part – the bassoon ‘cue’ in the printed music is simply ‘pom, pom, pom’ in the lyrics! Why he wrote it, or who played the bassoon with him when he performed this song, is not known. Nevertheless, it is a hugely entertaining ditty that establishes beyond doubt the role of the bassoon as the leading instrument in the orchestra, a valuable asset when wooing your lover and a vital accessory around the home! What more could one ask for?
Laurence Perkins © 2004