Widor Organ Symphony 5

I arranged the first movement of Widor’s Organ Symphony for 4 bassoons and 2 contrabassoons. This piece has been a favorite of mine for a long time and I always wanted to do an arrangement but it didn’t seem possible. I finally got around to doing it and I think it turned out pretty good.

The first bassoon. part has high F, F# and G so it would be good to have a high note setup to play the Bassoon 1 part. Here is the PDF of the score and parts.

Widor Organ Symphony 5 Bassoons PDF

Custom Contrabassoon Reeds

I am now offering custom contrabassoon reeds on my reed website for people who have a preference of shapes. The standard shape for all of the contrabassoon reeds is the Rieger K1, this is a versatile shape that is free blowing on most instruments.

I personally use a Heckel Contrabassoon shape, which was found and reproduced in a small batch by Arlen Fast through Fox Products. I play a mid 1980’s Heckel contra and I have been finding that this shape suits the instrument.

The shapes available for contrabassoon reeds are:

Rieger K1, K2, K3, Heckel, Skinner-Braunstein, Greg Henegar,  Rhodes R1

It’s hard to describe each shape and dissect the playing qualities since so much of what makes a good reed has to do with cane and the scrape. But if I can ramble a bit, I’ve spent time with these shapes and made each of them my primary shape at one point in time so there are patterns I have noticed.

K1 is all around great. I have used this on Fox contras, Mollenhauers and Heckels and I think it makes a balanced middle of the road reed. I’d say that it sounds a little plain and can be buzzy in the first few days.

K2 is a shape that I basically never use or recommend. If it’s your thing I can make that shape for you, but this has. always been a buzzy mess for my on my instrument. I’ve tried to change wire placement, gouge, and reed lengths and I continue to not like this. It is a wide goblet/tulip shape.

K3 has some interesting qualities because it is pretty narrow and has a shallow curve from the tip to the throat. This had the effect on me like trying a Herzberg reed for the first time, with a narrow shape the scrape can be thinner and more free blowing without sagging or loss of the high register response. It has a sweeter tone than the K1 and be easier to blend with a section.

I traced the following shapers onto a piece of paper so that you can get a sense of what a reed with these shapes might look like.

The Heckel shape is a goblet/tulip shape like the K2 but much narrower. I’ve been putting a very thin tip on this and leaving a moderate amount of spine. It gives me a fast response and dark tone. I have used this on about 10 of my reeds so far this year and all of them have a wobbly middle F. It hasn’t been a bad note on this instrument before, and its a drawback that I can manage.

Rhodes R1 is basically the Fox Products straight shaper version of the K1. It is great for all instruments and needs some break in time.

Greg Henegar’s shape is a Knochenhauer shape. I haven’t studied with Greg (yet!)?) so I’m sure that he has a specific way of making reeds. Like all Knochenhauer style reeds, there is a big flare at the end of the tube, so the amount you bevel has a big impact on the tip opening. These reeds have a rich tone and really responsive high register, I notice that these will want to go a little sharp unless the reed is scraped pretty thin. This shaper was made in a small batch by Bell Bassoons in Canada, but they might still be available as a custom order.

Skinner-Braunstein shaped reeds are a wide heavier style reed. This shape is great for softer pieces of cane and gets a big round sound. Reeds made from this shape seem to last a long time as well. There is some confusion for reed makers about SKB1 and SKB2. In Skinner’s reed making method excess cane is trimmed off of the end of the tube, in most reed making now we like to trim the excess from the tip with a tip cutter. If you follow his method, you would need the SKB1, which appears narrower but is the same shape. And if you don’t trim the butt of the reed, you would buy the SKB2. Steve Braunstein makes both SKB reeds and the RR1 reeds, so I would contact him to buy them.

Drilling a Bocal

I wanted to attempt to make my own high note bocal by drilling an additional vent hole. I have seen some articles mentioning bore size and placement so I decided to go for it. I bought a Fox CVX 3 specifically to destroy and some heat shrink tubing. The drill  bit that I used is an Irwin #60, it is 1.02mm.

I drilled through the top of the bocal at both 20mm and  25mm from the tip. Then I set 2 pieces of heat shrink tubing to cover the holes.

This allows me to choose which vent to use and also how much of the vent to have uncovered. So far I have noticed that the vent closest to the reed helps with the notes above high F but the tenor register has an airy rasp to it. The vent farther from the reed helps with notes to high F with less distortion of tone.

 

With the shrink wrap tubing put in place, the bocal works like normal. So it can be used normally for a piece of music and a vent can be opened for the specific passage that requires it.

Keyed Kontraptions at UC Davis

Keyed Kontraptions was the ensemble in residence at the University of California Davis Music Department 2019-2020. The residency and concert was originally scheduled to take place in April but due the the pandemic it was postponed.

Last month UC Davis was able to set up a system of low latency audio/video which allowed us to be in separate rooms but play together. This worked great and allowed us to record the concert!

 

Symphony Fantastique

This is my arrangement of Symphony Fantastique movement 4, March to the Scaffold. This contains a passage which is one of our great bassoon excerpts, originally it’s for the entire bassoon section to play as a 4 player soli. But I set it here as 3 bassoons 1 contra with the other parts playing the pizz. string lines. I think that this arrangement would also work if played on all bassoons without contras.

Symphony Fantastique PDF

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5

Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a series of 9 suites inspired by the composition style and harmonic procedures of JS Bach. Each of them is set with a different instrumentation and include traditional Brazilian folk tunes as well as popular melodies from 1930-1940.

Number 5 is for soprano and an orchestra of cellos. The original cello parts are divided into 4 cello parts with 2 players playing each part. In my video I stop before the middle section (because I didn’t want to deal with looping myself tempo changes)

Bachianas Brasileiras no 5 pdf

Smetana Die Moldau

Die Moldau by Bedrich Smetana represents a river that flows through Prague. It’s in compound meter and has sixteenth notes running constantly in the accompaniment parts, which gives the piece a flowing feeling. I set the viola line into the bassoon 3 part which is pretty busy but fun.

The ‘big melody’ of this movement is a tune called “La Mantovana” dating  from the sixteenth century. It has been used in many pieces, my favorite being Hatikvah which is the national anthem of Israel.

The PDF of my bassoon quintet arrangement is here:

Die Moldau Score pdf

Dvorak Serenade

Dvorak’s Serenade for winds is a piece that doesn’t get programmed enough. There is a whole catalogue of repertoire for large wind chamber ensembles that mostly goes unplayed, this work is one that gets a little more attention.

There are two passages of running sixteenth notes which originally trade off between bassoon, cello, and clarinet. I changed the voicing of this material to make it more bassoonable.

Dvorak Serenade Bassoons pdf

Violin Concerto in G minor, RV 315

This Violin concerto by Vivaldi is well known and gets a lot of air time especially in commercials. I thought that it would be funny to set for bassoon quartet since the bassoon has a specific kind of dry articulation. There are some measures cut from the original to make it more bassoon friendly.

The pdf to the sheet music is here:

Violin RV 315 pdf