The French horn opening of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 must be one of the most nerve wracking first few bars for any instrumentalist, so totally exposed. It has to be perfect to set the atmosphere for the rest of the symphony. And surely any bassoon player who has to start Le Sacre du Printemps must get nervous. This solo is not supposed to sound as though the player is coping comfortably, even though that’s how it always does seem to sound these days.

Stravinsky was reported to have said that he wanted the bassoon solo to sound “as if striving for the unattainable”. He also added that he thought that the solo ought to be raised by a semitone every decade, as techniques improved, to get the same effect.

Whilst the beginning of Le Sacre du Printemps is an exposed entry for bassoon, it is also an orchestral excerpt which is standard fare for any aspiring bassoonist. So if you are good enough to be principal bassoon, that’s something you’ll be expected to play in your sleep. It is no different from a dentist taking out a wisdom tooth or a tree surgeon 10 metres up removing a branch. Difficult job, but that’s what he/she is trained for.

It is a nervy solo, although one that would be well within the capabilities of any principal bassoonist worth his salt, these days. By the way it’s no more fraught than the solo at the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, but for wholly different reasons. It’s very hard to play that lower register of the instrument in tune, very smoothly, very quietly and with perfect control.

I think that if you are a professional musician and you go into a concert fearing that you will fluff it then you are probably in the wrong profession. Sure, mistakes happen and the best players can cover up, but if you sit on the chair, you should be up to the job.


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