Bob’s Bassoon Blog 1
I’m playing the 1919 version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” next week and I”m always disturbed at how difficult the work is to play. The Detroit Symphony recorded the original “Firebird Ballet” in the early 80’s with Antal Dorati conducting and I believe it was much easier to perform/record then the suite that reduced the size of the bassoon section from four to two instruments. When Stravinsky reduced the orchestration he added additional notes to the bassoon part, many of which I still find unplayable!
I will start from the beginning using the 1985/89 Kalmus edition edited by Clark McAllster. The third measure after 8 has a major third tremolo from D just above middle C to F#. I have found several fingering for this, none of which are a sure thing. The best one that kind of works is to start with a normal D and go to a simple F# using only the second finger in the left hand and the first finger in the right, then down trill adding the first finger in the left hand and the G and F keys in the right. You can also go to the simple F# mentioned above and alternate the two first fingers of both hands. For a tremolo that lasts four beats it is hard to keep to coordination of either fingering. FYI this tremolo shows up at the end of Prokoviev's "First Violin Concerto" as well!
My next problem spot is in the Infernal Dance four bars after 9 where the bassoon has a semi solo that goes up to high Eb. I had an easy solution when my wife was playing English horn in the orchestra, I had her play the passage! Now I break out a high note bocal, usually a Yamaha PN 2 so I can get the note to speak quickly in the limited time you have to play the passage. Continuing is the Infernal Dance we come to figure 12. Most of the passage between 12 and 14 I can play using a alternate high C# fingering the first bar of 12 by just picking up my first to fingers of my left hand from my high B fingering and using the F key instead of the G key for most of the high A’s and Ab’s. The sixteenth note triplet passage three after figure 13 I play octaves only and none of the notes in-between. I have many alternate fingerings that I have come up with over time for this passage but I never have the time to use them.
Continuing in the dance we come to figure 27. There are two “sets” of alternate fingerings I have used for this passage. I have a high A ring key on my bassoon so I can play high A and Ab using my F key instead of the usually G key. Using this fingering I use the F# fingering involving the first two fingers of my right hand and the F key. The F key can be left on for the entire passage. Recently I have used a different set of alternate fingerings using the simple F# fingering of half hole, two and three in my left hand and first finger in my right hand. For the high A I use the simple fingering of the left hand only. This is a sharper series of fingering vs. the first set.
The arpeggios at figure 39 are very fast and I try to be sure to flick the A at the top of the staff both going up and coming down to try to get most of the notes on the passage.
The last thing and probably the most important note I will mention is the first note of the triplet passage on the second beat, four after figure 6 in the Berceuse solo. In this edition it is marked as a D natural. This is a misprint, the note should be a Db. Jeffrey Lyman wrote a very good article explaining this (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlym/media/DorD%20flat.pdf). My teacher, Norman Herzberg, asked Stravinsky about this note and he told him that it should be a Db. Every recording that Stravinsky conducted of this work has the bassoonist playing a Db in this spot.
Enjoy the Berceuse solo, by the time you get to it all the rest of the problem passages are past and you can play this wonderful solo and enjoy your solo bow!!