LIFE TO MOZART CONCERTO
One has only to listen to the poignant
bassoon countermelodies in some of Mozart’s operas–the
plangent descending line in the fourth measure of Pamina’s
aria “Ach! Ich fühl’s” from The Magic
Flute is a good example–to get a sense of how important
the instrument was in the composer’s scheme of emotional characterizations.
Clearly the bassoon inspired Mozart, who so often used it to underscore
heartache or despair.
the only Bassoon Concerto he wrote, K. 191, is both early (1774)
and inferior, say the experts. “But it’s Mozart,”
says Michael Sweeney, principal bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony
Orchestra, “so every bassoonist has to play it. It’s
on every audition, and if that’s not a sure-fire way for a
piece to get stale, nothing is!”
wonder that when Sweeney decided to record K. 191 he wanted a fresh
perspective – no small matter for a piece that has been recorded
more than 90 times.
does one muster enthusiasm for a tired old warhorse that was never
a champion in the first place? Sweeney thought he could do it by
proving, at least to himself, that the concerto was a better work
than people gave it credit for. And he suspected that some of its
inadequacies were editorial, since all currently available editions
can be traced to a single source, an edition prepared by the publisher
J. A. André in 1805 without the benefit of an autograph manuscript
(which he apparently mislaid).
when Sweeney compared André’s score with the two official
scholarly editions of Mozart’s complete works he found many
inconsistencies, including wrong notes and missing or misplaced
dynamic and articulation markings (more than 60 in the Neue
Mozart Ausgabe alone) that confirmed sloppy, indifferent editing.
a transparent urtext edition, one where all editorial decisions
were obvious, was his next task. “I’d argue my text
before any tribunal of musicologists,” says Sweeney, who hopes
to publish his edition once he completes the critical notes.
are major differences: One is the overlap of fortes in
some parts with pianos in others, which allows the solo
bassoon to emerge more organically from the orchestra in several
instances. Another is the way the amended articulations now emphasize
Sweeney didn’t stop with an urtext. Like many bassoonists
before him, he also made his own performing edition.
wanted a more valuable document than the standard ego edition, though,”
he says. Therefore, while the second edition does not attempt to
be “authentic,” it does represent a historically
informed reconstruction of a “possible” performance
of the piece during Mozart’s lifetime. In it Sweeney incorporates
performance traditions he knows were valid for other Mozart concertos,
even if they weren’t specified for K. 191.
instance, the Bassoon Concerto is the first of the concertos to
specify muted strings in its slow movement. Since [nearly] all subsequent
concertos orchestrate such movements with flutes rather than the
oboes scored in K. 191, Sweeney thought it plausible that Mozart
would have condoned replacing oboes with flutes there too, and it’s
one of his most audible (and felicitous) editorial emendations.
Sweeney has incorporated embellishments taken from other Mozart
sources, brought out the composer’s rhetorical play with the
standard symmetrical phrasing of a minuet, and experimented with
a one-to-a-part accompaniment in the solo passages. In so doing,
he has brought himself closer to many of the concerns of the period
performance movement. And he has undeniably achieved his original
aim of a “fresh perspective” on the piece. Hear it yourself
on his CD, Mozart and Well Beyond, on the Aficondo label,
featuring the Seiler Strings.
magazine, Vol. 28.1, Spring 2005