Mozart: Bassoon Concerto K191 (soloist Angela Kirsten)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the bassoon concerto in B flat in 1774 when he was just 18 years old. It was one of the first original concertos he composed, and his first for a wind instrument. It is likely that he wrote it for the court musicians of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, perhaps being inspired by their two bassoon players, Heinrich Schultz and Melchior Sandmayr. It is thought that Mozart may have written as many as five bassoon concertos but sadly this is the only one that has survived.

Mozart appears to have held his bassoonist colleagues in high regard and had clearly developed a keen understanding of the intricacies of the instrument by introducing staccato, a contrast of registers and by making use of the bassoon’s lyrical middle range, showing that this concerto was composed specifically with this instrument in mind. The bassoon itself was undergoing technical changes at around the time Mozart composed this concerto and the introduction of new keys and a pinhole in the bassoon’s crook (the curved metal tube that connects the reed to the main body of the instrument) would have assisted in achieving the octave leaps required.

The first movement is written in sonata form and showcases what the bassoon can do; it’s agility and the ability to trill, leap (nearly two octaves in this case), repeat notes rapid-fire, sing lyrically and sit comfortably on prominent low notes. Mozart was aware that the bassoon is not the most forward of instruments so the soloist takes a more subservient role than is usual in a concerto and does not always articulate key melodies until after they have been introduced by the orchestra, which develops a lively conversation between soloist and orchestra.

The second movement is a slow and lyrical sonata, which contains a theme dating back to notes made by an 8 year old Mozart and which later also featured in the Countess’ aria ‘Porgi, Amor’ at the beginning of the second act of Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

The final movement is a minuet, based on a standard courtly dance rather than a more strenuous ballroom dance.

The tone of this piece seems to be about the joy of discovering and revelling in what the bassoon can do, and of the orchestra working with the bassoon to showcase it to maximum effect. It strikes me as a playful, slightly mischievous piece and it is great fun to play.

Vicky Moran, 2nd Violin