The bassoon had already enjoyed a longevity and on-going development when at the age of 18 Mozart composed his concerto, possibly at the behest of one of his rich Salzburg patrons. The autograph copy is dated Salzburg 4.6.74. In the last year of his life, 1791, he was to compose his celebrated concerto for the comparatively new instrument, the clarinet.
The accompanying orchestra comprises two oboes, bassoon ad lib., two French horns and strings. Traditionally the orchestral bassoon part would be played by the soloist during the orchestral tutti passages, thus giving low harmonic support to the small wind section.
There are three movements, the first being in sonata form.
1st Movement. ALLEGRO
After an orchestral introduction of 34 bars the soloist enters with a purposeful theme. The darker tones of the bassoon are offset by the oboes. Interspersed throughout the movement the French horns, pitched rather high, contribute joyful fanfares.
Following the repeat of the exposition, and with the development section completed, the soloist launches into a brilliant cadenza which is based on the solo bassoon’s opening notes of B flat, B flat, D and B flat. Following the cadenza, an orchestral tutti brings the movement to an end.
2nd Movement. ANDANTE MA ADAGIO
Now the concerto moves into the key of F major. After a brief orchestral introduction, the solo bassoon enters to sing its way through one of Mozart’s most sublime melodies. It is at times in conversation with the oboes, but is deftly supported by muted strings throughout. Following a brief cadenza, a delicate orchestral tutti brings the movement to an end.
3rd Movement. RONDO DI MENUETTO
For this final movement the key returns to B flat, perhaps the most natural and comfortable key for the bassoon. In 3/4 time, the inherent pace of the movement would sweep any minuet dancers off their feet!
The orchestra having given out the theme, the soloist proceeds deftly to weave intricate patterns of variations above and around the accompaniment, and once again the whole compass of the instrument is brought into play.
The trio section has two themes – one in chords for woodwind and the other for strings.
The opening theme reappears re-orchestrated, and the symphony’s three-note motto variant is prominent as the movement reaches a forte climax just six bars from, yet again, a “piano” ending.
In Mozart’s day the bassoon would have been equipped with only four or five keys – today’s instruments boast eighteen or so. Also over the years the upper range has been extended.
The bassoon has oft-times been called the buffoon of the orchestra, garrulous and grumpy, but on hearing this concerto such opinions are soon modified.