Composer Andrew Schultz takes over Sounds & Stories to take us through the creation of his new Bassoon Concerto, which has its world premiere on 2 & 3 June.
Beginning with a blank page of music manuscript, the endless possibilities are constrained only by the composer’s imagination. Then, as each note builds on the previous, the universe of possibilities becomes slimmer as musical logic dictates the progression of ideas and the work takes shape.
Or at least that is the view some people have of how a new composition comes about.
In reality however, the page is never blank. All the composer’s previous experiences both musical and extramusical; the expectations and demands of performers, peers and audiences; the practical constraints of an instrument’s mechanics and a musician’s sinews; the previous musical works the composer has written; even the works by others that have been studied or just heard by the composer; all perch on the composer’s shoulder like the bats and owls of Goya’s famous The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. The weight of logistics, culture and civilisation cast a critical eye of judgement on the composer’s hand even before the ‘blank’ paper bears a scratching of ink or pencil.
And then the imaginative, creative, motivational and physical limitations of the composer come into play, as they also surely reduce the range of possibilities. As Schopenhaeur enigmatically put it, “Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will”, loosely translating to ‘One can choose what to do, but not what to want.’
Haydn was apparently once asked about his Bassoon Concerto. He said, “I don’t remember writing it at all – I must have written it in my sleep.” In my case I would say that, unlike Haydn, I can remember every moment of composing my Bassoon Concerto – and there were many moments of concentrated work and communication over six months in 2022.
The initial impetus for the concerto had come largely from Geoff Stearn, who commissioned the work for WASO. Geoff was himself a bassoonist in his youth and so his interest in a concerto was evident from our first meeting ten or more years ago. Between then and the Bassoon Concerto he has commissioned quite a number of works from me including another large-scale concerto for WASO, Maali, written for the same scoring as Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante (with solo oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn), and Deep Blue and Dirty, for bassoon and piano, so I knew enough about the bassoon to know I didn’t know enough!
So in this piece working with the soloist, Jane Kircher-Lindner, has been absolutely critical. Jane has been a great and conscientious collaborator, even remotely via Skype, Zoom, phone and email. With Jane in Perth (and sometimes in New Zealand) and me in Boston (and sometimes in Sydney) there were certainly logistics to consider in our communication.
I encouraged Jane to be as direct and forthright in her views as possible because close consultation gives a composer the opportunity to ‘get it right’ and eliminate awkward moments. My aim in any concerto is to write virtuosic music that suits the instrument rather than works against it. Both in matters of detail and in the larger artistic shape and concept Jane’s input has been invaluable. She was keen to know the what and the why of everything I wrote and was always insightful as to how something could be interpreted or reworked.
The bassoon, like its woodwind cousins, is a complicated bit of machinery with numerous interconnected levers, springs, pads and keys and a substantial weight and size requiring great breath control and physical stamina. The agility and range of the instrument in the hands of a great player are astonishing but like any woodwind it also has its tricky corners to avoid where possible. The expressive voice can be everything from poignant to fragile to grotesque but the bassoon is also an instrument that naturally blends with other instruments to the point of potentially being enveloped and concealed in an orchestral passage; so those factors really come into play in planning and orchestrating a concerto. On top of this, the double reed which the player blows into has its own peculiarities. So, coming from the relatively uncomplicated world of the clarinet, I take my hat off to the virtuosity, insight and resilience of a player like Jane and her commitment to creating something new.
- Andrew Schultz
Andrew Schultz’s Bassoon Concerto premieres as part of Symphonic Titans.
Friday 2 & Saturday 3 June 2023, 7.30pm
Perth Concert Hall
To find out more about Andrew Schultz and listen to his other compositions, visit his website.