During the first several centuries of western classical music, it was often assumed that any of several different instruments could be used to perform most instrumental pieces. Indeed, most musicians were able to perform on a variety of instruments, often including both wind and string instruments. Leading up to the mid 18th Century, composers gradually became more specific regarding their intended instrumentations, but until that time, it was still not uncommon for substitute instruments to be used. For example, Georg Handel wrote several sonatas that could be played either on flute, recorder, or violin.
Compared to string and even to brass instruments, the technology of woodwind instruments evolved relatively recently, with the bassoon among the last to be fully developed at the start of the 20th Century. Perhaps that is one reason why there is little solo bassoon repertory from major composers. Before 1900, the only well known composer to write extensively for solo bassoon was Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote 39 solo concerti for the instrument, more than anyone else before or since.
This album is intended to substitute modern bassoon into pre-1750 literature, in the spirit of the instrumental flexibility of that era. Most of this music was originally written for viola da gamba, but the Ortiz Recarcadas had no instrument specified. We discovered that the bassoon’s tone works very well next to that of the theorbo, a kind of extended range lute that was used to accompany early opera. As an homage to Vivaldi, we also include a cello sonata of his, performed on bassoon and guitar. It is our hope that bassoonists will continue to explore this rich body of literature.
Marin Marais was one of the greatest composers of music for the viola da gamba. He and his music were brought to the attention of modern audiences in the movie “Tous les matins du monde”. This Suite is from one of his five books of “Pieces de Viol”, and includes the emotional and rhapsodic movement “Tombeau pour Mr. Lully”, a work in memory of his former orchestra leader in the court of Louis XIV.
Diego Ortiz was a Spanish composer who is especially remembered for his “Trattado di glosas”, the first printed instruction book on ornamentation for string instruments. The Recarcadas are essentially written out improvisations on simple tunes and harmonic patterns.
August Kühnel held several important court music positions in northern Germany. His main instrument was the viola da gamba, for which he wrote many compositions. We have improvised a “Double” (variation) to go with the Sarabande in this piece.
Tobius Hume was an interesting character. His main profession was mercenary soldier, but he published two collections of pieces for gamba, the instrument he played as an amateur. The inscription for one collection states: "My Life hath beene a Souldier, and my idleness addicted to Musicke…”. He apparently made up his military rankings, one of which we see in the title of this Pavanne.
Antonio Vivaldi spent most of his productive life as a music teacher and composer for the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned and orphaned children in Venice where girls were taught to sing and play instruments. His all-girl orchestra, for which he wrote hundreds of compositions, became famous throughout Europe, and it is likely that more than one of his students were virtuosi on the bassoon. This piece is one of his dozen cello sonatas, several of which are often performed on the bassoon.