Huffing and puffing through Mozart!

The Gran Partita for 13 winds (or 12 winds plus double-bass substituting for contrabassoon) is one of Mozart’s masterpieces-among-masterpieces.  There are some wonderful recent recordings of the work; my two personal favorites are a recording by Octophoros (top Belgian and other players on period instruments) and another by alumni from the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.  Interestingly, these two were conducted by Bart Kuijken (Octophoros) and Marcel Moyse (Marlboro), both eminent players of the flute, a wind instrument that Mozart chose to omit from the Gran Partita.

Another very interesting recording just surfaced (link below).  This is a 1945 recording of George Szell conducting members of the NY Philharmonic at a performance given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Most entertaining are the program notes, which include this gem:Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 1.45.03 PM

Playing a woodwind instrument for long periods is
a strain on the lungs of the player. In symphonic
works the woodwinds speak alternately, and rarely
for long stretches of time. In wind serenades, however,
the instruments speak continually. There was no
harm in this for the players in Mozart’s time, because
music of the divertimento and serenade type was not
performed attacca, but in pauses determined by the
nature of the festivities of which the music was a part,
for instance, the sequence of the courses offered in
the collation. As the Museum’s cafeteria does not yet
excel in rococo refreshments, we beg the indulgence
of the audience for intervals longer than usual between
the movements of the Serenade.

The Gran Partita starts at 1 hour 1 minute.
Winds of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society conducted by George Szell.

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Molecular Bassoon

Today’s bassoon news comes from the field of molecular biology, where Bassoon is a “scaffolding protein” that’s a key player is facilitating release of neurotransmitters.  Bassoon is aided in this by the other scaffolding protein, called Piccolo.  Interestingly, “Piccolo and Bassoon share a great deal of structural homology,” according to the journal Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 11.59.44

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Bassoon Bar!

Here’s a must visit for all bassoonists — the Bassoon Bar at the Corinthian Hotel in London.  You enter through double glass doors with long carved wood handles based on bassoon joints.  Then pull up a stool at the bar — the 60-foot-long black-lacquered lid of a grand piano; the house pianist plays the keyboard at the end — and order the Bocal Cocktail.  Be warned, though: this is a luxury hotel, and even a visit to the bar is not for the faint-of-wallet.  The Bocal will set you back 17 quid, and a burger (a good burger, though, I hear) is 24!

Bassoon Bar Coast

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Bassoon Exploding on Bikini Atoll

Bassoon Exploding on Bikini Atoll

On this day in 1956, the United States government exploded the world’s first three-stage thermonuclear bomb, code-named “Bassoon.”  The Bassoon weighed 5526 kilograms, and measured 1 meter in diameter and 3.5 meters in length.  The Bassoon left a crater on Bikini Atoll 718 meters wide and 117 meters deep.

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Bassoon reed thief tried at the Old Bailey, with appropriate sentence!

From Old Bailey Proceedings, 21st April 1819.

Third Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Common Sergeant.

Case Number 653. JAMES FRAZIER was indicted for stealing, on the 28th of March, one waistcoat, value 3 s., and one pair of breeches, value 10 s., the goods of Benjamin Hillias Weedon; one box, value 3 d. six bassoon reeds, value 6 d., and one pair of stockings, value 1 s., the goods of Robert Bennett.

BENJAMIN HILLIAS WEEDON. I am a shoemaker, and live at the Goat, public-house, at Brentford ; the prisoner lodged there, in the same room; I lost these things out of my box, and found the prisoner in custody next day with them.

ROBERT BENNETT. I lodge at the Goat, public-house. I lost these thing out of my box, which was open. I took the prisoner that evening, and found the things on him.

(Property produced and sworn to.)

JOHN BARFOOT. I am a pawnbroker. The prisoner pledged the waistcoat with me.

WILLIAM CAMP. I am a pawnbroker, The prisoner pledged a pair of breeches with me.

PRISONER. I beg for mercy.

GUILTY. Aged 18.

Confined Two Months, and Whipped.

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New DC reed model from The Shack

DonC_Stockhausen  Don Christlieb with Karlheinz Stockhausen

The Shack is very excited to announce a new reed model added to current production. The DC model is based on the pioneering work of the American bassoonist Don Christlieb (1912-2001), whose career as principal bassoonist in Hollywood film studios spanned 52 years. Don can be heard in more than 750 films, including Gone with the Wind, Adventures of Robin Hood, Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In addition to his film work, Don was an active participant in the vibrant contemporary music scene in Los Angeles during the mid-20th century. Don’s chamber music groups were frequent collaborators with Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Stockhausen, and Boulez, and many other composers who spent time living in LA, performing the American premieres of the wind quintets of Schoenberg and Hindemith, as well as Stockhausen’s Zeitmasse, and many others. He also played on Frank Zappa’s (Mothers of Invention) 1967 album called Lumpy Gravy.

Don was one of the first to take a scientific interest in reed-making. With the help of engineering friends, he designed and built measurement instruments to further his analysis and machines to implement his ideas. He was the first to adapt the micrometer for use as a “dial-indicator” to plot the profiles of finished reeds, and the first to design a profiler to produce near-finished dimensions.

Don’s son Tony, an artist, playwright and musician, maintains a website dedicated to Don’s work; In addition to the information available on the site, Tony also sells reed-making tools, cane shaped and profiled to Don’s specifications, as well as music and books, much of it not available elsewhere.

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Heckelphone in The Shack Today!

HeckelphoneDuo1 Two lovely visitors to the Shack today:  the superb bassoonist John McDougall and his fantastic 1927 Heckelphone.  Both of them played superbly on the Mozart bassoon and cello duo.  This instrument, especially as John plays it, deserves to be heard much more widely.  I took detailed measurements of John’s HP reeds and will start a first trial batch soon.  I’ll be using the old-fashioned “sheet brass template and masking tape” method of hand-shaping, at least until we settle on a shape that works best.  What a great adventure!

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