Commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society for Alan Pendlebury, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 3(pic).1+ca.2(bcl).1+cbn/4201/timp.perc/hp/str
  • Bassoon; pf
  • Bassoon
  • 20 min

Programme Note

/>1. Milonga (Allegretto)
2. In Modo Di Scena Cantanto (Andante Moderato)
3. Inventione a Tre Voce (Allegro)

The solo/orchestra relationship and the character of the solo instrument itself are my initial preoccupations when writing a concertante piece and in this instance the human voice was my route into the solo instrument's unique sound world. The bassoon encompasses basso profundo, baritone, tenor and contralto registers but I found myself thinking in terms of operatic roles; generally baritone ones and specifically Verdi's Falstaff because of the wit and sparkle it so warmly tempers with humanity. Serendipitously, at the same time I came across a reference to Louis Spohr's Eighth Violin Concerto which is subtitled In Modo Di Scena Cantanto. I was originally intending to borrow that as the title of the entire concerto.

The second movement was written first but was not established in my own mind as a 'slow movement' per se. The 3rd movement – a three-part invention (but with the odd random resonance to blur the conceptual purity and a more texturally elaborate coda) came next but its exact position in the concerto's scheme was still unclear. The Milonga came about because it seemed a good idea to have a dance form to complement movements that have the voice and the brain (or more appropriately 'technique') as central to their being and as it is a dance rooted in gravity and the floor, it screamed out to be the first part of a corporeal ascent.

The milonga itself is a precursor to the tango and although defined as rather melancholy, isn't always so (when Astor Piazzolla writes them for example) and seemed to me to be less freighted with social associations than the tango. The second movement retains the vocal/lyrical perspective that gave rise to the entire piece and the last movement is less cerebral, more visceral than its title might suggest – one of several paradoxes in this piece. All of the concerto's material is derived from the second movement with the notional construct that the first movement is 'sucked in' to it whilst the last is 'pulled out' the other side.

To me, the soloist's relationship with its orchestral counterparts is always intriguing. In my Horn Concerto (2002), the four orchestral horns compose a kind of committee who by turns support and undermine the protagonist/soloist. In this piece, the orchestral bassoon takes something of a back seat – although very occasionally surreptitiously echoes some of the soloist's material and even more occasionally adds a little weight to the solo line. One remnant of the original Falstaff idea – most apparent in the Inventione movement - was that other bass instruments such as the orchestral bassoon, tuba, double basses, bass clarinet and most significantly the contrabassoon would be an analogue of Sir John's drinking companions (or hangers-on) Bardolfo and Pistola.

I'd like to briefly thank Damien & Joanna McInerney of Adelaide, SA who provided great hospitality and who very kindly lent me the music room in which I wrote the first draft of the second movement.

Programme note © 2011 Gary Carpenter

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