Friday, July 17, 2015

An Unfortunate Detail

On my way across the Atlantic on Wednesday I received a communication about an upcoming performance. It was a line that any bassoonist dreads, especially one who is already in transit to the performance: “Sorry for any confusion, but it’s at 392.”

A=392hz is what baroque players consider to be low pitch, that is to say a pitch level similar to that used by French musicians In the 17th and 18th centuries. Though there are adjustments both in equipment and technique to be made by string players, wind players have no choice but to have an instrument specific to the pitch level they are playing at.
D'Anglebert knows how I was feeling.

In the world of bassoons, to play at 392 is quite uncommon. There are few extant original instruments which were built to play that low (many of the low-pitch instruments sound somewhere between 398 and 410). Copies produced today are redesigned or adjusted to suit whatever pitch is needed (Whether it be 392, 415, or 440) and the rarity of performances at 392 has meant that there are not a lot of great instruments out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are functional instruments, but I haven’t met a bassoonist yet who has told me that they want to make their career on a copy at 392. (The best bassoons out there are all designed for 415 since that pitch dominates baroque music performance across Europe and North America.)

So now, after a 20+ hour journey yesterday spanning most of the Western World, I’m on a bus to Montreal to pick up a 392 instrument. Fingers crossed I can make a working reed.

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