Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Fear for Cadenzas

Recently, I read a post on David A. Wells's blog. In it, Mr. Wells details the process by which he wrote his own cadenza to the Mozart bassoon concerto. It's an interesting piece, one which had more than a few links to good material. In fact, I was surprised to learn that there is a D.M.A. thesis by a bassoonist named Sarah Anne Wildey, titled Historical Performance Practice in Cadenzas to Mozart's Concerto for Bassoon K. 191 (186e).


Wildey's dissertation, from what I can tell. is valuable but there are a few comments on the classical bassoon which make my spidey sense tingle. Her chapter, Capabilities of the Classical Bassoon, bases itself entirely on one journal article, that is, Paul J. White's “Early Bassoon Fingering Chart", (The Galpin Society Journal 43 [March 1990]). Though it is undeniably an important resource, White's introduction is conveyed with a frosty tone - he explains the difficulties facing organologists studying early bassoons - one which Wildey inherits in her chapter on the bassoons of Mozart's time. Unfortunately, it leaves us feeling as though the potential of those instruments was rather bleak. Yes, understanding the bassoon's strengths and weaknesses is incredibly difficult through organology, but there is plenty to be gleaned from the breadth of repertoire available.1

Furthermore, would it not be prudent to consult with a number of professional historical bassoonists on the matter in preparation for the dissertation? This may have been done, but there is no other reference material listed to indicate it. It is a pity seeing as though there is a lot of information that has been acquired through practical application over the two decades between White's article and Wildey's dissertation. I digress, however.

from Son qual nave che agitata. Composed by Farinelli's brother, Ricardo Broschi. The score is a presentation manuscript which was dedicated to Empress Maria Teresa of Austria on 30 March 1753. Farinelli's cadenza is in blue ink above the normal written part. I suspect Broschi wrote the rather uninspiring cadenza, but it's the only one we have for the late superstar.
Performing a cadenza can be a daunting thing, especially if one doesn't get the chance to do it frequently. I worry, however, that encouraging the use of post-romantic performances rather than contemporary accounts and theories as principle references is one which is acceptable to the modern classical music establishment. That action, though not necessarily a conscious one, can and does lead to the setting aside of our most important goal as a performer (that is, to move an audience) in favour of the forwarding the genre. It's a small point, but one that will set off alarm bells for some. 

I'm not saying that Wells's and Wildey's material (boy, a lot of 'W's today, eh?) are bad, however. As a process story and as a teaching aid the two are very useful, but one has to be wary that in focusing on the performances of others one does not inhibit the creation of a cadenza which is moving and 'in the moment'. If 18th Century theorists2 wanted to be more specific on cadenzas, there was nothing stopping them. Yet it seems they felt it was their duty to keep taste in check. By and large the treatises rail against those performances where the performer had drawn so much attention to themselves that the audience lost all sense of the original work; where the cadenza material had no relationship to the piece it was embellishing; where the opportunity for a flourish was turned into a technical exercise.


So when the time comes for you to perform your own cadenza, don't forget your primary purpose. 




Move your audience.




1. Two notable collections are those by Antoine Dard (1752) and Georg Wenzel Ritter (1778).

2. Tosi, Agricola, Algarotti, TartiniQuantz, Tuerk, to name a few.

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