Thursday, April 27, 2017

Membra Jesu Nostri

As he stands as one of, if not the most important organists in mid-17th century Germany, it is natural that the keyboard music of Dieterich Buxtehude (1637/9-1707) is still often performed today. While his vocal works haven't received the same kind of attention by modern musicians, over the past twenty years there has been a a rediscovery of many excellent, moving examples within his output.


This weekend Accademia Barocca Lucernensis will perform one of Buxtehude's cantata cycles, Mebra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima (or, The most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus). The cycle combines liturgical text with a medieval devotional poem, the Oratio rhythmica. It is organised into seven cantatas, following the structure of the poem, each being addressed to different parts of Christ's crucified body: feet (Ad pedes), knees (Ad genua), hands (Ad manus), sides (Ad latus), breast (Ad pectus), heart (Ad cor), and head (Ad faciem).

The work, composed in 1680, has been described as the first Lutheran Oratorio. While six of the seven cantatas require relatively small forces (five voices, two violins, and continuo), the sixth requires the singers to be accompanied by a consort of five viole da gamba and continuo. When listened to in sequence, the change of instrumentation for the cantata Ad cor can have quite an effect. The switch violins to a consort of gambas gives the impression of a change of perspective. While the cantata is relatively short, for a moment the cycle gains an element of introspection. It's a kind of effect which is most compelling if witnessed in person, as there is a visual element to the experience. 

Performances on Saturday, April 29, at 19:30 in the Johanneskirche, Zurich; and on Sunday. April 30, at 17:00 in the Matthaeuskirche, Luzern.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Baroque Bassoon Reeds @ Bassoons.ch

Over the last few months I have been preparing my new reed making website, Bassoons.ch. Much work has been done, and there's plenty more still to go. However, I'm comfortable now to announce that I am open for business selling bassoon reeds for various models of instruments including Modern, Baroque, and Classical. 

As a professional bassoonist, I have been very frustrated with both the quality and the design of cane for historical instruments which is readily available on the market. Some of the most common distributors supply cane with hardly any accuracy in the gouge (sometimes +/- 0.2mm), or a profile thickness which guarantees that there will be hours of more work whittling once the reed is formed (both of these problems often exist in conjunction, in my experience).

After meeting machinist Greg James at BVBD 2015 and seeing his side edge clamping gouging machine, I learned that bringing precision gouging to market was possible. Greg's machine delivers cane consistently with an accuracy of +/- 0.01mm, an incredible figure! While my machine is only weeks away from arriving, I'm rubbing my hands in anticipation of the improvement I will see in my own reeds. 

Furthermore, as I have often felt that time fiddling with reeds takes away from my own practice time I profile my cane much closer to its finished dimensions than what you find on the market today. That means I have to have more profiles to accommodate different historical instruments, and I think everyone would appreciate having an almost finished reed simply after cutting the tip off.

While here in Basel I have been fortunate enough to work with numerous instruments by Peter de Koningh and Pau Orriols, allowing me to make reed models for specific copies (or specific Grenser bassoon/bocal combinations). Soon to come are reeds for Wolf instruments. If you're interested in what shapes and profiles I generally work with, you can take a look here: bassoons.ch/about.

As usual, I'm always up for a challenge, so if you have an instrument which I might not have a model for don't hesitate to get in contact with me either through The Heckeler, or bassoons.ch. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

When it Comes to Bocals, Length Matters!

Since the middle of 2015 I've been working relatively frequently on a Grenser bassoon. This instrument, to the uninitiated, is likely the most common instrument in use today to perform music from about the 1770s to the 1830s. While there are copies out there of other instruments from the same time period, the original Saxon instruments stamped Grenser or Grenser/Wiesner which survive exist in large numbers and consistently display good craftsmanship. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the bassoons from Grenser's workshop were used widely by the early 19th century leaving no doubt that the instrument's popularity today is warranted.

Unfortunately, while many originals exist in fine condition they suffer from the same symptoms which have marred the instrument copying process of older bassoons: only very few survive with an original bocal. In fact, I know of only one Grenser/Wiesner instrument which does: that of my former teacher, Donna Agrell. Donna's instrument came to her not only with two original bocals, but with six original reeds! Although I could write more about it here, she has recently completed her Ph.D thesis which contains a detailed description of the instrument as well as its first owner, so I highly encourage those who are interested in learning more to seek it out.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).