In this post, I'll examine the motives employed in the first bassoon part for Shostakovich's 9th Symphony. An understanding of what motives are used and how they are deployed, developed, etc., lends greater clarity and authority to any interpretation.
As such, Shostakovich descends from a long line of composers best exemplified by Beethoven, who, upon settling on a particular motive were extremely skilled in capitalizing on the most salient features of the motive through repetition and development.
Let's go to the part to see what I'm talking about.
In the 4th movement I identify two particular motives. The first is the two half notes that comprise the first interval of the solo -- a perfect 4th. In the highlighted section below I show where this motive is developed over the course of the movement.
I play the perfect 4th in imitation of two big Russian church bells, with lots of sound at the beginning of each note and a slight decay towards the end. This is an appropriate reaction to the enormous brass fanfare that introduces the solo. As the movement progresses, I try to return to the "bell" style each time the motive comes back. However, as the interval decreases in size, I let the "bell" shape deteriorate into a softer figure.
Time should be taken to allow each two-note "bell" have an impact.
This motive comprises the "bones" or "skeleton" of the movement. Now on to the "flesh".
As such they represent a sort of reaction to the announcement of each "bell".
Each chromatic line needs to lead to the next two-note "bell". Generally I crescendo through to the end of each group to help introduce the "bell". Rubato helps keep the line interesting and helps to avoid a static feeling to the lines.
At the end the chromatic line degrades to a simple pair of minor 2nds without any "bell". Set in the middle register, this last line, following the primal scream of the high register lines above, is like a wounded animal writhing on the ground.
I identify two motives in the 5th movement. This movement is a March. The first figure imitates drum rudiments.
Play the sixteenths slightly louder than the eighths and make them lead to the next eighth. Have the sound of a snare or side drum in your head and you'll get the style just right.
The second motive is the group of steady eighth notes.
These are the men marching. Make the staccato consistent and dry throughout. Be careful not to creep into the "mf" range. The movement starts a bit slow for a march (♩=100), adds forces and increases tempo later on. No need to do this yourself.
There is occasionally a conductor who likes the bassoonist to accelerate to the end of this solo. Resist this if you can! Shostakovich writes no such indication and adds tempo changes later in the movement.
In my next post, I'll show how the harmonies of the 4th movement can help craft a solid interpretation of this piece.