Using the example of the bassoon solos in Shostakovich Symphony #9, I'll explore different ways of building a solid interpretation.
Ways I'll outline for the Shostakovich include:
- Use of the orchestral score as starting point
- A motivic analysis of the bassoon part
- Harmonic analysis
- Examination of the musical context of the bassoon part and a look at models from other works by Shostakovich
- Historical influences and anecdotal information
What the score shows
The fourth movement begins with an ominous brass fanfare.
Take a look at the score:
At the end, the tam tam strikes and the violas and basses enter unobtrusively. As the brass cut out the strings sustain into the bassoon solo. The orchestration is notable for the absence of violins and cellos. Scoring without violins gives the voice of the bassoon more acoustic space. The lack of cellos gives the string bed a more transparent, even disembodied feel (especially with a lack of the root of the chord in the basses).
At the bassoon entrance, the meter disappears as do the bar lines. The key signature becomes irrelevant. We are clearly not operating in b♭ minor at this point. The tempo indication changes from ♩ = 84 to ♪ = 84, so twice as slow as the fanfare that starts the movement.
Nonetheless, the bassoonist now has a great deal of freedom for interpretation. So what to do with all that freedom?!
The lack of bar line or meter should remind us of opera recitative or the sound of someone speaking some lines. Thus, there should be in the interpretation the sense of a dramatic recitation; a flow to the lines that mimics speech patterns with inflections and emphases.
Towards the end of the movement, the meter returns and in the fifth movement, a strict 2/4 meter is established, along with a faster tempo.
In my next post, I'll examine the motives used in the solos and how, in the 4th movement, highlighting them can add to this sense of dramatic recitation, whereas the motives in the 5th movement bring a strict, march-like character to the piece.
Starting with the score is always a good idea, but in the case of this piece, especially so! The bassoon part lacks some information printed in the score and the great freedom accorded the bassoonist may lead to confusion or lack of conviction in the interpretation.
Please also note that metronome markings in the score are not printed in the bassoon part. Also, some excerpt books have discrepancies with the score and the bassoon part.