(This article first appeared in the Journal of the International Double Reed Society No. 15, 1987)
Of the some thirty-seven Vivaldi bassoon concertos available in modern edition [Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi published by Edizioni Ricordi, Milan. As Richard Seidler points out in his definitive research, “The Bassoon Concertos of Antonio Vivaldi,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University, 1974, there are two incomplete bassoon concertos which remain unpublished], only a handful are regularly used by teachers. Few are available in adequate performing editions [One such edition is the beautifully prepared two-volume set of ten concertos edited by Sol Schoenbach and published by G. Schirmer, New York] or on recordings. According to Wayne Wilkins’ Index of Bassoon Music (The Music Register: Magnolia, Arkansas, 1978, pp. 64-65), fewer than half of the concertos are published in performing editions. Of these, five concertos have been published more than once and five others appear only in Schoenbach’s Schirmer edition [Ten Bassoon Concertos in two volumes. G. Schirmer, New York]. While in some cases the neglected concertos rightfully may be ignored because of inferior quality, it may be that habit has kept many bassoonists from delving into the lesser-known works. More to the point, bassoonists and bassoon teachers may be hesitant to experiment with “new” Vivaldi concertos not having the time to really examine the pedagogical merits and difficulties of each piece.
There are numerous thematic catalogues of Vivaldi’s works (so many that one requires a concordance to keep track of the various numbering systems), but no teacher’s guide to the concertos – a help toward choosing a piece. The teacher may be reduced to offering students the tried and true sequence of concertos over and over, always beginning with the same “easier” introductory Vivaldi and progressing through one or two moderately difficult pieces until reaching the virtuosic pinnacle of one of the C major “tours de force!”
If one’s goal is to arrange the thirty-seven in a progressive pedagogical order, which technical criteria are to be examined? These might be divided into two categories: (1) those technical considerations which are unequivocal (such as fingering difficult intervals, rapid passages, complex rhythms, rapid tonguing, and the like) and (2) those musical considerations which may require a particular level of sophistication (such as the working out of slow movements, ornamentation, phrasing, etc.). Certainly, it is likely that a useful teacher’s guide to the Vivaldi concertos would be based substantially on unequivocal considerations and less so on abstract interpretive considerations (leaving interpretive considerations up to the individual instructor).
Since the concertos are mature Baroque in style, one presupposes certain useful practice methods in preparing to play them. Practicing major and minor scales and arpeggios would seem to be the most obvious preparatory endeavor. A distinctive and seemingly characteristic stylistic feature of Vivaldi’s scoring for the bassoon in these works is the use of the embellished bass line, often with either rapid scalar flights or patterns of fast arpeggiated notes. In fact, these arpeggios may be identified for their peculiarly Vivaldian flavor, especially since they often feature extremely wide interregister leaps of over an octave (see the example below).
Students typically have the most difficulty with Vivaldi’s characteristic broken arpeggiated figures, less with scales. In terms of finger dexterity and fingering technique, the wide interregister leaps and disjunct [disjunct is defined here as melodic intervals greater than a semi- or whole tone] patterns yield some of the most difficult passages in the concertos. On the average, the Vivaldi concertos are fairly evenly balanced between scalar or conjunct [conjunct is defined here as melodic intervals of a semi- or whole tone] material and disjunct material with a slight predilection for disjunct material (55.5%). The concerto with the least disjunct material was nearly 70% scalar or conjunct while the concerto with the most disjunct material was nearly 75% disjunct.
Measure by measure analysis of the concerto bassoon parts provided the raw material for a disjunct material percentage score which was used to prioritize the concertos in order of least to most disjunct material (see Table: Vivaldi Bassoon Concertos: A Pedagogical Ordering below). Passages having exceptionally wide leaps in fast notes were weighted as were passages featuring rapid scalar runs. The resulting order is progressive in terms of increasing difficulty based on the amount of disjunct material contained in each successive bassoon part. The list may meet pedagogical needs in that it provides the teacher with a technically concrete means of determining the relative difficulty level of each concerto. This information may assist the teacher in choosing a series of pieces that provides a consistently increasing challenge to the student rather than an uneven fluctuation between exceptionally difficult and moderately difficult.