Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, Part 9. Tempos and the tactus for the Bassoon Concerto movements. Also, this video features the “Mozart Mashup.” By Terry B. Ewell, Bassoon Digital Professor. BDP #220. With Elaine Ross, piano.

<music: “Mozart Mashup” with Terry Ewell and Elaine Ross.>

1. Welcome to the ninth video in this series on the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. Let me ask you, “How do you determine a tempo?” If you are similar to most people, you chose a tempo to the music that matches your playing technique, or a tempo recommended by your teacher, or perhaps one modeled by a famous performer. That said, we must recognize that our interpretation of music is part of the culture we grew up in, one that might be quite foreign to the culture of Mozart’s day.

2. I grew up on Seattle, Washington in the USA. Occasionally I would eat Chinese food with my family at different restaurants in the area. At the end of every meal we knew that a treat was coming—fortune cookies.

3. Years later I traveled to Hong Kong to perform as Principal Bassoon of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. I distinctly remember one of my first meals there with other friends from the orchestra. After eating a wonderful meal, I was shocked to discover that no fortune cookies were given. Later I learned that fortune cookies were invented in the USA and were not a part of traditional Chinese cuisine. All those years in America I had a wrong idea of what was true to an authentic Chinese meal.

4. Some of the statements in my videos are no doubt jarring to you because they differ from conventions of performances today. I hope, however, that you will take the time to carefully consider whether our current preferences are new additions that are not part of the practice of performance at Mozart’s time. I ask you, “How many ‘fortune cookies’ have we added to the authentic dish?” What expectations do we bring to a performance of the Concerto that are 20th and 21st century changes?

5. Most commonly musicians today conceive of the tempos of each of the movements in a concerto as independent of each other, without a relationship. This was not the case, however, for composers and musicians from the Baroque and Classical periods. Some information on tempo relationships is contained in two articles I wrote several years ago:

"Proportional Tempos in the Concertos of Antonio Vivaldi," The Double Reed 24/2 (2001): 113-121.

"Proportional Tempos in the Performance of Vivaldi's Oboe Concertos," The Double Reed 26/2 (2003): 55-59.

6. Those articles were aided by materials in David Epstein’s book Shaping Time and from source documents. We don’t have time to review here Epstein’s book or my articles in detail. However, here is a quick summary of the observations I made in the articles that could inform a performance of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto:

•    7. Composers during the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras viewed tempo differently than we do.

•    8. Multi-movement works were often conceived as unified not only through key signatures, but also through related tempos.

•    9. Considering a unifying tempo, a tactus, for the entire work can aid a musician in defining the performance tempos of each movement in a composition.

10. The recordings that I have made for these next videos in the Mozart series start from a unique position: that Mozart conceived of the Bassoon Concerto as a unified composition. It is unified not only in the key signature relationships of the movements, but also by tempo. Looking for a common tempo, I find that metronome marking 92 seems most appropriate as the tactus for the entire Mozart Bassoon Concerto. This tactus, however, will seem quite foreign to our modern ears that have been accustomed to different tempos.

11. Take, for instance, the first movement of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, which has now been elevated to an “Olympic Event.” A contemporary performance of this movement sprints through the music in order to demonstrate the agility and prowess of the performer rather than express the intentions of the composer at a slower tempo. This hyper speed widely departs from the earliest meanings of tempo marking allegro. Sandra Rosenblum writes in her book Performance Practice in Classic Piano Music:

12. In colloquial Italian allegro means “cheerful,” “good-humored,” or “lively” (p. 318).

13. A further indication of the slower allegro tempos in the 18th century is provided in this interesting quotation about Mozart and Haydn conducting their own symphonies:

14. "They never took their first Allegros as fast as one hears them here, and also no doubt in various German orchestras" (Rosenblum, p. 319; Quotation from AMZ XIII/44 (30 October 1811, Col. 737).

15. Thus, there is significant evidence in historical sources pointing to a tempo for the first movement that is far less frantic than typically performed today.

16. Please be aware, however, that this tactus of metronome marking 92 is a reference point, not a mandate. Slight variations from the tactus are appropriate. For now, however, let’s conclude this video with a performance of my “Mozart Mashup.” Here I perform all materials from the three movements at the same tempo, illustrating how the composition could be unified by the same tactus.

17. If you wish, you will find this music is available for free on for your study. Enjoy!

<closing portion of “Mozart Mashup”>