Proud Bassoons

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Lawrence Schenbeck:  We owe the title of this month’s column to Johann Mattheson, 18th-century musical theorist and tastemaker, who opined in 1713 that “anyone who wishes to distinguish himself on the Proud Bassoon will find that elegance and speed especially in the high register will tax his powers to the full.” He also wrote that

It is, however, easier to play than the oboe, because it does not require the same finesse or manners (although other sorts are needed). . . . One has to depend especially with bassoons and oboes on good reeds, and the best maîtres labor to make them after their own embouchures, for a good reed is half the playing.

That squares with what I remember of one of my college roommates, a bassoon major who spent about half his time making reeds, testing them, cursing them, and making more—all in service to an instrument that few have ever called Proud.

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