Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, Part 14. Introduction to Vibrato. By Terry B. Ewell, Bassoon Digital Professor. BDP #225. With Elaine Ross, piano.

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

1. Welcome, this is Terry Ewell. Did bassoonists in Mozart’s day use vibrato? Furthermore, do we know when vibrato was routinely applied to bassoon performance?

2. In my nearly forty years as a professional bassoonist, rarely have I heard bassoon performed by other professionals without vibrato applied to the tone. With few exceptions, vibrato is employed to perform bassoon music from the Baroque period to our present day. In fact, it sounds rather odd to even hear a bassoon performed without vibrato.

3. One of the vinyl recordings in my collection is noteworthy because the bassoonist performs the Mozart Bassoon Concerto without vibrato.

<example, Mozart Bassoon Concerto, 2nd Movement. Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic), Karl Bőhm, Conductor, Dietmar Zeman, Bassoon>

4. Here we have a recording pressed in 1974 with the Vienna Philharmonic—one of the finest orchestras in the world—featuring Dietmar Zeman, a distinguished bassoonist. Could a bassoonist today perform the Concerto without vibrato and be well received? I think not. How then can we explain the change from 1974, when performing without vibrato was appropriate in Vienna, to our present time when vibrato is almost always associated with a good bassoon tone?

5. We are fortunate that questions about vibrato are now easier to answer thanks to the scholarship of Geoffrey Burgess. I highly recommend that you read his article “Vibrato Awareness,” which was published in the Double Reed.

Burgess “Vibrato Awareness”
Restricted access to IDRS members:

6. Also, you should hear the recordings on the CD collection titled “The Oboe: 1903-1953.”

Geoffrey Burgess, compiler. The Oboe: 1903-1953. Oboe Classics, CC2012 (2005).

7. In the two CDs, Burgess provides oboe recordings in which you can hear the application of vibrato change over time. Let’s now have a short summary of the application of vibrato in wind performance.

8. Writings from the Baroque and Classical periods mention the use of finger vibrato--flattement. Flattement was applied to a long tone by means of moving a finger over an open hole but not fully covering the hole. The ornament was thus, closely related to a trill. The finger vibrato was particularly effective for flute or recorder performances, where there are many open tone holes available.

9. Often this vibrato was tied to messa di voce, which is a long, sustained note given the dynamic shaping of crescendo and diminuendo. During music composed in the Baroque and Classical periods there is no indication that vibrato was given constantly, rather it was selectively applied.

10. Burgess notes in his article that “the fashion for vibrato almost certainly began amongst singers in the late 19th century and was later copied by instrumentalists” (p. 127). The addition of vibrato is best documented with violin and flute players. At the start of the 20th century, there are accounts of the application of constant vibrato, often referred to as chanté, ”singing,” by French musicians. Burgess writes about two prominent French flutists:

11. "According to Taffanel’s pupil Marcel Moÿse, vibrato was first used around 1905, but that it was a hotly debated topic" (p. 130).

12. By the late 1920s, however, many French performers were using vibrato on oboe and flute. Around that time, oboist Léon Goossens performed with a consistent vibrato for English audiences.

13. The adoption of vibrato in Germanic countries, however, met with resistance even until after WW2. Conservative trends in Vienna may best explain Dietmar Zeman’s resistance to vibrato in the performance we heard earlier in this video. Although a performance of bassoon without vibrato is very strange to our 21st-century ears, Zeman’s rendition of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto in this aspect is closer to the practice during Mozart’s time than performances of the work with vibrato.

14. So, you now understand that wind performers have been applying consistent vibrato for only about a century and vibrato did not become wide-spread until after WW2.

15. In the next video, I will discuss how vibrato is produced. Then in the video following that, we will consider the application of vibrato to Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto.

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