Sunday, April 4, 2021

Something About the Bassoon

Wrapping at my chamber music door.

All this talk of musical instruments the last few days reminds me of one in particular—the bassoon. It's a double-reed woodwind instrument, initially produced in the early 1800s and attributed to Martin Hotteterre. If you look it up online, you'll find it's commonly referred to as the "clown of the orchestra" or the burping or belching (or other verbs) bedpost. Composers such as Bach and Beethoven have written parts for the bassoon, but many will recognize it from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf as the grandfather's theme.

Prospero has such an instrument, too, but it is not as mobile as others. You'll recall the description of his house in the opening pages of The Face in the Frost (1969) includes his cherrywood bedstead:
"...with a bassoon carved in one of the fat bedposts, so that it could be played as you lay in bed and meditated...."
Bellairs's lifelong friend from their Notre Dame days, Alfred Myers, recalls the two using the bassoon's nickname mentioned above of "burping bedpost" several times in conversation. "Yes," explained Myers, "we did indeed have occasional conversations which touched on bassoons." But in a discussion about the book, Myers took issue with the "awkward imagery" presented:
"It would be impossible to lie in bed and play a bassoon carved into the bedpost while meditating. Even if the bassoon were upside down with the mouthpiece on the bottom, you would still have to finger the keys, which run along the whole length of the instrument, which would hardly be conducive to meditation. I suppose you could rather ponderously play a right-side-up bassoon while sitting up in bed, but that isn't what Bellairs said. Therefore, if I were John's editor, I would have to challenge this whole rather twee image, but knowing [John's] reaction to any criticism of his writings, this would no doubt have put a strain on our friendship."
Do we have any bassoon players or enthusiasts among us wanting to give their take on whether such a thing could occur – or have any other bassoon trivia to share?

No comments: