From start to finish, it would take six and a half hours to listen to all 39 of Vivaldi's bassoon concerti!
The solo repertoire of the bassoonist has often been brushed aside as one of the most limited among standard orchestral instruments. This stigma is certainly not without reason, as there are several factors that contribute to this. Above all else, bassoonists prior to the past century simply did not have the technical or musical ability to inspire composers to write works for bassoon as they would for piano or violin.
Regardless, there are exceptions to this statement! The earliest works written for what would roughly resemble a bassoon nowadays come from the Baroque era. In addition to an important sonata written by Telemann, the 39 (!) concerti that Vivaldi wrote for the bassoon puzzlingly constitute the most significant facet of bassoon repertoire. From start to finish, it would take six and a half hours to listen to all of them! Vivaldi wrote additional concertos for his own instrument, the violin.
Moving into the Classical era, countless concerti written by composers such as J.C. Bach, Danzi, Hummel, Stamitz, and more have become staples of the repertoire, as well as the cherry on top: Mozart’s bassoon concerto. The Mozart concerto is the best-known piece ever written for bassoon and is always requested at any audition.
Composers still maintained a high interest in bassoon in the early Romantic period, as the Weber concerto demonstrates. Especially important to mention is the first great bassoon virtuoso, Frans Carl Preumayr. Preumayr was as close to a “Paganini'' (an incredibly skilled violinist and composer) of the bassoon as possible. In fact, Preumayr was very concerned about competing against Paganini for audience members while touring across Europe! Preumayr encouraged several composers to write works for bassoon, including Berwald, Crusell, and Du Puy.
A gaping absence of pieces written for solo bassoon is present in the late Romantic period, with the exception of the Saint-Saëns sonata. Alongside the Mozart concerto, the Saint Saëns sonata is the only piece written for solo bassoon by a major composer.
The 20th century Modernist period renewed composers’ interest in writing for the bassoon, which was complimented by modern bassoon virtuosos such as Klaus Thunemann in Germany or Maurice Allard in France. The playing of these two great bassoonists brought the capabilities of the bassoon to unparalleled heights, which is obviously shown through “Klaus-Ur,” by Heinz Holliger (written for Thunemann) or the bassoon concertos of Jolivet, Tomasi, and Vaubourgoin (written for Allard).
At the end of the day, there is still so much more bassoon repertoire to explore. Truly, the bassoon is as good an instrument as any… if not better! In fact, I even created an entire YouTube channel called “Preston Atkins” for the sole purpose of bringing pieces in the bassoon repertoire to light. If you have an interest in learning more about bassoon repertoire, I would highly encourage and appreciate it if you stopped by!
Agrell, Donna. “‘Repertoire for a Swedish Bassoon Virtuoso: Approaching Early Nineteenth-Century Works Composed for Frans Preumayr with an Original Grenser & Wiesner Bassoon.’” "Repertoire for a Swedish Bassoon Virtuoso: Approaching Early Nineteenth-Century Works Composed for Frans Preumayr with an Original Grenser & Wiesner Bassoon" Scholarly Publications, 8 Dec. 2015, https://scholarlypublications.universiteitleiden.nl/handle/1887/36960.