Topic: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Hello. I am a composer. Currently I'm trying to figure out what trills and tremolos to avoid when writing for bassoon and contrabassoon (professional players in symphony and/or studio). Different orchestration books say different things. One of the more recent books (from the late 1980's) says to avoid any trills below low Gb, to avoid any trills on any Db, Eb, and Gb, and no trills on the high A. Is this an accurate list or not. If you have anything to offer for my bassoon and contrabassoon trill and tremolo writing, I'd be most appreciative.

Thanks.

Yolanda

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Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

I would say the trills below Gb is probably pretty accurate.  I would say that's conservative though.  E-F is easy, E-F# is not though and below that it gets pretty hairy.  The trills are possible (except for Eb-Db which is essentially impossible without a special mechanism that most people don't have) but they will be slower and less accurate in that lowest 5th of the instrument.

Trills on Eb, Db and Gb in other registers aren't really much of a problem for more experienced players.  We usually have things worked out.  The ones that I would really want to avoid or would warn you about are:
Db4-Eb4 - the Eb will be SHARP
A4-B4 - I have yet to find a real comfortable usable fingering for this one
F4-G4 can be awkward if it's in a technical context but the trill itself isn't all that hard, just awkward to get to.
C5-D5 - just for Pete's sake don't do it.

That's my opinion anyway.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Thanks a lot Trent. Very helpful.

To clarify, by C5-D5 trill, you mean the high C above middle C, right?

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Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Yes.  "Rite of Spring" C.  C4 is middle C, A4=440Hz, the way I learned it (sooo not a standard system).

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Okay Trent. Thanks. Are the limitations the same for the Contrabassoon as well? I'd imagine the fingering might be even a bit more dicey on that large beast.

-Yolanda

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Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Re contrabassoon, here's a quick answer: your instinct is good.   :-)  Almost everything is more difficult on a contrabassoon. A contrabassoon is similar to a bassoon, but they are more different from each other than, say, a piccolo is from a flute, or an English horn is from an oboe.

The fingerings are, with one exception, superficially the same as for a bassoon for the octave and a half from the lowest Bb up until "open" F (written F fourth line bass clef). The exception is the Eb below open F, which uses an extra key instead of a fork fingering to produce the Eb.

That said, there are certain things that can be easier, or harder, on a contrabassoon than on a bassoon. For example, the Ab/Bb trill is problematic on the bassoon, but much easier on a contrabassoon. Another example in the other direction: virtually every modern bassoon has an F# trill key for E/F# and F/F# trills (around "open" F), and many modern bassoons have an F/G trill key; but the F# trill key is a relatively uncommon option on contrabassoons, and I've never seen a G trill key on one.

Once the contrabassoon goes into the next octave, all bets are off. Depending on the note (or trill) in question, fingerings can be similar to or different from the bassoon. For example, the fingerings for the Eb, E, and F above middle C are completely different from the bassoon. For that matter, fingerings can be different from one instrument to the next, or from one reed to the next, or from one player to the next.

In addition, there are new versions of the contrabassoon that have their own fingering systems that can differ substantially from the not-so-standard "standard" contrabassoon. The differences generally manifest themselves in the higher registers of the contra, improving them in certain cases dramatically. One example of this is the Fast-system Fox contrabassoon. There are a few others. 

Finally, there are ranges of the contra that are known to be problematic. For example, the notes around written middle C to Eb are known to be weak and out of tune. There are ways around these limitations, and it's our job as players to make such passages in music work, but it's good as a composer to be aware of them, and write accordingly.

The high range of the instrument is weak compared to the bassoon. You want to be careful about writing a high tessitura for the contra, unless you know the player can play well up there, or unless you're striving for a particular effect.

Again, some of the new developments in the contra have addressed these issues, more or less.

I hope this message was more helpful than confusing.

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Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

Hey William, thanks a lot for the thorough reply. Yeah, the info helps a lot.

-Yolanda

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Re: Help a composer understand your trill limitations

You're welcome.

Definitely write contra parts, and don't make them *too* trivially easy.   :-)

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