The Beautiful Bassoon: From Clowning to Crooning

Jan 28, 2019

Hollywood may have typecast the bassoon as comedic star, but Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa fills us in on the instrument’s great lyrical expressiveness. WRTI's Susan Lewis has the story.

I was a lead guitarist and a lead screamer for a punk band, and so when I heard the bassoon, I fell in love with the sound.  I immediately asked my parents if I could play the bassoon. I really don’t think they knew what a bassoon was, but they were so happy. They’re like, anything is better than that stuff you’re playing that’s peeling the paint off the walls.—Daniel Matsukawa

Radio script: 

[Music: From Looney Tunes, Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon]

Susan Lewis: In the mid-twentieth century the bassoon became linked with bouncy comedies and cartoons. But back in  1774, when he wrote Mozart  bassoon concerto, he knew that the bassoon could sing like a diva: 

[Music: Mozart, Bassoon Concerto]

Daniel Matsukawa: It’s such a beautiful and  joyful piece.

SL:  Philadelphia Orchestra principal bassoon Daniel Matsukawa sang in boys choir and then in a punk rock band.  When he fell in love with the bassoon after hearing it on the radio, singing became the way he approached playing.

DM:  I would try to emulate that through my bassoon. It’s the most natural way to make music.

SL:  Made of maple wood and standing over four feet tall, the bassoon is actually eight to 10 feet of tubing folded in half; its large size belies its versatility.

DM:  People think of it as a low instrument and not so virtuosic.  I think people are surprised once they can hear that a bassoon can do many things.

SL:  But Mozart knew, writing into his concerto both lyrical melodies and acrobatic passages.

[Music:  Mozart, Bassoon Concerto]

DM: I would love people to remember that singing aspect more than the humpty dumpty character.

SL: Among other composers with concertos for bassoon: Vivaldi, Bach, Hummel, Weber, and Philadelphia’s own David Ludwig, whose concerto Matsukawa premiered in 2013.