bassoon range

This is a trifle, but Dorico has in its mind that a low “A” is possible in a bassoon’s range. It could theoretically be possible, with the use of an extension tube, but not without it. Therefore I would hope that a future version of Dorico can adjust the range to the lowest possible note (B-flat) without extensions…


They are aware and, in due course, will put the A as advanced range (dark red) since bassoonists generally own that extension though it is rarely used. They will also put the oboe low A as out of range (bright red).

I once tried to write a low A for the bassoon but the bassoonist of the group refused to play it.

The contraforte has the low A, as do some contrabassoons. I’ve heard of bassoonists being asked to insert an empty toilet paper roll (just the cardboard part) into the top of the bassoon to get the low A. Extension tube on the cheap!

Which brings to mind Norman del Mar’s wonderful book Anatomy of the Orchestra, on muting woodwinds: “…it is a moment of high entertainment to orchestra and spectators alike when, in Ligeti’s Lontano, the 3rd bassoon is instructed to reach over to his neighbour, the contra and insert a horn mute into the inverted bell of the wretched player’s instrument.”

They generally don’t like it, but a refusal is absurdly ill-tempered if the player owns an extension and the Low A is approached in a reasonable manner. If they don’t own an extension, there is room for discussion as players then have to make their own. Still, much of Mahler and Wagner include low A’s, and although Heckel no longer sells a “A bell” (as far as I know), low A’s are still performed. However, the extension is best used when inserted for the shortest possible amount of time as it makes certain notes difficult to play (and makes the Low B-flat basically impossible). Personally, I avoid the low A, but one should not pretend they are not played, because they really are. If both bassoonists in - of all places - the Red Deer Symphony own a low A tube and use it, I’d have to say it’s used elsewhere!

Right. But this is somewhat like saying a low C (or a low B-flat, if you’re Respighi) is possible on the contrabass, which it could be - if you have an extension or an extra B-flat string. Conceptually you could play any note on any instrument – if you use an octave pedal or a pitch shifter.

But the point of those cautionary “range” indications is to make a less experienced arranger think twice about putting them in within a conventional context.

The contrabass low C isn’t a very good example, considering that the standard compass of the 3-string contrabass (tuned in 5ths not 4ths) WAS down to low C back the 18th century. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven didn’t write anything for a contrabass that only went down to E!

Exactly! Thinking twice is the idea (hence the dark red suggestion). One of the bassoonists at the Calgary Philharmonic did tell me once that he often feels contemporary composers write low A’s to show how smart they are!

But the flipside is that even an experienced arranger – if in a hurry - could copy and paste something from another instrument and end up not noticing the out-of-range notes.

It’s happened to me more than once. I love those warning colours!

But I don’t think Claus Ogerman ever dit it … :wink: (the joy of not having copy and paste at your disposal…)