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Selector's choice: Bassoon

6 years ago

With our new Bassoon syllabus now up and running, we asked Graham Salvage for his top picks from the new lists.

Grade 1

List B
Russell Denwood: Lament

A new collection, 16 Progressive Pieces for Bassoon features arrangements and originals by Russell Denwood and provides pieces on Lists A and B at this grade and on List A for Grades 2 to 4. At Grade 1 my choice is No. 5, an Andante Lamentin 6/8 enjoying a lilt, with opportunities to show expression and detailed dynamic variety. Quaver rests at the end of many bars allow for easy breathing and the predominant one-octave G to G range is fully used to give strong thematic material. This is an engaging piece for young learners.

Grade 2

List B
James Rae: Sundown

In the Groove for Bassoon by James Rae includes this Grade 2 piece, as well as appearing at Grade 4. Sundown is a slow blues melody with swung quavers and a great piece to include at this level. Attention is needed for contrasting dynamics and the slurred quaver phrases, all moving by step. Breathing can be accommodated every four bars and the piano accompaniment will delight the bassoonist, with its harmonies and easy-to-achieve fine balance highlighting the solo instrument.

Grade 3

List C
Philip Sparke: In the Black Mountains or Trumpet Tune

These two studies in contrasting mood and key are from the skilful pen of Philip Sparke. They can be found in his Skilful Studies for Bassoon, which also offers List C choices at Grades 4 and 5. For this grade, the Black Mountains study in G minor is mostly legato and is marked Andantino. It has a lovely triple-time lilt. There will be much to discuss in the dynamic detail and the near two-and-a-half-octave range is fun to explore. The Trumpet Tune is mainly detached in articulation and will appeal to the player who enjoys boldly projecting the sound to capture the character.

Grade 4

List A
Rameau: Danse des Sauvages from Les Indes galantes

This arrangement of Danse des Sauvages from Rameau's opera-ballet works well for the instrument and comes from 16 Progressive Pieces for Bassoon (see Grade 1). It’s a welcome newcomer to the grade. The articulation detail and the ornamentation help the style and there are lots of off-beat accented quavers. One challenge is to keep a steady beat. The direction ‘quavers can be played inégale’ is given at the outset but even quavers also work well. The piano part is unobtrusive and should be easily managed by teachers who play a little.

Grade 5

List B
Alan Bullard: Blue Bassoon

I had been hoping to see this on the syllabus for some time and am so pleased to find it available again, published by Spartan Press. This bluesy number fits into the Grade 5 glove well in terms of range and technical difficulty, requiring good note recognition with sharp accidentals in the opening flat-key signature and the many flat accidentals in the sharp-key signature of the middle section. A firm rhythmic grasp is needed in the dotted rhythm of the Lively part and some rubato could be used in the outer sections. The style is so well captured – a joy to play and for the examiner to listen to!

Grade 6

List B
Graham Waterhouse: Imperial Echoes from Diplo-Diversions, Op. 44

It’s wonderful to have something here by Graham Waterhouse and who better to understand the bassoon, with help perhaps from his father, the distinguished bassoonist William Waterhouse. Diplo-Diversions was commissioned by bassoonist Jefferey Cox who worked for the Foreign Office – hence the title and movement headings. This third movement has the instruction Moderato nobilmente and is in a slow-moving 2/2 tempo. It begins with an expansive legato cantabile theme and develops with some rhythmic complexities and many accidentals, finally returning with a reference to the opening material to a more subdued ending. A delight to play.

Grade 7

List B
Ravel: Pièce en forme de habanera

A beautiful transcription by Oubradous, here is a piece for the bassoonist who likes to portray the sunshine! This slow sultry Spanish dance, with its rubato and time and space, requires control, fine intonation and an ability to effectively contrast dynamics widely. Fast fingerwork demands are absent, apart from two bars of demisemiquaver movement where rubato is needed to shape musically. A very beautiful little gem – I always want to play it twice!

Grade 8

List B
Miroshnikov: Scherzo

This is an all-time favourite of mine. I love the excitement and its slightly quirky nature. There are many technical challenges in the opening Allegro brillante and opportunities to be expressive in the slow middle section. This has a beautiful lyrical melody and some unaccompanied ad lib bars before returning to the opening Allegro, which is so well detailed in dynamics and articulation. The piece ends with an exciting Più mosso. The accompaniment is well written making it easy to achieve a good balance. All in all, a most attractive recital piece from a little-known composer and thoroughly recommended to go with other choices at this top grade.

This article was originally featured in the March 2014 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

The new Bassoon syllabus is valid now and available at You can buy audio downloads of selected pieces from the Bassoon syllabus from

Graham Salvage was formerly principal bassoonist in the Hallé Orchestra and has performed and recorded widely. He teaches at Manchester University, the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music, and is an ABRSM examiner.

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