The silliest of instruments receives its most profound concerto

The silliest of instruments receives its most profound concerto


norman lebrecht

April 01, 2014

The centenary of Andrzej Panufnik, a Polish fugitive who settled in England in the mid-1950s, is driving a reassessment of his diverse, original and ever-restless music. One of the most revealing recordings so far is of the concerto he wrote for Milwaukee’s Bob Thompson (pictured) and an instrument that is seldom treated as seriously as its players think it deserves.

The timing, however, dictated the mood. While composing the concerto in 1983, Panufnik heard of the state murder in Poland of a Solidarity priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Against this backdrop, he created a work ‘in which the morose bassoon is a lone voice of sanity in a bleak landscape…’ Click here to read my album of the week on



  • Tully Potter says:

    Morose? The bassoon? Silliest instrument? The bassoon? Come now, Norman, you should surely know that the bassoon is capable of great dignity as well as amusement. Archie Camden, who admittedly had an interest in saying so, called it the Gentleman of the Orchestra…

  • Mikey says:

    “Silliest of instruments”? I really hope that’s your version of an “April Fools”. Any composer worth his salt has known at least since 1913 that the bassoon is capable of the most intense, profound, emotional, powerful, musical expression.

  • It’s a fabulous instrument and not silly at all. What’s more, the double basson and its recent bedfellow the contraforte add a dimension to the orchestra many other instruments could only dream of.

    Anybody in search of an April Fools’ joke need look no further than what’s happening in French politics at the moment.

      • William Safford says:

        Well, “basson” is correct if discussing the French version of the instrument (or communicating in French).

        A good example of an April Fool’s joke (albeit not on that day) was the time that I went to a PDQ Bach concert at Carnegie, and was serenaded in the lobby by a trio of two common woodwinds (maybe flute and clarinet) and a sarrusophone.

  • Francis Wood says:

    The bassoon – ‘silliest of instruments’? Oh, do tell Mozart who seems not to have noticed.

  • Alan Karnovitz says:

    The only silly thing about the bassoon is the silly comments our beloved instrument elicits. I can only ask the writer to listen to how Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Mahler used our instrument to its best effect. Since the critic is a Mahlerian, how would he characterize the bassoon solo at the beginning of the 4th movement of the ninth symphony. I will only concede the point that in popular entertainment ranging from movies to cartoon, the bassoon is often used to portray some type of unwieldy animal or an eccentric lawyer as in the famous theme to “Rumpole of the Bailey.”

  • wazz says:

    linked page is broken.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Handel’s “Scherza Infida” (Ariodante) is one of the most emotionally wrenching pieces of music ever written. Precisely because of the bassoon obbligato.

    And not one of Vivaldi’s 35+ concertos for the instrument is in the least “silly.”

  • Andrew says:

    It’s especially morose when it plays in d-minor, the saddest of all keys.

  • William Safford says:

    I’m not familiar with this composer, or this work. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  • MWnyc says:

    I think the silliest instrument is probably the ocarina.