MISERY   Michael J. Evans



In preparing to write a bassoon concerto, I began researching the instrument, its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the extended techniques that were possible. A fact that kept coming up was that the bassoon tends to get swallowed up by the orchestra. This has always been perceived as a weakness. My thought was to incorporate this aspect of the instrument somehow, rather than work around it. Serendipity intervened when I came across the Chekov story “Misery”.


The character Iona is represented by the solo bassoon. Assigning a soloist the role of a character who tends to fade into the background, is antithetic to that which they would typically play in a romantic concerto, wherein the soloist generally represents a heroic figure standing in triumph over, or leading the orchestra. This new role for the soloist essentially creates an anti-concerto.



The narrative of the story determined the structure of the piece. This imbued the composition with the ability to serve multiple functions:


• An anti-concerto for bassoon

• The soundtrack for an illustrated graphic novel or silent film

• The music for a stage work, (dance, pantomime, shadow, or puppet theater), or

• Any combination of the aforementioned


In addition to using the narrative to dictate the form of the composition, and, as well as having assigned specific instruments to represent the individual characters of the story, the spoken or thought dialog of the characters was used to determine the rhythm and shape of the melodies. Because of this, in the composition itself, text has been added to sections that represent the spoken or thought dialog of the characters.


This inclusion of text is critical to the composition in that it:


• Creates an operatic effect to the work, (in fact, the work could easily be transcribed as an opera)

• Allows easier synchronization of the music with any video or multimedia, (acting as cues)

• Gives the players some insight into what their character is doing or saying.


The biggest and most important reason for marrying the music to the text lies with the character Iona, the bassoon, and the fact that this is an anti-concerto. By binding the music to the text, when the cadenza is finally reached, Iona (the bassoon) can freely express his grief, no longer bound by words alone, or the social conventions limiting his expression of pain. This creates a necessary emotional climax and catharsis.

Extended Techniques:

Several extended techniques are used in this composition. The majority of them are in the bassoon part; however, there are several that occur in other instruments:



The primary extended technique in the flute involves air tones.  There is a transition from pitch to full air sound. There is also a section, combined with the snoring effect in the strings, where the flute produces pure air sounds, as if someone is exhaling.



There are a couple of instances of microtonal (1/4 tone) pitches.

There is also a snoring effect in Cello, Viola, and second violin. This is achieved by putting excess pressure on the bow, (for a loud dynamic), or dramatically slowing the bow, (for a softer dynamic)



Bassoon has by far the most extended techniques in this work.


The first and most important is that of “circular breathing” in order to play the incredibly long tones in the bassoon part. This piece was composed specifically to feature this technique, as it serves a critical symbolic and dramatic purpose within the context of the work.


In grief, many times the most difficult thing one can do is simply exist - to continue breathing. That being said, the soloist need not an expert at circular breathing. In fact, the struggle to continue to maintain these long tones can enhance the dramatic effect by capturing the struggle of Iona to continue to exist.


There are a couple of instances of microtonal (1/4 tone) pitches.


There are a couple of instances of extremely high pitches, (one being a Gb above what is considered the top of the traditional range of the instrument) This comes at an emotional climax within the piece. Again, the player need not play this note beautifully, (or at all). It should be painful. It is the attempt to reach this note (that may crack or not sound) that will reflect the pain that the character is experiencing.



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