The bassoon is a double-reed woodwind instrument that emits a distinctive tone, normally playing in the bass or tenor registers. The voice of the bassoon, which has often been compared to a human baritone singer, lends itself to plaintive, expressive episodes and, at times, to passages containing humor. Bassoons have featured in orchestral music since the bassoon concerti of the Baroque and Classical periods and also are a part of wind ensembles and quintets. The bassoon has not featured much in popular music and is not closely associated with jazz, though some jazz musicians have devoted themselves to the instrument
The modern orchestra will often have two bassoons, though some musical works require a larger number. The orchestra also may have a contrabassoon, an instrument similar to the bassoon but larger and playing an octave lower. Bassoons also play a part in wind ensembles and in wind quintets that might also include a flute, oboe, clarinet and horn. A more recent development in bassoon music is the bassoon quartet, which can use the large range of the bassoon and combine it with the different tonal moods of the instrument to produce distinctive musical performances.
The bassoon was already a part of the orchestra in the Baroque Period and a large amount of bassoon music was written by Antonio Vivaldi. Georg Philipp Telemann wrote works for the bassoon, both as a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble. Later bassoon music was written by Johann Christian Bach and by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The bassoon also featured as a solo instrument in orchestral works; for example, the first movement of Mozart’s well known Jupiter symphony features solo passages for the bassoon. The Duet Concertino by Richard Strauss uses a bassoon and a clarinet playing with a string accompaniment.
In the 20th century, a variety of bassoon music was produced, including works of very different styles, such as the Romance for Bassoon and Orchestra by Edward Elgar, the Humoristic Scherzo for Four Bassoons by Sergei Prokofiev and the Concerto for Trumpet, Bassoon and Orchestra by Paul Hindemith. The bassoon also has featured in well known solo passages in other orchestral works, such as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Greig and Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev. In the 21st century, a quite different use of the instrument can be found in a work for bassoon quartet by English composer Graham Waterhouse; Bright Angel uses the bassoon to depict the raw and powerful attributes of nature.