Choral Fantasy, Op. 80

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Choral Fantasy, Op. 80 (1808)

  • Ist bassoon m. 108-124, 139-156 (33 total measures)
  • Range – (low G- F above the staff)
  • Bass clef only

Performance issues: Phrasing, Rhythm, Note patterns, Articulation

About the music: This composition of Beethoven for solo piano, chorus, and orchestra was written hurriedly by the composer as the finale to a benefit concert featuring his own music. There were more notable premieres on the evening’s program—both the Fifth and the Sixth Symphonies had their first performances on the same venue—but this work was unique because the composer played the solo piano part. In addition, it made use of the chorus that was on hand to do part of Beethoven’s Mass in C. (The chorus comes in only at the end of the Fantasy on a tune that is reminiscent of the theme from the finale to Symphony No. 9.) An extended piano solo begins the work before the orchestra entrance. Early in the orchestra portion there are a series of thematic variations for the solo winds: this excerpt is the joint clarinet-bassoon variation.

The theme is introduced by the strings, then the flute has a sixteenth-note scale variation, followed by the oboe variation featuring alternate beat groupings of four sixteenth and two eighth notes. In this, the third variation, the bassoon accompanies two clarinets. The bassoon line is arpeggiated in nature, almost in the style of some Baroque bass lines. After the sixteen measures of rest, both bassoons join in the conclusion to the excerpt, a thematic statement by joint woodwinds and brasses over a busy string accompaniment.

About performing the excerpt: The first priority with an extended and exposed solo passage like this is to learn the notes. Next concentrate on the metric placement, creating a line that neither rushes nor drags the tempo. It may be necessary for the player to actually leave out the final sixteenth note in some groupings in order to breathe; this will especially be an issue when the student practices the passage at less than performance tempo. Articulation will help to give the passage the character it needs, although the marking “dolce” indicates this is to performed delicately rather than in a brusque manner. A lyrical line must be created out of the detached notes.

One will have to watch to manage the fermata by following the conductor, but it helps to be ready for a slight ritard. Since it has the most active line, the bassoon will be responsible for relaxing the pace into the fermata and then regaining lost momentum, There is no dynamic level indicated so the player must use judgment as to how strongly to project the line, remembering that the line’s function is to accompany the clarinet melody. In addition, the player must shape the sixteenth note flow into four-measure phrases with the clarinet melody.

This excerpt should be practiced along with the following excerpt since they both are from the same work. The two excerpts provide for contrast in articulation and style.


  • dolce – sweetly and softly
  • tutti – indicates entrance of the whole orchestra after a section featuring the soloist: a group entrance
This excerpt was taken and used with permission from Ann Pesavento’s doctoral dissertation: Orchestral excerpts as developmental studies for the intermediate bassoonist: a collection of selected passages. D.A. diss, University of Northern Colorado, 1989. Pp. 360. OCLC#: 21892445. UMI 9016608.
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