4.58. Giulio Castagnoli, bassoon solo ‘Shofar’ (1998)

Shofar (1998) is an 8-minute, virtuoso composition for bassoon solo by the Italian composer Giulio Castagnoli (born 1958). As a composer, Castagnoli is very much interested in archaic sounds and instruments, as was confirmed by the musicologist Anna Maria Morazzoni: “His anthropological conception of music, as the archetypal voice of every civilization, has drawn him towards the primitive symbols of all cultures.” *Morazzoni, “Giulio Castagnoli.” Oxford Music Online. And as a Jewish composer, Castagnoli is interested in the shofar: “The sciofar—as it is spelled in Italian—is an instrument which is very dear to me: my mother belongs to the two-millennia-old Jewish community in Italy.” *Castagnoli, e-mail to the author, March 24, 2010. Translated from the Italian by KvH. In this composition, however, Castagnoli refers to the shofar without using a ram’s horn, without quoting traditional blasts, and even without alluding to Jewish religion or culture. Apparently, he challenges the audience to wonder what is shofar-like in his composition. As will be shown below, this is—just as in the otherwise very different Shofar der Zeit (1990) *Chapter 4.50 by Alvin Curran and Shofaralong (2001) *Chapter 4.60 by Bob Gluck—the shofar sound itself. The sound of this archaic instrument is explored apart from religious, let alone textual Jewish traditions.

Shofar consists of three sections, separated by double bars in the score. Section 1 includes mm. 1-63; section 2, in which measure numbering starts again, includes mm. 1-23; and section 3, mm. 24-28.



Ex. 13a. Giulio Castagnoli, Shofar: section 1, mm. 1-3. The tremolo under every dotted slur is performed by alternating fingerings on the same pitch. “Flz.”: Flatterzunge (flutter tongue.) ♯4: a quarter tone sharp; ♭4: a quarter tone flat. All excerpts reproduced by permission of the composer.

Section 1 has the very restricted range for a virtuoso composition of an augmented octave (E♭3-E4), which is already defined in mm. 1-3 (Ex. 13a). In a constantly changing but for the most part high volume, the bassoon plays fanciful melodic curves, all beginning on E♭4 and ending lower and lower, after being repeatedly interrupted by an E♭3. The first curve descends in m. 4 to D♭4; the second in m. 13 to B3; the third in m. 28 to E3 and the fourth in m. 42 again to E3. The second part of section 1, mm. 42-63, is dynamically more subdued, with a calmer tone production. The tessitura is lower and the range is restricted to the perfect 5th E♭3-B♭3, and in mm. 57-63 even to the single pitch B♭3.



Ex. 13b. Giulio Castagnoli, Shofar: section 2, mm. 10-12. The notes under the staff indicate breath accents. a poco a poco il multif.: “gradual transition into multiphonics.”

Section 2 is entirely determined by multiphonics, that is, constellations of harmonics, produced by alternative fingerings. By a slow glissando and crescendo, a B♭2 turns into the tetrad B♭2/D4/A♭4/C5 (Ex. 13b) and this effect is repeated many times. To a certain extent, these slow upward glissandos resemble those of the accordion in Golijov’s Tekyah, *Chapter 4.64 although there the chord inversion changes.



Ex. 13c. Giulio Castagnoli, Shofar: section 3, mm. 26-28.

In section 3, the static melodic line moves in semitones and quarter tones around C5, at the upper limit of the bassoon’s range, and this section with its subdued volume ends extremely softly in the tetrad B♭2/D4/A♭4/C5, that was already played in section 2. (Ex. 13c).

Of all the parameters, dynamics and even more, timbre, are the most important in this composition. As Castagnoli does not quote or vary the traditional shofar blasts, pitch and rhythm can play a secondary role. With regard to other compositions by Castagnoli, the German music critic Martin Wilkening stated:

The hierarchy of the musical parameters is considered in exactly the opposite way to the majority of Western music: the structure . . . is primarily determined not by pitches and durations, but by timbre and dynamics, so that the pitches, for example, tend to develop as a pure function of an ever-changing timbre. *Wilkening, Comporre il suono. Quotations translated from the Italian by KvH.

The tone of the bassoon is altered—one could almost say “attacked” or “eroded”—by special effects such as vibrato, or, in contrast, non vibrato notes between vibrato notes; all kinds of trills; tremolo on one pitch by alternate fingerings for timbre changes (Ex. 13a); *The same technique was used by Golijov in Tekyah. Chapter 4.64, Ex. 15, clarinet part, m. 2 flutter tonguing (Ex. 13a, mm. 2-3); “throat” flutter tonguing (“throat flz.”, Ex. 13a, m. 1); glissando (Ex. 13a, m. 3; Ex. 13c, mm. 27-28); and echo effects. The equal temperament with its twelve pitches per octave, for which a modern instrument like the bassoon is built, is constantly affected by quarter tones (Ex. 13a, mm. 1-3), glissando, vibrato and “out-of-tune” multiphonics. Ex. 13b and Ex. 13c show a tetrad consisting of harmonics of the virtual B♭1: the second harmonic (B♭2), the third (D4), the seventh (A♭4), and the ninth (C5). This tetrad is not used as a dominant 9th chord, but as a coloring of the B♭2.

The actual subject of Shofar is the sound itself of the ram’s horn. What Martin Wilkening wrote on other compositions by Castagnoli, also applies to Shofar: “[T]he sound and the notes are used more as matter, the natural potential of which is set in motion in the course of time, than as material with its own meaning, determined by history and tradition.” *Wilkening, Comporre il suono. In Shofar, there is only sound development instead of thematic development. The essence of the shofar sound: the roughness, hoarseness, the unstable and non-standardized intonation, is expressed through the modern bassoon, a sophisticated instrument which is very different from a natural product like the shofar. Though the bassoon’s high register has a certain similarity with the hoarse tone of the shofar, as was already demonstrated by Ernest Bloch in his composition Schelomo, *Chapter 4.9, Ex. 3, mm. 5-8 the modern bassoon is designed for a smooth, even, stable, and standardized tone production throughout its whole range. Therefore, alternative fingerings and unusual playing techniques are needed in Shofar to enhance the roughness of the bassoon sound, as well as complicated notations in the score, very different from the simple notations TEKIAH SHEVARIM TERUAH in the Rosh Ha-Shanah prayer book.

In Shofar, the Present is directed by the Past, though in an indirect manner. As Wilkening puts it, considering other compositions by Castagnoli:

The point is not so much an encounter between two cultures on the same plane, but rather the expression of a perspective in which the musical sensibility of one’s own culture formally describes the perception of the other music, so to speak the “composition of a way of listening.” *Wilkening, Comporre il suono.

In Bakhtinian terms, this process is called “stylization.” The sensibility of Castagnoli’s “own culture,” that is, the sensibility of contemporary Western classical music, formally describes the perception of the “other music” of the traditional shofar blasts, creating a new way of listening to the archaic sounds. The simplicity of the shofar is approached in a roundabout way with many curves. In the Talmud and in the liturgy the point is the fulfillment of the miẓvah of shofar blowing and listening, and therefore, the correct execution of the blasts; that is why the blasts are prompted by a makrei. Sound quality is of secondary importance, as the Talmud states explicitly: “If its sound is thin, thick or dry, it is valid, since all sounds emitted by a shofar can pass muster.” *Talmud Rosh Ha-Shanah 27b. The pitch of the shofar blasts is not fixed and depends on the size of the horn; moreover, there are many regional variants of the four traditional blasts. Paradoxically, in order to render the impression of this relative indifference with regard to tone quality, the bassoon player should reproduce the score of Castagnoli’s Shofar accurately, not only without errors, but also with an optimal tone quality.

Giulio Castagnoli’s point of departure was of course completely different to that of Edward Elgar in The Apostles (1903) *Chapter 4.5 and Herman Berlinski in Shofar Service (1964) *Chapter 4.38. The latter two came to the conclusion that the shofar is an awkward, non-standardized instrument, and therefore, they considered the replacement of the shofar by a modern trumpet. Castagnoli’s point of departure was also different from that of Alvin Curran and Bob Gluck, who used electronic technology to extend the possibilities of the shofar and in whose work the Past of traditional shofar blowing was completely altered by the technology of the Present. As halakhah prohibits alterations to the shofar, such as tone holes and added tubing, the electronic modernizations of the shofar by Curran and Gluck have met objections. Castagnoli, however, does the opposite: with a technically complicated instrument like the modern bassoon and playing methods like alternative fingerings, he tries to reproduce the primitiveness of the shofar, without the use of external technology.

Although Shofar is a difficult composition, which requires a virtuoso bassoon player, the shofar’s characteristic risk factors are eliminated. There are no out-of-tune notes, nor unwanted “special effects” such as a hoarse tone quality, vibrato or unwanted multiphonics, caused by a particular horn or by fatigue of the shofar blower’s lips during the 100 blasts in the Rosh Ha-Shanah service. Shofar is intended to sound identical on any bassoon.


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