Why Do Composers Always Use Low Woodwinds to Represent Monsters?

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A monsterous duo

Think about it. It seems like every time a composer wishes to portray a monster, large animal, ferocious mythical beast, or any other kind of carnivorous imaginary animal, their first instinct is to run to the low woodwind family. Maybe it's the guttural gurgle of a low bassoon, maybe it's the sinisterly smooth silkiness of the bass clarinet -- in any case, something about a large woodwind conjures a beastly image in composers' minds.

Today we hear five examples from a swath of contemporary composers. John Falcone explores two animals from the world of Lewis Carroll -- the Bandersnatch and the Jubjub -- in a set of improvisations for bassoon and piano. Jonathan Russell of the ceaselessy groovy duo Sqwonk invents a new animal for two bass clarinets and piano-four-hand duo ZOFOcalled Sqwonkzoforus RexCharles Wuorinen writes important and utterly reptilian woodwind lines in his ensemble piece On Alligators.

All these creatures and more will be explored on today's show, and hopefully at the end of the hour we'll be a little bit closer to understanding why and how composers equate the bass nightingales of the orchestra with monsters, beasts, and generally ferocious creatures.