Welcome to Harmonia. I’m Angela Mariani. This hour, we’re celebrating the “Bad Boy of the Bassoon,” Michael McCraw, in honor of his birthday on October 19th Join us as we explore music for low double reed instruments played by one of their most passionate advocates. Our featured release is a recording of unaccompanied Bach from Baroque violinist Stanley Ritchie.
We heard the first movement, an allemande, of Bach’s partita no. 2 in d minor for solo violin, performed by Stanley Ritchie.
For our program this hour, assistant Harmonia producer Wendy Gillespie sat down with her old friend and colleague Michael McCraw, to talk about his life and career. I’ll turn the mic over to her now. (:15)
Wendy: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to having been acquainted with Michael McCraw since about 1974. I had returned to New York City from study in Europe, and Michael was several years away from moving to Germany. We were freelance musicians in the heady days when, for instance, one got paid to make a recording.
McCraw’s musical career began when he was five years old, the child of a fiddler and banjo picker in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, which made me wonder how he learned to read music: (:35)
After beginning a music education degree in college, Michael realized that he wanted to pursue performance seriously, so he transferred to the recently opened North Carolina School of the Arts. Upon graduation, he went to New York City to pursue further studies and quickly became an active freelance musician.
Michael McCraw was one of the first bassoon players to go over to what we historical performance practitioners affectionately call the Dark Side. By 1973, Michael had become interested in early repertory and taken up the baroque bassoon. There were no teachers for that instrument at the time, so he taught himself to play and make reeds for it, reading treatises and letting the instrument teach him how it wanted to be played. He went to Cologne in 1979 as an experiment and ended up staying in Europe until 1991, building a busy career performing and recording with many of the best early music ensembles in Europe. From Germany, McCraw moved to Toronto to become principal bassoonist in the period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik, where he stayed until 2004, when his adjunct teaching position at Indiana University evolved into a full-time, tenured professorship.
McCraw’s favorite orchestral experience was as first bassoonist at the Drottningholm Theatre in Stockholm, the extraordinary theatre with surviving 18th century stage machinery.
Hmmm – bassoon – Mozart opera – ah, the opening of the Sinfonia of Le Nozze di Figaro:
We heard the Sinfonia to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in a 1988 L’Oiseau Lyre recording by the musicians of Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra, with Michael McCraw playing bassoon.
One of McCraw’s closest friends throughout his career was the oboist Washington McClain. In 2012 the two friends participated in an Early-music.com recording of music by a student of François Couperin named François Chauvon. Let’s celebrate their musical friendship with two short movements from this Canadian CD: first, the Sarabande en rondeau called “La mélancholique,” then a Gavotte en rondeau.
We’ve just heard Michael McCraw and Washington McClain playing music from François Chauvon’s 1717 publication called “Tibiades” on Les Nouveaux Bijoux, an Early-Music.com recording from 2012.
Asked to name his favorite among his many recordings, Michael McCraw replies:
Glinka is frightfully modern for a program like Harmonia, and our time is limited, so let’s let Michael tell us about the origins of his recording with Manfredo Kraemer and Elisabeth Wright.
Listen now as Michael McCraw, playing on the dulcian, a predecessor of the bassoon, engages in a musical conversation with violinist Manfredo Kraemer in Dario Castello’s Sonata Ottava from his second Book of Sonatas, published in 1644. You’ll hear the two voices, supported by harpsichord and theorbo, exchanging virtuosic passaggi and diminutions.
We heard Michael McCraw, dulcian; Manfredo Kraemer, violin; Elisabeth Wright, harpsichord and Dolores Costoya, theorbo, playing the Sonata Ottava of Dario Castello from his Second Book of Sonatas.
That was Harmonia assistant producer Wendy Gillespie, speaking with her old friend Michael McCraw.
Our playlists, podcasts, and archived episodes are online at harmonia early music dot org. You can follow our Facebook page and our updates on Twitter by searching for Harmonia Early Music.
Welcome back. This hour on Harmonia, our assistant producer Wendy Gillespie is talking with her old friend Michael McCraw about his life and career.
Wendy: It is one of life’s delicious ironies that most of the music we hear today is not a single complete performance of anything, since much music we play invites many different possible performances. Live performance also used to figure much more prominently in radio. So let us connect a few more historical dots and welcome an opportunity to hear Michael McCraw in a live, unedited performance from 2004 at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana, with Elisabeth Wright playing harpsichord. The duo performed Christoph Schaffrath’s Duetto in G Minor for Bassoon and Harpsichord.
We heard part of a live performance recorded in 2004 by Elisabeth Wright, harpsichord, and Michael McCraw, bassoon, playing the first and last movements of the Duetto in G Minor for Bassoon and Harpsichord by Christoph Schaffrath.
I asked Michael about this sobriquet in which he so delights:
Let’s hear a movement of the Vivaldi bassoon concerto in D Minor played by the bad boy himself with the Seattle Baroque Orchestra - no shortage of rubato and portato here!
We heard the first movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto in D Minor played by Michael McCraw and the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, led by Ingrid Matthews, from the 2001 Centaur recording.
Michael McCraw’s long career as a performer ended on May 30, 2014 when he was hit by a car and sustained a traumatic brain injury. Sadly, the accident happened two days before Michael’s official retirement from the IU Jacobs School of Music and rudely curtailed his many plans to travel, perform and teach. Today, Michael McCraw lives a very quiet life in Bloomington, Indiana, eagerly awaiting visits from friends and former students.
Even now, Michael’s memory is much better than those of many of his contemporaries. He is a regular participant and indeed winner on Ether Game, a weekly musical game show on his local NPR station, WFIU. Contestants choose nommes de guerre for the program and Michael McCraw’s is – what else? - “the bad boy of the bassoon!”
That was Wendy Gillespie, speaking with her old friend and colleague, Michael McCraw.
Our featured release this hour is a two-disc recording of the solo violin partitas and sonatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, from Baroque violinist Stanley Ritchie. We’ll hear dances from the third partita.
We heard dances from the third partita for solo violin, in E major, by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Stanley Ritchie, from the recording Bach: Sonatas & partitas for solo violin.
More music, stories, history, recordings, and other information about the world of early music can be found on our Harmonia Early Music Podcasts, online at harmonia early music dot org and through iTunes. You’re listening to Harmonia, from PRI, Public Radio International.
Harmonia is a production of WFIU, and part of the educational mission of Indiana University. Additional resources come from the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
We welcome your thoughts about any part of this program, or about early music in general. You can leave a comment or question any time by visiting harmonia early music dot org and clicking on "Contact."
The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Wendy Gillespie.
Thanks to our studio engineer Michael Paskash and our staff – Wendy Gillespie and LuAnn Johnson. Additional technical support comes from KTTZ at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
Our producer is Elizabeth Clark, our executive producer is John Bailey, and I’m Angela Mariani, inviting you to join us again for the next edition of Harmonia.