Pictures from the Floating World

Pictures from the Floating World (2013) for solo bassoon and orchestra (19') 
-bsn, orchestra
-Written for Daniel Matsukawa and the Philadelphia Orchestra
-Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra
-Premiered November 2013 at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, PA

Rental information

Program Listing

Pictures from the Floating World (2013)
I. Sunken Cathedral
II. Sirens
III. En bateaux
IV. Voiles
V. Reflections on the Water


" a multimovement aria for bassoon and orchestra, with lush orchestral atmosphere and attractively unhinged lyricism suggesting Scheherazade on Absinthe."

- Philadelphia Inquirer

Program Notes

I wrote “Pictures from the Floating World” for Daniel Matsukawa and the Philadelphia Orchestra led by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Danny asked me to write a bassoon concerto that captures the silvery lyrical tone of the instrument. It is a wonderful compositional experiment for me to write this piece for this legendary orchestra to which I have memories going back to childhood.

I get asked a lot of I think about the player when I’m writing the piece, and the answer is a resounding “yes.” But that’s the challenge: write something that fits like a glove for the person for whom the piece is commissioned, but make it so that lots of people can go on to play it later so the piece has a life of its own.

We wanted music that lived in melodies; that brought forward the beautiful flowing bassoon lines that so many composers of past centuries have fallen in love with and wrote into their music. And this was a great prompt for me to start thinking about the idea of floating lines, which led to thoughts of water, which led to floating, which led to thoughts of the Japanese art tradition of Ukiyo-e print making (the “floating world” of our every day life), which led me to think of Debussy, who became obsessed with prints that he saw at the World Exhibition of 1881, which brought me to thinking about the Japanese and French-speaking connections of soloist and conductor, which brought me to the idea of the piece: "Pictures from the Floating World." And this is the process by which many of my pieces get written;  composers find something meaningful in an initial seed or idea, and then develop that idea into something bigger. In some cases, like this one, it is built on personal associations. I am especially interested in the intersection of cultures, and Debussy’s fascination with Japanese art is likewise fascinating to me.

This piece is five movements, each taking from the title of one of Debussy’s “Water Pieces…”

I. Sunken Cathedral
II. Sirens
III. En bateaux
IV. Voiles
V. Reflections on the Water

Each movement flows into the next–again the idea of fluidity and floating being key. The bassoon sings over the whole twenty minutes of the piece, and the orchestra provides a sheen to its color and support to its lyricism.

Going back to the idea of the “Floating World,” there is something poetic for me, as we in the modern world tend to float through our days as one passes into the next, losing definition into memory (Debussy had an especially keen sense of this). This piece is a journal, of sorts, to describe that feeling, gliding on time in a world of fleet impressions.


"David Ludwig’s “Pictures from the Floating World,” a thoroughly engaging bassoon concerto premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in November 2013, was the centerpiece of the weekend’s Pittsburgh Symphony concerts, Friday evening and Sunday afternoon in Heinz Hall. Guest conductor for the event was Basque native Juanjo Mena, with Pittsburgh’s principal bassoonist Nancy Goeres the virtuoso soloist.

The composer, 42, is the scion of a distinguished musical family that includes pianists Rudolph and Peter Serkin, and violinist Adolph Busch. Mr. Ludwig lists composers John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon and Ned Rorem, among the composers who have been his teachers, and his background and education come through in the striking balance he achieves between erudition and entertainment. His writing for bassoon is enormously demanding technically, as well as intellectually – the soloist is playing through almost all of the work’s 19-minute duration – and Ms. Goeres’ rendition was quite spectacular. To praise her superb breath control in long phrases, the accuracy of her staccato scale work in fast passages, and her intimate interweaving with two solo cellos (Anne Martindale Williams and David Premo) in the interludes that separate the work’s three main movements, suggests only a fraction of the splendid cumulative effect.

Mr. Ludwig pays homage to Debussy with titles derived from his “water pieces” (“The Sunken Cathedral,” “In a Boat,” “Reflections in the Water”) but his music is original and personal. If there is anything owing to the older composer, it is in elements of his harmonic language, and splashes of instrumental color that give some of the other orchestra principals fleeting chances to show their mettle. Associate concertmaster Mark Huggins, filling in for Noah Bendix-Bagley (who commutes these days between Pittsburgh and the Berlin Philharmonic) had innumerable ingratiating moments here and throughout the evening. The jazzy rhythmic play in the final movement introduces a new facet of contrast. But it’s not all splash and glitter. Among the concerto’s most appealing moments are the above-mentioned interludes: the conversational “Sirens” and the intricate triple play of “Sails.”"–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“Ludwig’s five-movement concerto…mixed those influences, incorporated a little Debussy, and created a luxuriously colorful pastiche that celebrated those seemingly disparate worlds…[the soloist] essentially “sang” his way through this most lyrical 20-minute work ...While the work is distinctly 21st century in its harmonic and rhythmic language, it had a late 19th century French flavor, rife with Eastern influences.” – Rutland Herald

"Debussy's sensibilities and the titles of some of his pieces were part of the inspiration of David Ludwig's “Pictures from the Floating World,” which received its first orchestral performance Friday night. The composer spoke before the performance and mentioned the influence of Japanese woodblock art on Debussy. 

The music is an excellent showpiece for bassoon, which was played with utter mastery by principal bassoon Nancy Goeres. Her tone was gorgeous and open on top, rich and solid on the bottom. And her phrasing made the most of Ludwig's long melodic lines, starting with oriental inflections. 

The piece is in three movements, the middle one surrounded by two interludes. The torrent of notes Goeres produced in the second interlude, playing with cellists Anne Martindale Williams and David Premo, was engulfing." –Tribune Live

"...there was a lovely movement that for all the world sounded like Sam Barber’s quietly melancholy meditations leading to a long scale that was a recurring motive in the piece but in that section provided an effective punctuation." -Musical America

"David Ludwig, a native Philadelphian, wrote a moody piece that showcased the bassoon as a lyrical instrument, rather than portraying the bounce of the grandpa in Peter and the Wolf or the broom in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Ludwig's Pictures from the Floating World  is tonal with rare bits of discord, containing atmospheric sections reminiscent of Debussy as well as flashy finger work cadenzas, a catchy slow-slow-quick-quick-quick tune and a dance-like finale. Bassoon soloist Daniel Matsukawa deftly mastered all of the intricacies." -Broad Street Review

"David Ludwig's Pictures from the Floating World has tight textbook concerto interlocks...Ludwig follows it with an homage to Debussy in an interlude where the interplay glittered in the hands of the bassoonist...The development vaulted into orchestral density, staccato phrasing, and a touch of jazz... " –American Record Guide