Remarkable sound quality make this CD a must have to hear the Bach Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin. Charlton's performance on the solo double bass is, in a word, fabulous. The late great bassist David Walter said of Charlton's playing, "A real tour de force! Excellent insight into Johann Sebastian Bach. Fine sound, fine chops, an intelligent romantic approach to this Gibraltar of a piece."
Also maestro GARY KARR has told that this is a marvellous CD.
All the works above are published by "FAC Publishing" and you can find them clicking on the photo of CD at the beginning of this page.
FREDERICK CHARLTON “Interview”
1) Mr. Charlton, it is an honor to have the chance to interview you. Our readers are very knowledgeable so we will talk about you, your musical interpretation and your technique.
Is this okay?
Sounds great. Let’s do it.
2) Maestro Fred, if I’m not mistaken you are not as well known as many of your other solo double bass colleagues. Is this true, and why?
I will answer this with a quote from my 2004 bio:
“Since the release of his CD Bach on Fire in 2004, Mr. Charlton has received acclaim from the four-corners of the planet. With this fact, one thing that has been asked by many people with the release of the CD at the age of 49, who is this guy, where did he come from, and why didn’t he release his CD earlier in his career. There is an answer. In his early 20’s he was well on his way to a successful career as a double bass soloist. He was principal of Debut Symphony, a young person’s offshoot to the Philharmonic, was soloing in various venues throughout California, and while preparing for an audition as assistant principal of the LA Philharmonic, he quite suddenly got a severe case of tendonitis of the left arm. One day, he was working on the Paganini “Perpetual Motion,” and the next day he couldn’t even play one measure of it.
After doing everything that the American Medical Association had to offer for his condition, to no avail, Frederick simply settled into a career as a successful gigging bassist, and even more successful composer. His doctor suggested surgery, with the downside that he may lose all ability to play. Other bass players suggested chiropractic to acupuncture, which Mr. Charlton was very leery of. It wasn’t until a few years later at his wife’s suggestion, that he finally tried acupuncture. Four sessions and several months later, he began practicing the bass one day and kept practicing and practicing and was stunned by his endurance and lack of pain. Quite suddenly he felt like he had the stamina that he had 25 years prior. That was 4 years ago. Now, much to his excitement and the world listeners, Frederick is achieving his life’s dream, able to conquer the techniques and invent new techniques to push him into the forefront of bass playing around the world. The success of his first CD has encouraged him to once again pursue a career as a soloist. His composing career has also moved forward and he is continuing with that as well, now having composed for Carlos R. Nakai,
James Pellerite, R’eut Ben Zen, the Amadeus Trio,
Saadoun Al’Bayati, and as composer-in residence for the
As to why I have not become more famous since 2004? I AM becoming more well-known, slowly but surely, as time goes on. But one can only “blow-his-own-horn” so much. It’s up to other musicians to pass-the-word about my cd.
3) Can you please tell us of your history?
I was born into a musical family. My Father eventually became a music professor at California State University at Fullerton. To talk about my up-bringing I should talk a bit about my Father. He was the kind of guy that read maybe 200 books a year. He read about virtually all subjects (except sports). So I grew-up with a virtual human encyclopedia as a Father. He worked his way through college as a gigging jazz musician, playing double bass, trombone, saxes, clarinet and piano. He was a great jazz arranger and theoretician as well. Yet all along, one of his greatest interest was early music (Medieval Renaissance and Baroque). But as a serious 20th century composer his interests in other classical music (mostly) jumped a century and a half from the Baroque to Stravinsky and Bartok. So I was raised on a rather eclectic assortment of music being played in our home: Monteverdi, Charlie Parker, John Dowland, Luciano Berio, Bach, Dizzy Gillespie, Bach, Bach, Alban Berg, Duke Ellington, Smothers Brothers (what!), Telemann, Charles Mingus, Palestrina (you get the picture).
I started piano lessons at the age of three – started playing recorder (flauto dolce) at seven years old – violin at eight – double bass at twelve – bass tuba, tenor tuba and bass trombone at fourteen – treble viol at sixteen and bass viol (7 string viola da gamba) at seventeen.
I will always play piano, but I stopped studying at twelve when my teacher when talking to my Mother said,
“Fred’s kind of uncoordinated, why don’t to have him switch to ‘bass?”
I’m a pretty fine recorder player (in all modesty). If an intermediate player wants to become a really great recorder player, get the Charlton Recorder Method written by my Father (read the reviews). If one takes that method book and really studies it from beginning to end, I guarantee that you will be a virtuoso recorder player!
I’ll talk about my career as a violinist later.
Because there was a double bass in the house, I would have begun playing it anyway (whether I continued piano or not). It was mainly a matter of getting tall enough and at twelve, I was. However, I didn’t start taking the double bass very seriously until I was around sixteen. I decided to bring a bass into one of the practice rooms at school and I wasn’t going to come out until I figured out how to get a good sound out of the thing! Well, I did figure it out and within a few months I was in a high school honor orchestra.
The next year my low–brass experience culminated when I made the audition to be in another honor orchestra playing the euphonium part in Holst’s “The Planets”.
But my four year stint on the viola da gamba is what had the most influence on my solo contrabass playing of early music.
4) Mr. Charlton, I understand that you’ve been performing the J. S. Bach unaccompanied violin partitas on the double bass since you were rather young...so...why didn’t you just take-up the violin, for cryin’-out-loud?!!
As I’ve said, I did. I played the violin for awhile starting in the third grade. The experience left me to this day with one nagging question: “Why would ANYONE put such a high-pitched, shrill instrument right next to their own ear!”
5) Can you tell us what sort of instrument you used on your very beautiful cd "Bach on Fire"? And why did you use Gut strings ... (did you use gut-strings? The photo on the cd cover certainly looks like you used gut-strings!...and it sounds like gut-strings!)
I own a Pfretzschner double bass circa 1900 on which I recorded my cd.
As for the strings – I noticed some time ago that you, Vito were very certain that I had used gut-strings on my recording. The truth is that the photographer in making the final proof of the cd cover-photo, used focusing that made the strings look a little fatter than they really are. The intention wasn’t to make the strings look like gut but simply to make a better overall picture. But all seriousness aside...
Until now, I have the kept the kind of strings I use very secret. Gut?... not excactly...they are actually “Eberhard’s Schwerton Vibrotech Ultras” (medium). They are made to my specification by a craftsman whose other specialties include Trans-Atlantic telephone cables.
(Oh, alright...I used plain-old metal strings on the recording – that’s all I ever use...just like most everyone else...really.)
6) Well, now we can talk about the title of your cd - "Bach of Fire". You know I'm not American but it seems to be a very strange title for a classical recording. So, why "Bach on Fire"?
The title actually has nothing at all to do with igniting the corpse of a long dead composer on fire. Rather, in English the word “fire” also has several meanings relating to non-combustible definitions. Here are some examples copied from a dictionary:
2a. Burning intensity of feeling; ardor. Passion, (syn.)
3. Luminosity or brilliance, as of a cut and polished gemstone.
4. Liveliness and vivacity of imagination; brilliance.
7) I think your CD is very beautiful and very different from other double bass cd’s. You’ve dedicated much of your life to transcribing Bach’s unaccompanied violin partitas for the double bass? Why?
I perform these pieces because they are beautiful works of the utmost artistry, and being an arranger/composer/double bass soloist, I find them delightfully challenging to execute.
8) On your cd “Bach on Fire” and you have chosen ten
selections out of a total of nineteen from the Three Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin of J. S. Bach. Why did you pick those ten?
Having studied early, historic concert programming extensively, I decided to pick ten of my favorite selections and arranged them in an order that I felt would make the cd a true concert in its entirety. In doing so, I followed the historically accurate practice of Bach’s time.
9) What sort of technique do you use? I know you use a German bow. But in general, can you tell us something about your special technique?
Well...the Bach pieces do require a lot of special techniques. As for the Bach partitas, I do employ many non-standard ways of executing the chords. ***
Also, I do play other music and have been told I’m a real fine jazz player.
I’ve also performed Bottesini’s “Concerto di Bravura” many times with symphonies and chamber groups (it is also incorrectly called “Concerto #3 in A” – it was actually his first Concerto which was written when he was around twenty years old). And I perform it romantically (but not with as much vibrato as most bassists – and while I’m on the subject of vibrato, consider Joseph Joachim. He was one of the most famous violinists of the late 19th century. His use of vibrato varied from very little to none at all – at the height of the Romantic Period! Joachim was the favourite violinist of Brahms and many other composers. He performed the premier of the Brahms Violin Concerto to rave reviews…with practically no vibrato! Joachim lived until 1907 and there is a wonderful recording of him performing one of the movements from the Bach unaccompanied sonatas on you tube from 1904: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3wysuAIDGc).
I would love to play Bottesini’s “Gran Duo Concertant” with a symphony orchestra. I almost did five years ago but the violin soloist ended-up going to jail shortly before the performance (on unrelated charges). So I ended-up performing the “Concerto di Bravura” again. But as for special techniques, different styles demand different techniques. Where as a performer might want to “schmaltz-it-up” for mid or late 19th century works, when performing early 18th century pieces (like Bach) the musician should play using minimal vibrato (which of course requires good intonation) and with much grace.
10) It’s very interesting that both Gary Karr and David
Walter have said some very nice words about you and your work.
Do you have any other reviews that we could read?
Yes. Here are some of the reviews I have received:
After hearing a recording of Bach's famous Chaconne performed by Frederick Charlton, the late great bassist David Walter said of his playing:
"A real tour de force! Excellent insight into Johann Sebastian Bach. Fine sound, fine chops, an intelligent, romantic approach to this Gibraltar of a piece."
The great solo contrabassist Gary Karr recently received a copy of Mr. Charlton’s CD Bach on Fire and replied via email to Frederick:
“What you've accomplished probably goes over the heads of most bassists, but, for sure, I greatly admire your work and can't thank you enough for the music and the CD, which is dynamite. If I said years ago that I didn't know how you did it, it still goes for now. You're amazing.”
A review by Sandor Ostlund for Bass World Magazine:
“Bach on Fire is a truly phenomenal achievement that is the result of thirty years of work by Charlton. On this recording, he has compiled ten movements from J.S. Bach’s Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin.
In addition to the considerable challenges posed by the double bass performer of Bach’s cello suites, one must also contend with an enormous amount of double, triple and quadruple stops as well as a denser, more polyphonic texture in the Partitas… Charlton endeavors to play everything that Bach wrote without removing notes from the chords. The transpositions that he chose work in making the music lay as well as possible on the bass…
At the peak of this CD is the Ciaccona from the Partita no. 2. This movement, which is one of the most beautiful in Bach’s unaccompanied string oeuvre, lasts for over seventeen minutes, and it is quite simply an inspiring experience to hear it performed on this recording. For those interested in attempting this piece for themselves after hearing Charlton’s performance, he has published his own edition of the Partitas, including the Ciaccona, available through Lemur Music.
While violinists and those who know this music well may have a difficult time adjusting to the different tessitura and texture of the double bass sound, the astonishing fact remains that Charlton is playing this music at all, let alone with good intonation, a lovely sound, and musical conviction.”
Martin Perlich of KCSN radio, said of Frederick’s new CD:
Lemur Music in San Juan Capistrano, CA featured Mr. Charlton as soloist for their open house in 2004. The following is the review that was posted on their website:
“Frederick Charlton graced the stage for a set comprised of his 30 years dedicated to transcribing Bach Partita's for the unaccompanied violin to the double bass. Many pieces from his recent CD, Bach on Fire were performed with an element of grace and precision that reinforced Frederick's arco ability. There was a silence that took over the crowd as he weaved his way through a repertoire of compositions he has dedicated his life to perfecting. Frederick went into great detail in explaining certain hurdles he had to overcome in transposing and perfecting these great works. It was a phenomenal experience to see this master in action.”
Martin Simpson, founder of the South African Bass Collective, has had information about the CD Bach on Fire on the Breaking News portion of their website for over a year now. This is how Mr. Simpson begins an interview with Frederick, that can also be found on the website:
“Joe McNally, Artistic Director at the Hutchins Consort, recently sent me Double Bassist, Frederick Charlton's (CD) Bach On Fire which features ten of the
nineteen Unaccompanied Violin Partitas performed on Double Bass.
This work is, in a word, astounding.”
At a recent International Society of Bassists convention where Frederick was a featured soloist, Tom Knific, President of the convention and Professor of Double Bass and Director of Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University said:
"Frederick Charlton is a man on a mission, bridging repertoire and instrumental demands in a remarkable manner. His fond regard for the past and vision for the future of the double bass is inspiring."
Pam Kragen, reviewer/writer for the Southern California publication North County Times in the April 20th, 2005 edition, wrote:
“Frederick Charlton, a contrabass player and composer from Santa Ana, has been traveling the world for nearly 30 years performing his contrabass arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for Violin. And now he has recorded the epic 17-minute piece --- or more accurately, he has finally mastered it.
One of 10 tracks on his new CD Bach on Fire, the Chaconne has been such an inspiring and challenging work for the musician that Charlton has recorded it on each of his three CDs. The third time seems to be the charm in this case, as Charlton's rendering of the ever-shifting piece is subtle, hypnotic and graceful. And his experience with the 10-movement CD invests it with such precise musical detail that it seems to pour directly through the instrument from his soul.
The rest of the cuts on the CD are contrabass cuts of movements from Bach's Violin Partitas No. 1 through 3. The Partitas become mournful and serene in the deep, reflective tones of the contrabass. Most rewarding are the lilting Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita No. 3, and the emotional Sarabande and Double from Partita No. 1.”
From the South African Bass Collective CD Reviews: Dr. Kai Horsthemke, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa/ March 2006
“‘Bach on Fire’ is a 10-movement ‘suite’ compiled, arranged and performed by American concert bassist Frederick Charlton, consisting of his favourite selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s three ‘Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin’. The partitas and sonatas for solo violin have in the past been arranged for a wide variety of contexts, from solo instrument (lute, guitar) to full symphony orchestra. According to the liner notes, Charlton began working on the partitas when he was a teenager and over the next thirty-plus years performed all of the various movements to critical acclaim. The present versions, arranged for contrabass, are an octave and a fifth to an octave and a sixth lower than the original. Sacrilege? Hardly: Bach himself is known for constantly revisiting his canon and for arranging various movements for other solo instruments, in lower keys – in some instances a full two octaves lower than the original violin version.
Belying the album title, ‘Bach on Fire’ begins in a slow, low, smouldering way with the Sarabande from Partita # 1. With the same partita’s Double, the tempo picks up, and the harmonic and thematic movement becomes – to the uninitiated listener – more recognizably ‘Bach’. By the third cut, Giga from Partita # 3, the instrument is certainly ‘on fire’. Charlton negotiates the tricky progressions with ease and dexterity – but he allows himself and the listener to ‘breathe’ in between the arco flurries of notes, which magnifies the enjoyment. Partita # 2’s Sarabanda has the opening piece’s gravitas, a darkly gorgeous tune. Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita # 3 will be recognizable to many, a playful excursion. Allemanda takes things a notch down in terms of tempo, but up in terms of register. Charlton skillfully explores the upper ranges of the instrument, without the result ever sounding strained or forced. What is remarkable is that Charlton does not attempt to make the bass sound like a (necessarily clumsy) violin or even like a violoncello. He has adapted the pieces for bass – which is to say he manages to bring the bass’s many charms to bear on the tunes, in a fascinating kind of cross-fertilisation. Double, from the same partite as Allemanda (Partita # 1), is ‘up’ in terms of both tempo and register – and still the instrument sounds like a bass. Menuet I & II (Partita # 3) begins with daring, startling double stops – Bach has never sounded so modern! The 17-and-a-half minute Ciaccona (Partita # 2) is, in some ways, the centerpiece of this collection, an immensely demanding piece that is rich in moods and textures and which Charlton negotiates with astonishing aplomb and – importantly – feel: a captivating performance. Partita # 3’s Loure gently eases the listener into a state of wistful longing – an appropriate ending to a beautifully performed and compiled suite that is equally suitable as a backdrop for a Sunday morning breakfast-in-bed with your lover or for meditative/ reflective immersion. A stunning achievement!”
Also from the South African Bass Collective CD Reviews: Nippy Cripwell, well known S.A Double Bassist:
“Frederick Charlton has compiled a vast ten movement “Suite” of his favourite selections from the famous 3 “Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin” by Johann Sebastian Bach’. This is the culmination of some 30 years work of transcription and performance; a monumental undertaking.
From a Bass playing perspective it is enlightening to hear these Bach compositions performed so ably on the instrument. The technical challenges posed in playing Bach are extreme; difficult interval leaps, complex harmonic progressions, double stopped passages. Intonation is so crucial to clearly distinguish the harmonic movement in Bach. The sound on the Bass must be kept light and nimble to prevent the music from sounding ponderous. It is difficult enough on an instrument tuned in fifths; it is compounded on a Bass (tuned in fourths). Added to this is the physical endurance and concentration required. Some of the movements are long (Ciaccona from Partita No. 2 is 17.30.)! All these challenges emphasize the heights Mr. Charlton’s performance has achieved.
Frederic Charlton is critically acclaimed, and rightly so. Bach’s music is sublime though not always easy listening. Make an effort to listen to ‘Bach on Fire’, the music will open your mind and the Bass playing will open your perception of performance possibilities.”
From a review in Double Bassist Magazine (UK):
“If you’re looking to fuel the debate on whether violin works should be transcribed for the bass, Bach on Fire is excellent discussion material…His accurate transcriptions are performed with excellent intonation…(Frederick) Charlton has proved that it is technically possible to perform these superb works on the double bass.”
Famed contrabass soloist and educator Bertram Turetsky said:
“With Mr. Charlton’s CD Bach on Fire and subsequent publishing of the Unaccompanied Violin Partitas of J.S. Bach, Frederick has single-handedly raised the bar in solo bass performance for the new millennium.”
In 2007 Julia G. Rivera at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County presented the internationally renowned exhibit, “The Mysterious Bog People”, that ended September 9. For the celebration of the final days of this major exhibit and to toast its safe journey to Vienna, the Museum provided a unique live musical experience in the Grand Foyer before and after tours of the exhibit.
“We chose Frederick A. Charlton, Contrabassist, to entertain by the “Dueling Dinos.” The beautiful pure sound of his expert playing gathered a large crowd and rifted through the Foyer, almost with a haunting quality. People were intrigued, not typically seeing the bass as a solo instrument, and Frederick was particularly engaging.
We found Frederick to be not only an extremely accomplished performer, but also to be very knowledgeable in the era of Bach – many museum goers approached him between pieces to speak with him about the music, adding to the interactive experience of the day.
We are inviting Frederick Charlton back next year to once again entertain our guests. I highly recommend Mr. Charlton for any upcoming event, and to appeal to any age audience.”
Reviewer for the Italian Publication "Musicherie" Vito Domenico Luizzi said of Mr. Charlton's CD Bach on Fire (Translated from Italian),
"Frederick Charlton's CD Bach on Fire is extremely well made. Consisting entirely of Bach Unaccompanied Violin Partitas (including the Chaconne), it is very commendable… Great technique and clean sound. A perfect, impeccably intelligent approach to these works... A sweet and yet grand sound. I have finally found a truly fine contrabass CD that is quite different from the rest!"
11) Mr. Charlton, in publishing the first-ever, sheet-music version of the Bach unaccompanied violin partitas for double bass, did you have to make many changes? Do you think this “experiment” (the sheet-music and your first cd) has gone well?
I’m very happy with the results.
I had to make many changes to the original violin versions to make them work on bass. When transcribing chords written for an instrument tuned in fifths to an instrument tuned in fourths (as with guitar or bass), sometimes a note has to be added.
12) Mr. Charlton, you have your own publishing company don’t you.
Can you tell us where your works are available?
Yes I do. The pieces I have composed or arranged that feature a solo contrabass are all available online at www.lemurmusic.com
13) I’ve no more “intelligent” questions for you (if the previous
Ones were intelligent)!! Do you have anything more to add? And thanks a lot for your kind response to my questionnaire.
Vito, I’ve enjoyed this interview as well as our other correspondence through the last few years. You have a terrific website!
Please let your readers know that I am available for
• Master Classes
Frederick Charlton can be contacted as follows:
714-838-3415 (phone - U.S.A.) 714-273-5526 (cell)