"I am enormously pleased that the world has finally discovered a very important composer in M. Weinberg. His great colleague, friend and supporter Dmitri Shostakovich would have been enormously pleased as well. I sincerely hope that Weinberg’s musical legacy will attract many more interpreters.For me personally, the treasure trove of his compositions (unrecognized by many) is a source of constant excitement and inspiration.” [Gidon Kremer]
"Mieczyslaw Weinberg, 1919-96, has suffered for far too long from being considered (where he is considered at all) as being a Shostakovich epigone. But Shostakovich was not of that opinion:
His professional and personal respect for Weinberg ran very deep ... The superficial similarities of style fall away once you get to know Weinberg's music, and a fully formed, wholly
individual composer emerges, one of the most compelling voices of the 20th century." [Martin Anderson, Fanfare]
'Composer of the Week' on BBC Radio 3 celebrated its 70th birthday in August 2013 and Donald Macleod, its presenter for many years, asked listeners to suggest a suitable composer who had not been featured before to mark the occasion. The response was so great that several composers were selected, not just one as had been the original intention, and a series of five one-hour programmes featuring the music and history of Mieczyslaw Weinberg was introduced as 'The Greatest Composer You've (Probably) Never Heard Of' was broadcast from 2-6 June 2014. (I think Louise Farrenc was the most popular, but Weinberg attracted a good number of votes which brought his name to the attention of the programme's producer and presenter.)
Although Mieczyslaw Weinberg is far from being a household name, there are literally dozens of recordings of his works available and Professor David Fanning of the University of Manchester is writing a new biography about his extraordinary life and music. Weinberg's death on 26 February 1996 went almost unnoticed but his musical legacy is being recognised and his vast catalogue of works is performed, recorded and broadcast across the world.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg was born in Warsaw on 8 December 1919 and apparently was an exceptional pianist from a young age. The Nazi occupation of Poland saw him flee to Minsk (Belarus) and the name on his travel documents at this time was changed to Moisey Vainberg, by which he was known until 1982, and a number of recordings also use this spelling. From Minsk he travelled to Tashkent where he composed his first Symphony, which so impressed Shostakovich that he arranged an invitation for Weinberg to move to Moscow, which he did in 1943 and remained there until his death. Weinberg suffered from the anti-Semitism of the Soviet authorities for many years and only the death of Stalin on 5 March 1953, and the intervention of Shostakovich, saved him from being deported to Siberia, having already been imprisoned for alleged Jewish subversion in advocating the establishment of a Jewish republic in the Crimea.
Shostakovich's friendship with Weinberg was important for the two amazingly talented composers who both suffered at the hands of the Soviet regime in one way or another. Despite their problems, both friends continued to write a wealth of great music which was recognised by fellow musicians, even if the Party officials failed to do so. Weinberg was championed by Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostrapovich, to name but three, and Joel Quarrington eloquently describes the music of the two composers: "Weinberg's music often sounds quite like Shostakovich and he embraced the similarity, declaring unabashedly, "I am a pupil of Shostakovich. Although I never took lessons from him. I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood." In turn, Shostakovich called Weinberg one of the most outstanding composers of the present day."
Weinberg was a hugely prolific composer writing in every genre, and composed a range of music for strings, although apparently only one work for solo double bass. From 1960-67 he produced four solo sonatas, two for violin (Op.82, Op.95) and two for cello (Op.72, Op.86) but the year of 1971 saw the composition of three solo sonatas in quick succession - Sonata No.3 for cello Op.106, Sonata No.1 for Viola Op.107 and Sonata for Double Bass Op.108. Although composed in 1971 and published in the Soviet Union a few years later, the work was almost completely unknown until its publication by Peermusic classical (New York/Hamburg) in 2005 followed by two excellent recordings by Joel Quarrington (2008) and Nabil Shehata (2012).
Professor David Fanning wrote the programme note for the first publication of the Double Bass Sonata and kindly sent a longer description for this article.
"The Sonata for Solo Double Bass, Op. 108 was begun the day after completion of the viola sonata and completed six days later on 17 July 1971. It carries no dedication but may well have been composed with Kharkov-born bassist Rodion Azarkhin (b. 1931) in mind. Azarkhin, who edited its 1978 publication and added numerous dynamic markings, had several works written for him, including by Weinberg’s close friend Yury Levitin.
Bassists eager to add to their repertoire need to gird their loins before tackling Weinberg’s six-movement work. Elements of suite and sonata are combined, the quick-march third movement and the sarabande-like fifth (marked f al fine) being the most suite-like in their idiom. Elsewhere the character of the music depends somewhat on how literally the performer chooses to interpret the metronome markings, which are surprisingly brisk in the case of the preludial Adagio first movement (actually quite vehement and energetic in its first half) and the Allegretto second and fourth (each scherzo-like in character). The concluding Allegro molto, also challenging for the player because of its crotchet = 208(!) marking, has much of the structural and expressive weight of a sonata finale.
As with most of Weinberg’s music from this time the sense of tonality is for the most part quite ‘roving’ (Schoenberg’s useful term), though the majority of the movements are loosely anchored to the instruments lowest note, E. The fact that all but one of them are directed to be played without a break reinforces the impression of the work as a single coherent entity.
Weinberg had already given the double bass a prominent role in his Tenth Symphony and Requiem, and he would re-use the third movement of the Sonata with similar dramatic impact in the Largo section of his Symphony No. 21. Special effects are reserved until the finale, where harmonics lend a slightly uncanny tinge to the final page. Pagination in the manuscript indicates that the short fourth check fourth or fifth movement was added after the rest. A number of technically demanding passages were cut prior to publication of the work in 1978. An undated manuscript currently held in Moscow’s Glinka Museum contains a shortened version of the Sonata, consisting of movements 2, 3 and 5 and numbered Op. 108b." [Professor David Fanning, University of Manchester]
Weinberg's Sonata for Double Bass is a great addition to the solo repertoire and deserves to find a permanent place in recitals by every serious bassist. The composer's name on the front cover of the printed edition is also written as 'Vainberg, Moisei Samuilovich' and the commentary about the sources and manuscripts, alongside a very readable and knowledgeable biography and programme note, make this a must for every bassist who is interested in the history and repertoire of our instrument. There are no real tunes or melodies here, which makes little difference to the great quality of the music, but great opportunities to demonstrate the solo, virtuosic and cantabile qualities of the double bass, and also to test the musical prowess of the performer. There are some technical challenges but much of the music is written in the orchestral register of the instrument and anyone who can tackle Bottesini, Misek, Hindemith and Gliere will have few problems here.
In six movements and lasting around 20 minutes, none of the movements outstay their welcome and each has its own strong character and identity. The first is Adagio but with a rather fast metronome marking (crotchet/quarter-note = 84). Primarily in bass clef, the music begins confidently with passages of energy and momentum, contrasted by a more lyrical and second section which is marked crotchet/quarter-note = 56 - more typical of the adagio marking. The second movement (Allegretto, crotchet = 178) is generally fast paced, with episodes of graceful lyricism before the opening theme returns. The third movement has a humour and light-hearted feel which echoes the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. The fourth is a dance-like Allegretto - a modern waltz in all but name, leading into the slow movement (Lento) of the suite. The music is generally slow and lyrical here with a number of high double stops to point and contrast the long melodic lines. The last movement (Allegro molto),the longest of the six, is generally lively and with a strong momentum and drive. The composer adds a few double stops and harmonics to vary the textures and timbres and this makes a very successful and fitting conclusion to the sonata.
Although in six defined movements, the composer marks attacca at the end of each, possibly intending it be one extended movement rather than six shorter ones. Whatever the intention this is impressive music which has much to commend it to the 21st-century double bassist. The music is interesting and accessible, modern but lyrical, challenging but playable, making a great and easily programmable addition to the repertoire for unaccompanied double bass.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg composed 26 symphonies, 17 string quartets, 7 operas, about 24 song cycles, alongside chamber and instrumental music, and fortunately one work for solo double bass. We know little about why it was written but as he had composed for violin and cello before, but possibly he decided to complete 'the set' by writing for viola (Op.107) and double bass (Op.108). Did he have performers or performances in mind or did he simply compose because he had to. No matter, the Sonata for Double Bass exists in an excellent edition from Peermusic classical and with two excellent recordings already.
"It must be the highest praise for a contemporary composer to see one of their works become part of the standard repertoire for international instrument competi...tions. Teppo Hauta-aho's 'Kadenza' is such a 20th-century classic. Written for his final exam at the Sibelius Academy in 1970, the work was a duty piece for the Munich-based ARD competition for the first time in 1985 and has since achieved cult status." [Katinka Welz, Double Bassist]
Described by Klaus Trumpf as "...the most performed contemporary piece for double bass", 'Teppo Hauta-aho's 'Kadenza'is one of those rare works which has entered the standard repertoire during the composer's lifetime but has also overshadowed almost everything else he has written since. He is the most prolific composer for double bass ever, writing more than 300 works for the instrument, from beginner to virtuoso and from one bass to sixteen basses, and at the age of 74 the new works continue to be written and performed. [One of his most recent works 'Trio Poem Basso II for double bass trio was premiered at Wells & Mendip Museum (Somerset, UK) on Sunday 22 March 2015.]
Teppo Hauta-aho was born in 1941 and studied double bass with Orvo Hyle and Oiva Nummelin in Finland, and Frantisek Posta in Prague. He played with the Helsinki Philharmonic between 1965 and 1972, and the Finnish Opera Orchestra from 1975 to 2000. He is an active recitalist, both classical and jazz, has given more than 300 recitals with his duo partner, Carita Holmström, and is at the cutting edge of modern improvisation - performing with leading improvisers throughout the world. Although Hauta-aho came to the double bass late and didn't enrol at the Sibelius Academy until the age of 21, within two years he was a member of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. "On tour with the orchestra...he came across a recording by Czech master Frantisek Posta, and immediately fell in love with his playing. Two years later, in the spring of 1967, a scholarship from the government enabled him to seek out his idol and study with Posta in Prague." [Katinka Welz]
Teppo Hauta-aho has always combined his work as a composer with his life as a performing musician in the classical, jazz and improvisation worlds. All have had a significant impact on his compositional style and Finnish composer Harry Wessman writes eloquently about this: "As a composer, Teppo Hauta-aho has always been his own teacher, basing his technical knowledge on his wide practical musicianship as an orchestral player, chamber and jazz musician. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that he was the jazz bassist most in demand in Finland in the 1970s, and a few of his works are pure jazz compositions. But the compositional techniques and musical means used in the majority of his works originate in an unusual openness for any devices. Along with modern techniques, his source of inspiration include all the previous stylistic periods in European music, impulses from Oriental music and, of course, jazz. His own instrument, the double bass, has profited especially from his rich inventiveness in finding new means to conjure forth unusual sounds from the instrument, and in applying them in an artistically meaningful and striking way."
Kadenza for unaccompanied double bass is Hauta-aho's most popular and performed work and began life in 1969 as a one-page piece written for the composer to play in his final Diploma Recital at the Sibelius Academy. It was completed on 16 April 1969 which is also the birthday of his second daughter, Sonata. "It just came" was his answer about the inspiration for the piece and, with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to see the many musical 'fingerprints' which have appeared in his music since that time. The piece was revised in 1975, increased to two pages, "...to make it better?" suggested the composer earlier this year. This second version was the one I studied in Prague with Frantisek Posta in 1986, who had planned to record it for Supraphon as part of 'The Virtuoso Grancino of Frantisek Posta' alongside works by Gustav Laska, Shostakovich, Frantisek Cerny and others. I also heard Esko Laine play this second version as part of his programme at the 1982 Isle of Man Double Bass Competition and it was probably the piece that had the biggest impact on the bassists present. A third and longer version of the piece was completed in 1984 and is the one that everyone plays today.
Katinka Welz writes: "Once his compositions are released into the wide world, Hauta-aho is open to players' individual interpretations: 'I like freedom - everyone should make their own version, because then people can show their personality through the music. It's very nice in how many different ways you can play 'Kadenza' for example, and it still is 'Kadenza'. Somebody maybe thinks it's an aggressive piece, because "modern music is aggressive." Hauta-aho was slightly taken aback when he heard people interpret the piece that way: 'I haven't written this aggressive music. It was a surprise to me to hear that, so many times, somebody wants to make it a very "ugly" piece. It's possible to play these dissonances beautifully'."
Dan Styffe agrees with the composer's musical intent and writes: "...I believe 'Kadenza' should be played as a melodic, singing, emotional piece. Don't think of it as a contemporary work - just as beautiful and expressive music...this is a piece you will never feel properly 'finished' with. You will always be able to find new details, angles, and variations of sound and colour." [The Strad/February 2014]
Kadenza is a work which combines musical and technical skills in equal measure and is dramatic, rhapsodic and lyrical. It explores a wide range of colours and timbres, employing many 'new' contemporary techniques but always within a musical framework, and challenges so many concepts about the unaccompanied double bass. Why is it so successful? Probably because it is a perfect piece, is just the right length, offers much to performers and audiences alike and always maintains your interest. It demonstrates a composer who was inquisitive about the double bass, someone who was willing to stretch or break the boundaries, and who could see possibilities and opportunities where others can only see problems. It employs every element of the composer's background - classical, jazz, improvisation, contemporary - introducing many new effects which create different sounds and textures which intrigue and entertain in equal measure. Arco and pizzicato styles are contrasted by double stops, tremolando pizzicato, false harmonics and more - all eminently playable but stretching the technical command of many a classical player. The composer had obviously spent many hours experimenting with the performance capabilities and sounds available to the inquiring mind.
Kadenza 'speaks' immediately to an audience, as does all Teppo's music. Not only are many audiences unused to hearing a solo double bass but here they are offered something entirely 'different' - a new and exciting sound world or musical soundscape which emphasises many wonderful capabilities of the instrument. It has been recorded a number of times and there are many performances available on YouTube, offering as many interpretations as there are performances.
Kadenza is an modern 'classic'. I feel privileged to have heard the composer play it many times at Bass-Fest and Teppo-Fest, and also in Denmark and the Czech Republic over the years. I have also studied this amazing work with this amazing composer but, more importantly, Teppo is a friend.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was one of the most important, prolific and respected composers of the 18th-century. He produced a vast output over a very long life, and much of his vocal, chamber and orchestral music is still at the heart of the repertoire into the 21st-century.
In 1761 the 29 year-old Haydn was employed as Hausoffizier and Kappellmeister-Elect by Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy at Eisenstadt. He was required to write music for the Prince and the resident orchestra and a good number of his symphonies and concertos date from this time. Haydn's double bassist was Johann Georg Schwenda, who also doubled as a bassoonist in the orchestra, and the archives from the Esterhazy estate give much information about Haydn's life and duties, alongside writing wonderful music. It includes receipts for the purchase of strings for the violone (double bass) confirming that the four-string instrument was tuned to A, F#,D,A - which we now refer to as 'Viennese' tuning and was also employed by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, J.M. Sperger, Kozeluch, Pichl, Hoffmeister, Vanhal, Zimmermann and many others in their solo works for double bass. The tuning seems to have survived for about fifty years, until the death of J.M. Sperger in 1812, and the knowledge was forgotten for over a century until bassists began to research and perform this great treasure trove of 18th-century music.
We know that Haydn composed a Concerto for Double Bass in 1763, listed in his Catalogue of Works in 1765 as 'Concerto per il violone', which also, tantalisingly, included the first two bars of the theme of the first movement. 'Viennese' tuning favoured the key of D major, with the use of open strings and octave harmonics creating a D major arpeggio or triad, and it is more than probable that Haydn used this tuning. In August 1763 the copyist Anton Adolph submitted an invoice to the Esterhazy estate for having copied 'parts for a new concerto for Schwenda on the violone' which probably indicates that the work was written for and premiered by Haydn's own double bassist, rather than one of the more well know double bass virtuosi of the time.
Haydn's Symphonies 6-8, which also feature double bass solos, date form the early 1760s and were probably also written for Schwenda. There is little documentation about the Double Bass Concerto, apart from the few documents in the Esterhazy archive and the two-bar theme in Haydn's Catalogue of Works, so what happened to this 'holy grail' of double bass works? Was it lost in a fire as many people presume? Is it sitting in a dusty archive waiting to be found? Has it been catalogued wrongly? At the moment no one knows, but manuscripts of long-lost or forgotten works keep being discovered, so we can only hope that this 'lost' masterpiece, and it surely is a masterpiece if written by the great Haydn, even as a young man, will eventually resurface. Many are searching but who will be successful.
My own interest in the concerto began during my studies at the Royal College of Music in the early 1980s when I discovered the existing two-bar theme. At the time I read everything I could about the work and then forgot about it until Anthony Payne's 'elaboration' of Elgar's 3rd Symphony in the late 1990s. Elgar had left much of the music already written, or notes about the scoring and ordering of the themes, and Anthony Payne was able to use these, as well as writing his own additions, to create the symphony which was left unfinished at Elgar's death in 1934. This gave me an idea about the Haydn Double Bass Concerto. Could a composer recreate the work from only a two bar theme?
Admittedly, Anthony Payne had a little more music to work with, but both Tony Osborne and Miloslav Gajdos rose to the challenge magnificently, each writing works of great skill and imagination, and both completely different. Tony's 'Concerto in the Classical Style' is in one-movement and combines the style and feel of Haydn with a modern touch. Miloslav Gajdos has performed and edited many of the Classical concertos and knows the music intimately and instead of writing one movement, he wrote three! His Concerto No.2 'Haydn' bears the imprint of a great double bassist producing music of wonderful character, spirit and style.
I suggested to Tony Osborne that the theme could be changed by doubling the length of the notes, which would give a much faster feel to the music. I subsequently used the theme for a composition competition and was amazed at the response and the quality and ingenuity of many composers when tackling the project. Stephen Latham presumed the theme was for a slow movement and wrote a lyrical and Haydn-esque 'Concerto for Double Bass after Haydn', although the cadenza has much more of a contemporary feel; Christopher Brown created a rhapsodic 'Resurgam - Concertino for double bass and strings' which never states the theme but explores around it and 'resurgam' means 'I shall rise again' which is appropriate for a work which has been unknown for 251 years; Judith Bailey's 'Concerto in the style of Haydn' is in one movement and is both lyrical and approachable with the spirit of Haydn never far from the music; and Anthony Green's 'Concerto in One Movement on a fragment of Haydn' is much more adventurous in terms of style and idiom, and many key changes which create an exciting work of great energy and drive - more Schoenberg than Haydn, but still full of imagination and skill.
The Haydn Project produced some really intriguing works from a range of composers, many of which I have performed with orchestra. Each composer followed a different path, producing works which really have something to say, and one of my next projects is to record all these works with chamber orchestra.
David Eyes (www.recitalmusic.com)
"Early in January 1945, musical circles all over Russia celebrated the seventieth birthday of Reinhold Gliere, Chairman of the Union of Soviet composers, and one of the most influential teachers of modern times. Telegrams from all over the world, from such conductors as Stokowski and such artists as Heifetz, greeted the "Father of Soviet Composers," as he is generally known, for his great reputation as a teacher is apt to overshadow his genius as a composer... When the musical historians of the future review the twentieth century, it will probably be found that Gliere's greatest service to his art was in his work as a teacher of composition. He has always possessed a remarkable power of drawing out the real genius in his pupils and of inspiring them with all the best traditions of Russian music. Such brilliant composers as Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Miaskovsky all studied with him." [Donald Brook, London 1946]
Although Gliere may have been an important teacher he is still a significant and well performed composer today. Not as important or innovative as Prokofiev or Shostakovich perhaps, but much of his musical output is still known and performed into the 21st-century. His 3rd Symphony 'Ilya Muromets' Op.42, a mammoth and extravagant work of huge romantic influences and proportions, is probably his most performed work alongside his four concertos for harp, coloratura soprano, french horn and cello. Double bassists know Gliere for two works - 8 Pieces Op.39 for violin and cello, arranged for violin or viola and double bass by Frank Proto, and four pieces for double bass and piano, composed for the great Serge Koussevitsky (1874-1951).
The names of Koussevitsky and Gliere are inextricably linked in the double bass world. There has been much speculation over the years that Gliere helped Koussevitsky write his Concerto in F# minor for Double Bass, or even composed the work himself, but it is more than likely that any help from Gliere was limited to help with orchestration rather than composition, if at all. The works of Gliere have the mark of a master composer and orchestrator whilst the works of Koussevitsky have the feel of a great double bass player rather than a great composer. When Koussevitsky left Russia to pursue his career, firstly as a virtuoso double bassist and secondly as a conductor, Gliere remained in the newly transformed Soviet Union becoming one of the leading Soviet composers and teachers of his generation - both eminently successful in their own fields.
Reinhold Gliere was born in Kiev, Ukraine on 11 January 1875 and studied at the Kiev School of Music before being offered a place at the Moscow Conservatoire where he studied with Taneyev (counterpoint), Ippolitov-Ivanov (composition), Jan Hřímalý (violin), Arensky and Conus (harmony). He graduated in 1900 and from 1905-8 studied conducting with Oskar Fried in Berlin. One of his fellow students was Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted the premiere of Glière's Symphony No. 2, Op. 25, on 23 January 1908 in Berlin, a work dedicated to the conductor-bassist. In 1913 Gliere joined the teaching staff of the newly created Kiev Music Conservatoire and the following year became it's Director. In 1920 he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Moscow Conservatoire and remained there until his retirement in 1941.
"Gliere has for years enjoyed the high esteem of his fellow countrymen. He holds many honours, including the title "People's Artist of the Soviet Union", the Order of the Red Banner, the Soviet Order of Merit, and so forth. The degree of Doctor of Sciences (Research in Art) was conferred upon him some years ago. He is a man of great intellect and personal charm, and is an important social figure in the greater cities of the Soviet Union." [Donald Brook, 1946]
In 1938 Gliere was appointed Chairman of the USSR Composers Union organising committee, a post he held until 1948, and his many honours and official duties imply a composer who worked with the system rather than against it. At a time when many of his fellow composers were denounced by Stalin for 'formalism', Gliere's name was nowhere to be seen, and he seemed never to have fallen out of favour with the state. From 1948 onwards, as his health declined, he spent much of his time at the Moscow Union of Soviet Composers' rest and recreation resort at Ivanovo, where the older generation tended to gather, and he died in Moscow on 23 June 1956.
Gliere's works for double bass were composed in the early years of the 20th-century and although nowadays are often programmed as 'Four Pieces', they were actually composed as two sets with six years dividing them. The first two pieces were published as 'Deux morceaux' Op.9 for double bass and piano and were dedicated 'A Monsieur S.Koussewitsky'. They were composed in 1902, after Gliere's graduation from the Moscow Conservatoire but before his conducting studies began in Berlin three years later. Gliere and Koussevitsky both lived and worked in Moscow at this time and it is likely their paths crossed on many occasions and the great virtuoso probably asked his friend for some new pieces for his burgeoning solo career, both at home and abroad. Gliere's Intermezzo (Op.9, No.1) and Tarantella (Op.9, No.2) were published by P. Jurgenson (Moscow/Leipzig) and the original typeset publications are the ones still in use today. Both pieces are in solo tuning and demonstrate the great technical skills of composer and performer alike. Gliere rose to the challenge magnificently and it is more than likely that Koussevitsky advised on the technical possibilities of the double bass, producing virtuoso pieces which are still a 'tour de force' even today.
'Deux Pieces' Op.32 followed in 1908, also published by P. Jurgenson, and dedicated to 'A Mr. S.Koussewitsky'. The Prelude (Op.32, No.1) and Scherzo (Op.32, No.2) follow the same pattern as the previous two - a slow and lyrical piece followed by a fast virtuosic showpiece, but both require an advanced and confident technique across the solo register of the double bass. Today the four pieces are usually performed or recorded together as a suite with Op.32 played first and followed by Op.9. They work well in pairs or as a suite and demonstrate how far the double bass had travelled since Bottesini's death in 1889. The great Italian virtuoso had changed and expanded the double bass technique and repertoire more than anyone in the 19th-century, but Gliere's pieces push the boundaries of technical accomplishment even further.
Each of the four pieces has its own unique character and set of challenges and demonstrate the great solo potential of the double bass, both lyrical and virtuosic, confirming a wonderful and successful collaboration between composer and bassist. Written at the start of Gliere's career, these are characteristic pieces of the first rank and are probably more popular today than ever before. It is easy to speculate how great a Gliere Double Bass Concerto would have been if Koussevitsky had remained in the Soviet Union... but we should be grateful that Gliere was inspired enough to produce four amazing pieces for double bass and piano. Great music and still exciting after more than a century confirming that quality and excellence win every time.
Why are some composers remembered and others forgotten? Many are enormously successful during their lifetime but their music gradually falls into obscurity after their death. A number of factors are surely at play here - the quality of the music, but also luck. Composers who are published seem to have a better chance of being remembered, although this is far from a guarantee. Composers who are also performers or conductors are at an advantage as are composers who have many supporters and promoters on an international rather than national scale. The two world wars however had a significant impact on the first half of the 20th-century and whole swathes of musical society were swept away with new generations and a new order filling the vacuum. Many composers were either left behind or forgotten.
Romanian composer Filip Lazar was active between the two wars and was one of the 'bright young things' - at the cutting edge of contemporary music both as a pianist and composer. Luck, however, doesn't seem to have been on his side and although he had significant premieres, performances and publications it seems that his death from tuberculosis in 1936, at the age of 42, and the Second World War both played a significant part in his name and music being gradually forgotten and now mainly consigned to the history books.
Filip Lazar was born on 18 May 1894 in Craiova, Romania and studied composition and piano at the Bucharest Conservatoire from 1907-12 and later at Leipzig Conservatoire from 1913-14. He toured Europe and America as a pianist, introducing a wide range of new music in his recitals, and in 1920 became a founding member of the Romanian Composer's Society. His interest in contemporary music led to the foundation of the Triton society in Paris in 1928, of which he was also chairman, to promote music by the leading composers of the day. Alongside his performing activities Lazar also worked as a piano teacher in France and Switzerland (1928-36), but his true love was always composition and performance.
Lazar was a fairly prolific and successful composer, writing in many genres, and was published by some important publishers in the 1920s and 30s (Durand, Oxford University Press, Universal Edition, Salabert, Max Eschig and Heugel). [Although Universal Edition still list four works by Lazar today, which are printed on demand, their website doesn't even have a biography of the composer.] He lived much of his adult life in Paris, which is where he composed and had most of his success, and many of his works were performed in the city although a number of his works were also premiered in America, including Boston.
The name of Filip Lazar was known to Sergei Prokofiev, also living in Paris at the time, who mentions him in a letter from the late 1930s, although it does also confirm the importance and success of the great Russian composer who certainly knew his own worth. "...Upon my return to Paris I found a contract from the Boston trustees with a "commission" for my Fourth Symphony. I hasten to thank you for this, since I detect your efforts here. But the good Americans have mixed up something. Because as far as I can remember, you and I had said this: touched by the long-standing attention of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to me and my music, I would delay for a year the premiere of this symphony, so it would take place on their anniversary. Brought to ecstasy by this symphony, they would then pay me $1,000 for the manuscript for their library. They got mixed up and sent me a contract for a commission. For you know, you could commission a symphony from Lazar or Tansman for $1,000, but it would be awkward for me to accept such a commission. Prokofiev gets three to five thousand dollars for a commissioned symphony, or simply for the right to announce that "we commissioned this from him." [Selected Letters of Sergei Prokofiev, edited and translated by Harlow Robinson]
Serge Koussevitsky was the link between Prokofiev and the Boston Symphony but it is also interesting to know that Lazar was certainly known to the great and the good and, although not in the same league as Prokofiev, was at least worthy of a mention in a letter and possibly even a commission.
Paris in the 1920s attracted the most talented and avant garde composers, writers and artists from around the world. There was a feeling of great freedom and experimentation, with so many possibilities and opportunities, and it was into this world that Filip Lazar produced his Bagatelle for double bass and piano. Composed in 1924 and published by Universal Edition in Vienna a year later in an edition for double bass or cello and piano, this is a work which has been all but forgotten today. It was dedicated to the great Austrian double bass virtuoso Joseph Prunner (1886-1969), who moved from Vienna to Bucharest at the start of the 20th-century and was one of the leading figures in the foundation of the Romanian School of Double Bass, still flourishing today.
Prunner was always described in glowing terms - Edouard Nanny of the Paris Conservatoire considered him one of the greatest double bass virtuosos of all time - and the combination of a successful young composer in Paris, with the virtuosic skills of Joseph Prunner alongside publication and promotion by Universal Edition ought to have been enough to secure a place in the repertoire for Lazar's Bagatelle. Sadly this wasn't the case and the piece, apart from amongst Romanian bassists, seems to have been forgotten. It was included in the Prunner International Double Bass Competition in Bucharest in 2002, which first attracted my attention, and published in 2011 by Recital Music in a new edition for double bass or cello and piano, and with accompaniments for both solo and orchestral tuning for the first time.
Filip Lazar's music was always imbued with Romanian folk elements, notably the rhythmic energy of folk music and gypsy-like melodies, described in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (Seventh Edition) as "...the ethnic Rumanian element furnishing an exotic element a la moderne." Later Lazar followed the modern trends of serialism and neo-classicism but without losing sight of the peasant music of his native land.
Bagatelle is a one movement work full of great energy and character. The influence of Romanian folk elements are never far away and the music and influences of Enescu, Bartok and Kodaly are also present. Although he wasn't included in the Fifth Edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians in 1954, by the late 1980s Lazar had been added, and Viorel Cosma described his music as "...distinguished by conciseness and vigour of form, a refined harmony that allows for freely treated dissonances and polytonal chords, generally polyphonic textures and a brilliant orchestration, with emphasis on the percussion and on percussive writing for the piano."
Bagatelle certainly has a strongly percussive and rhythmic accompaniment, mainly chordal, producing a work of great energy and vitality with constantly changing time signatures to add momentum and drive. Two main ideas dominate the piece - a strongly insistent interval of an octave with the final beat of the bar strongly accented, contrasting a more lyrical and scalic theme which makes use of the cantabile and expressive qualities of the solo double bass. The polytonal chordal accompaniment provides a strongly independent backdrop against which the double bass projects a direct and impressive solo line, primarily in the higher registers of the instrument, and confirming Prunner's abilities and skills as a great virtuoso.
Although it won't be to everyone's taste, Bagatelle is a work of energy and invention, offering a range of musical and technical challenges to the double bassist throughout the solo register. The style is modern but accessible, the solo part focusing on the lyrical, dramatic and cantabile qualities of the double bass, with the language of the accompaniment being slightly more acerbic and harmonically ambiguous. The music is quite 'traditional' when compared to other works of the late 20th and early 21st-centuries and now may be time for its rediscovery by the more adventurous double bassists of today.
Filip Lazar's Bagatelle is a confident and impressive work and is aimed at the advanced player. A few false harmonics add a touch of exoticism to the mix with an F minor-ish feel, there are challenges aplenty and a strongly independent accompaniment which partners the solo line effectively and with great skill and clarity. Over ninety years old and largely forgotten, isn't it time that Lazar's Bagatelle was given another chance? I think so, and I will perform it in our 'Cerny Remembered' concert in Somerset on 6 September 2015 and slightly extend the theme to 'Cerny & Lazar Remembered'. Anyone else interested?
"A virtuoso violinist, innovative composer and master teacher, Giuseppe Antonio Capuzzi was highly esteemed during his lifetime and favourably compared with the most renowned musicians of his day. He was known as 'the Orpheus of his age' and is listed by historians as one of the most celebrated Italian violinists of his time, alongside Tartini, Nardini, Corelli, Pugnani, Viotti, Rolla and Paganini. So it is difficult to understand why his work is virtually unknown today, apart from his Double Bass Concerto." [Kenneth Goldsmith, 2005]
Capuzzi's Double Bass Concerto has been in print, in one form or other, for almost 80 years, but apart from this work what do we know about the composer? Until recently the answer was practically nothing, but thanks to the pioneering work of Professor Kenneth Goldsmith in America we now know a lot more. His 2005 article 'The Venetian Paganini' in the November issue of The Strad, to mark the 250th anniversary of Capuzzi's birth, was the start in a mini renaissance of the composer's chamber music which has lain unperformed and unpublished for almost 200 years. This excellent article mentions the Double Bass Concerto, also Capuzzi's friendship with Domenico Dragonetti, and makes fascinating reading and is obviously the result of much painstaking research over many years.
Giuseppe Antonio Capuzzi was born in Brescia, Italy on 1 August 1755. He studied violin in Venice, progressing quickly, and from the age of 20 was well known as a violin virtuoso soon becoming an important figure in Venetian musical life. In 1792 he was appointed concertmaster of the Teatro La Fenice, having already worked as concertmaster in other theatres, and his friendship with the great Venetian double bass virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) probably began during these years in the city. Francesco Caffi (1778-1874) describes their perfomance during readings of Haydn's string quartets with the two friends alternating between the two violin parts. Dragonetti also played guitar, violin, viola and cello as well as the double bass.
Capuzzi enjoyed the fame of a virtuoso violinist and composer performing in many leading Italian cities, and in 1796 travelled to London, where Dragonetti had settled two years before and was a mecca at the time for Italian musicians. The pair would have likely played in many concerts and soirees in and around London and one of Capuzzi's ballets was performed successfully in the capital. In 1805 Capuzzi moved from Venice to Bergamo to become concermaster and director of two orchestras in the city, also becoming a fine and respected teacher in a music school set up by his friend Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845), a keyboard player, violist and composer.
Kenneth Goldsmith writes: "With their maturity and vast experience, Mayr and Capuzzi became the driving force in the cultural life of Bergamo...Capuzzi flourished in Bergamo, continuing to play, teach and compose until he was struck down by an apparent stroke or heart attack in the midst of a very spirited concert at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. He died nine days later on 28 March 1818. He was eulogised by musicians and poets in elaborate funeral services...Upon the sad news of Capuzzi's sudden death, Donizetti composed the Sinfonia in D minor 'On the Death of A. Capuzzi', and Mayr himself composed a 'Cantata for the Death of Antonio Capuzzi."
A number of of Capuzzi's works were published in Venice and England during his lifetime, but none, apart from the Double Bass Concerto, have remained in the repertoire until the present day. Professor Goldsmith is certainly changing this state of affairs and has already produced a CD of Capuzzi's op.3 String Quintets with two violas, composed c.1783, is also preparing new editions of many chamber pieces for performance and organised a festival featuring works by Capuzzi at Rice University (Houston, USA).
The only surviving manuscript of Capuzzi's Double Bass Concerto is now in the British Library and is believed to be by an unknown copyist rather than in Capuzzi's hand. It was donated in 1849 by Vincent Novello, Dragonetti's great friend and an executor of his will, who retired to Italy that year. The set of manuscript parts (no score exists) are clearly written and the title page is inscribed "Concerto per il Violone // a uso Di Si. il Kavalier Marcantonio Moncenigo // Del Sig. Antonio Capuzzi." It is scored for solo double bass, 2 violins, viola, cello/bass, 2 oboes and 2 horns - a small classical-sized orchestra of the late 18th-century. The parts include no dates or details of composition or performance, so it could have been written for Dragonetti and performed during the late 1780s or early 1790s prior to his move to London in 1794, or it could have been written for Marcantonio Moncenigo, who was part of a prominent and important Venetian family. The words 'a uso' on the title page of the manuscript, translated as 'for the use of', suggest that Marcantonio Moncenigo was possibly an amateur double bassist and the work may have been performed by him, although it was not dedicated to him.
The concerto is in the key of D major but the first published edition by Francis Baines (1917-1999) in 1938 for Boosey & Hawkes, and still in print, was in the key of F major. The solo writing in the original key is relatively low-lying for a virtuosic concerto, so presumably Baines transposed it a minor 3rd higher to take it into a marginally more soloistic register. Konrad Siebach (1912-1995) also produced an F major version for Hofmeister Edition in 1989. Italian bassist, Lucio Buccarella, was the first to create an edition in the original key, which was published in 1969 by Yorke Edition, which he also recorded with I Musici.
There has been speculation that the Capuzzi Concerto was written for Viennese tuning (A-D-F#-A-F), which was used by Mozart, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Vanhal, Sperger and many others in their solo double bass works during the latter part of the 18th-century. This tuning favours the key of D major and the tuning was popular from about 1763 (the composition of Haydn's Concerto) to 1812 (the death of J.M. Sperger). Joelle Morton writes: "...the predominant key of D major and the regular passagework that exploits the interval of thirds are all things innately idiomatic to the Viennese violone. From a player's perspective, the work lies extremely comfortably under the hand in Viennese tuning, and one might argue it requires less work to play well on that set-up, than on an instrument tuned in 4ths or 5ths."
Whether written for Viennese tuning or standard tuning; written for Dragonetti or Marcantonio Mocenigo; whether from Dragonetti's or Novello's archive; this is still a charming and attractive concerto which is so much more than a student piece. In the 1980s I heard a London performance, but with the bassist playing in solo tuning (key of C major) and beginning on open G, playing everything a 7th higher than written. I'm not sure that Capuzzi intended the work to be played at this height, but it certainly lifted the solo line into a much more virtuosic register, with greater clarity between the double bass and piano, and offers another possibility for bassists.
American bassist, Mark Morton, who recorded the F major edition of the concerto in 2002, beautifully describes the work as "...a 'textbook' classical concerto. The first movement [Allegro moderato] is in Sonata-Allegro form with a clearly delineated orchestral and solo exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda...The second movement [Andante cantabile] is a beautiful cantilena. And the third [Rondo: Allegro] is a rollicking rondo, replete with a minore section in parallel minor."
The concerto is elegant, stylish and full of great charm. The challenges for the soloist are well within the scope of a good intermediate bassist, hence its attraction as a teaching piece, but if the solo part was placed in a higher register this is surely a work which would entrance and entertain audiences everywhere. Playable with chamber orchestra, string quartet or quintet, Capuzzi's Concerto for Double Bass offers many possibilities and opportunities and, lasting about 16 minutes, would be easily programmable and suitable for any audience or occasion.
Over the past 200 years many bassists across the world have made a significant contribution to the development of the double bass - some as performers, others as composers or teachers, or even a
combination of all three. Bassists are nothing if not industrious and entrepreneurial and Ludvig Hegner (1851-1923) was all of the above and so much more, influencing many generations of Danish
double bass players.
Ludvig Albert Hegner was born on 1 May 1851 in Copenhagen and initially studied violin and piano before embarking on a year of study of theory and composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music with Niels Gade (1817-1890), the leading Danish composer of his day. There appears to be no documentation about his double bass studies but Hegner must have been a proficient player quite quickly and played in Folkteatret's orchestra as well as the Tivoli orchestra. From 1884 became a member of the Royal Theatre Orchestra and two months later was promoted to the position of Principal Bass, succeeding Axel Waldemar Lanzky, and remained with the orchestra until 1919.
Alongside his orchestral duties, Hegner also gave many solo performances often playing his own works, or those of his fellow bassist-composers such as Bottesini or Simandl, and after a solo performance in America The New York Times compared Hegner to the great Dragonetti and Bottesini. He transcribed a number of works for double bass, notably the Romance for violin and piano by Johan Svendsen (1840-1911), the conductor of the Royal Theatre Orchestra at the time, which is a work that Mette Hanskov, the present Principal Bass of the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra, has also played on many occasions.
In 1869 Giovanni Bottesini visited Copenhagen and Erik Moseholm wrote about the meeting of the two bassists in Bastidende (No.4, 1991), the journal of the Danish Double Bass Society:
"He (Bottesini) stayed in Copenhagen's finest hotel "L'Hotel d'Angleterre", and as always he had with him on this trip his fine bass, built by the great Italian luthier, Testore. Ludvig Hegner turned up at the hotel to visit the great master and knocked on the door to the presidential suite. Italian words were heard from inside. Ludvig did not understand Italian, but took it as a sign that he should open the door and go in. And there sat Bottesini in the middle of the floor, with a fez on his head, smoking a hookah. They looked at each other. No one said anything... Then Bottesini pointed to his famous Testore bass, as if to challenge Ludvig to play for him. But Ludvig did not dare play to the great master whose presence impressed him so greatly that he just stood still for a moment. After that Ludwig bowed, withdrawing slowly and reverently backwards out of the door which he closed behind him. That was the meeting of the two greatest bassplayers of the day."
Not the most exciting of anecdotes! Obviously the 18 year-old Hegner was totally starstruck by the Italian virtuoso, as most of us would have been I am sure...
During his early years in the Royal Theatre Orchestra Hegner was awarded a bursary grant which he used to travel to Vienna to study with the Czech bassist, Frantisek [Franz] Simandl (1840-1912). Simandl was one of the most influential bassists of his day and the two players struck up a friendship and dedicated compositions to each other. On his return to Copenhagen a report about Hegner was included in a newspaper:
"Royal Theatre musician Ludvig Hegner has returned from studies abroad. Mr Hegner has spent most of his time in Berlin, Dresden and Vienna. In Vienna he has played in several musical circles, among others Prof. Franz Simandl's, where he performed for a number of members of the Vienna Hofcapella. The professor is himself a recognised soloist and has dedicated his latest composition to Mr Hegner as well as presenting him a gift of newly published solo pieces for bass. Mr Hegner has enjoyed and profited greatly from his experiences abroad."
Simandl dedicated his Scherzo Capriccioso Op.72 to Hegner with the dedication 'Seinen lieben Freunde Herrn Ludvig Hegner, Contrabasvirtuos in Copenhagen'. It was published in Part III of Simandl's 'High School for Double Bass - Advanced Course' - a series of 49 original works and transcriptions from some of the leading double bassists of the day. Hegner contributed three works to the series (Legende, Nocturne, Andante con variazioni von Haydn) and also dedicated his 'Fantasie on a song by Franz Abt' to 'Simandl in Vienna' and the two bassists appeared to have had great mutual respect for each other.
In the early 1890s Hegner was appointed the first Professor of Double Bass at the Danish Academy of Music and in 1896 his 'Tutor for the Double Bass' was published by Wilhelm Hansen, with text in Danish, German and English. Although out of print for many years, the tutor includes many studies which are both musically and technically interesting and worthy of study today. Hegner suggests using a four finger system - a semitone between each finger - a tradition which is still popular in parts of Denmark today, and the tutor covers everything from open strings and harmonics with examples of the solo repertoire of the day.
Ludvig Hegner died in Copenhagen on 7 November 1923 and his son Louis, and later his grandson Oscar, both succeeded him as soloist in the Royal Danish Orchestra. Today Mette Hanskov holds the same position.
Ludvig Hegner composed a number of works for double bass, which fall into the catergory of 'characteristic' or 'salon' music, and are typical of music being written and performed at the end of the 19th-century. His music, however, is charming and well written for the double bass with effective and accessible accompaniments which support but never overshadow the soloist. The lyrical style, alongside the technical challenges, produce works which are idiomatic and certainly deserving of the occasional performance today. Whilst Hegner is not in the same league as Bottesini, and his music follows the traditional Czech tradition rather than the virtuosic 19th-century Italian operatic style, these short and accessible pieces deserve to be in print and are part of the rich heritage of music written by leading players of the day.
'Nocturne Op.6' by Ludvig Hegner was first published in 1902 by C.F. Schmidt (Heilbron), as part of Book 8 of Simandl's 'High School for Double Bass - Advanced Course' with the heading 'Meinem Schuler Victor Hausen gewidmet'. In ternary form and lasting around five minutes, it makes good use of the solo register of the double bass, emphasising the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the instrument. There are a few short passages in harmonics thrown in for good measure, and the ABA format contrasts the sonorous opening music (A) with a more rhythmic and animated middle section (B). It uses a four octave range, making effective use of the lower orchestral register on a number of occasions, and offers both musical and technical challenges to the soloist.
The accompaniment on the whole, is simple and supportive with a more urgent and rhythmically interesting middle section, and the piece is typical of many works by Simandl, Schwabe, Laska, Geissel or countless others - all beautifully written but lacking the compositional genius of a Brahms or Dvorak to add that little bit of 'joie de vivre' which all the greatest composers add to their music. Having said that, Hegner's Nocturne is charming and stylish and with enough musical interest to satisfy both performers and audiences alike. The piece is unpretentious and accessible, written with expertise and a great technical insight and has much to offer to the bassist who is able to display more than simply technical prowess. This style of music may be out of fashion in the sophisticated and fast-moving 21st-century, but there is always time to relax a little and remember the composers, players and music of the past, even if only fleetingly. Reflection and remembrance are good things in this ever-changing world and Hegner's music is still worth an occasional performance.
Although the cello quartet dates back into the 19th-century and probably every self respecting cellist-composer wrote for the genre, the double bass quartet had to wait until the early 1930s and, like London buses, you wait ages for one and then two come along at the same time!
Bernhard Alt (1903-1945) was a violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic and composed his Suite for double bass quartet (1933) for his bass colleagues in the orchestra. Probably at their suggestion, or in collaboration, he used two tunings - solo tuning for basses 1 and 2, and orchestral for basses 3 and 4 - which allowed for a wider range of keys to be used rather than the usual G and D major. On the other side of the Atlantic, Arcady Dubensky (1890-1966), a Russian emigre, also a violinist and a member of the New York Philharmonic, composed his Prelude & Fugue in E minor in 1933, completing it at his home in Tenafly, New Jersey (USA) on 16 May 1933. Which was first? Alt or Dubensky? We will probably never know, but what a coincidence that both were written in the same year and both composers were also violinists.
There is no question about the third work written for double bass quartet and that distinction goes to the German bassist-composer, Theodor Albin Findeisen (1881-1936). Findeisen studied double bass with Frantisek Simandl (1840-1912) at the Vienna Conservatoire and subsequently at the Leipzig Conservatoire (1904-07) with Oswald Schwabe (1846-1909). He became Principal Bass in Breslau in 1907, from 1920 was the First Solo Bass with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and in 1922 he was appointed Professor of double bass at Leipzig Conservatoire. He held both positions in Leipzig until his death on 3 March 1936. Findeisen was influential as a teacher and produced a five-volume Method (Der Lehrer des Kontrabass-Spieles), alongside books of studies, and his work is the basis for the modern German school of bass playing.
Findeisen also composed a number of concert works for double bass, few of which are performed today, but his Quartet-Suite Op.26 for double bass quartet deserves to be better known. It was first published in 1934 and is dedicated to 'Meinen Kollegen M. Schultz, W. Kilian & O. Martersteig', three of his orchestral colleagues in Leipzig, and it is assumed that the composer would have played the top part. He follows the model of Alt's Suite and uses two tunings - solo for basses 1 and 2, and orchestral for basses 3 and 4 - and the first edition by Verlag Carl Merseburger (Leipzig) gives the title as 'Quartettsuite fur 4 Celli od, 4 Kontrabasse' and with a duration of about 18 minutes.
Findeisen combined his skills as a bassist and composer to produce four characteristic and characterful movements, described by Klaus Stoll as 'in the tradition of Max Reger', which are inventive and beautifully written. The spacing between the players ensures a clarity and openness, which isn't always the case with bass quartets. Bass 1 plays in high treble clef throughout, bass 4 remains in bass clef, acting as the foundation of the group, and basses 2 and 3 are somewhere between the two.
The first movement (Adagio), in C major, is chorale-like and slow moving, and a slightly more animated middle section contrasts the stillness and stately outer sections. A Menuett & Trio follow (A major/D major) with a syncopated Viennese waltz theme divided between all four players. The lyrical and effective dance-style is succeeded by a more robust and Germanic trio which partners basses 1 and 2 with basses 3 and 4. The third movement (Andante moderato) is a chromatically inspired 'song without words' with much contrapuntal interplay between all four players. A range of moods are explored and there is something of interest for each bass. The movement begins and ends in C major, but Findeisen subtly and successfully sidesteps through many modulations and tonalities to maintain the interest. The last movement, subtitled Humoreske (Allegro), is lively and rhythmic with a strong momentum and drive. The final section, marked Presto (wild), is fast and frenetic pushing the piece to a dramatic, exciting and successful conclusion.
Findeisen certainly knew how to write for multiple basses and there are musical and technical challenges throughout - but this is certainly not for the faint-hearted or timid quartet. Basses 1 and 2 play exclusively in treble clef and require players who are confident and experienced in the higher solo register. Bass 3 tends to drift between bass and treble clefs, with a few harmonics thrown in for good measure, but is primarily in bass clef, and bass 4 is the 'engine room' of the quartet and remains in bass clef throughout and descends to low C, needing a 5th string or extension.
Why the use of two tunings? Was Findeisen influenced by the Alt Quartet? Was there a rivalry between the bassists in Berlin and Leipzig? Probably all are true to some extent, but the result is a work of character and imagination, music which has much to offer players and audiences alike and would make a very good contrast to the bass quartet repertoire, original and transcriptions, performed today.
Findeisen's Quartet-Suite is 80 years old in 2014 and deserves a more permanent place in the quartet repertoire. The use of two tunings may work against it and it requires four serious-minded players who are looking for something a little more challenging than much bass quartet fare, but it is well worth the effort. Lasting around 18 minutes, it would be a significant work in any recital programme and demonstrates many chordal and contrapuntal effects and possibilities of the bass quartet as a genre. Alt's Suite for four double basses is a much lighter affair than Findeisen's quartet, but both have much to say in their own way and in their own idiom. These works, alongside Dubensky's Prelude & Fugue, demonstrate the high level of double bass playing in the 1930s and the pioneering spirit of the bassists to commission and perform these works, alongside the enterprising composers who accepted the challenge. These are pioneering times for the double bass and this early quartet repertoire is certainly worth reviving. Any takers?
Sandwiched succinctly between 'Tap-Dancing' and 'Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay' in the Oxford Companion to Music (Tenth Edition), the 'Tarantella' is described as a lively dance from Taranto in southern Italy: "... In the surrounding country is found a spider, called the Tarantula. The bite of this spider was supposed to cause a certain disease, hence called Tarantism. The malady was supposed to be curable by the patient's use of a particularly very lively dance, hence called Tarantella."
The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes the tarantella as: "... [a] folk dance of Italy characterized by light, quick steps and teasing, flirtatious behaviour between partners; women dancers frequently carry tambourines. The music is in lively 6/8 time. Tarantellas for two couples are also danced. The tarantella’s origin is connected with tarantism, a disease or form of hysteria that appeared in Italy in the 15th to the 17th century and that was obscurely associated with the bite of the tarantula spider; victims seemingly were cured by frenzied dancing. All three words ultimately derive from the name of the town of Taranto, Italy."
Whatever its origins, the tarantella has inspired composers for centuries. Many have used the form in a classical setting from Rimsky-Korsakov, Sarasate, Paganini and Szymanowski to Rossini, Chopin, Saint-Saens and Liszt, to name but a few. Usually in 6/8 time, with a fast moto perpetuo style alternating between major and minor and fast and slow, the most famous examples of the tarantella are Rossini's vocal La Danza, later arranged for 2 double basses and piano by Bottesini, and the finale of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, which is mixed with the saltarello, a similar type of lively dance.
The double bass world has not been excluded from the tarantella and there are at least thirteen examples, possibly more. The most recent is probably by Miloslav Gajdos, composed in 2002 and continuing the tradition of writing virtuosic music for double bass with a cadenza-like introduction, followed by a fast tarantella, an expansive and lyrical middle section, before a finale is played entirely in harmonics. Other examples are by Frantisek Hertl, Giovanni Bottesini, C. Franchi, Frantisek Simandl, Isaiah Bille, Eduard Madenski, Edouard Nanny, Joachim Raff, Louis Winsel, Vasily Zhdanov, Pedro Valls and a 'junior' one by the Hungarian composer, Ivan Patachich.
The most famous tarantella for double bass is by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), the greatest double bass virtuoso of the 19th-century. It is unknown when it was composed but it seems to have been a favourite of the composer who played it many times as a stand-alone piece or as a companion to the Elegia. Bottesini composed much of his double bass music during his student days at the Milan Conservatoire, or shortly afterwards, so it could have been written in the late 1840s or early 1850s. In the key of A minor, or G minor for double bass in solo tuning, it follows the pattern of many other tarantellas and is full of virtuosic panache and joie de vivre, and has been popular with double bassists for about 150 years.
Bottesini transformed the solo double bass probably more than anyone in our history. His background in 19th-century Italian opera played a part as he elevated the instrument into a lyrical and cantabile solo instrument, on a par with the violin or cello, and also pushed the technical possibilities and boundaries to the limit. He explored the entire range of the 3 string double bass, extending the use of harmonics, and veering away from the orchestrally based technique to create a repertoire and standard which has certainly stood the test of time. Bottesini spent almost his entire professional career 'on the road', travelling to every continent at a time when travel was possible but challenging, and was usually one of the star soloists in any concert in which he played. On the whole he played his own compositions, as would almost every self-respecting 19th-century soloist, and was able to influence the standard of double bass playing as he opened the eyes and ears of musicians worldwide to the new possibilities of the solo double bass.
Bottesini's Tarantella in A minor lasts anywhere between about five and six minutes - Bogulsaw Furtok is one of the fastest at 5'01, but most seem to be veering closer towards six minutes. It offers much for the soloist and audience, and is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate a great technical command of the double bass and show what is possible, although the accompanist, after the loud and melodramatic introduction, does take a back seat. The piece follows the tradition of a slow introduction for the soloist before the tarantella theme is introduced, leading into a slow and lyrical middle section before the theme is heard again followed by a fast and furious finale. It is typical of much of Bottesini's more technical and virtuosic pieces making effective use of harmonics and sudden changes of register, with the Italian lyricism of the middle section showing the sonorous qualities of the instrument.
Bottesini's Tarantella is a great audience pleaser and is as exciting to play as it is to hear. It offers many challenges to the soloist and demonstrates the possibilities of the solo double bass. If you are ever bitten by a tarantula grab the nearest bass and start playing - it may very well save your life!
"...His music is tonal and based on fragments of melody. Traces of Sibelius, Nielsen, Shostakovich and Janacek can be discerned. His works are almost always approachable...and are often driven by grand philosophical motivations, eternal verities, conflict and peaceful resolutions. His music shares with that of Nielsen and Sibelius an expression of grand concepts without (in general) presenting an obscure facade to the listener." [Rob Barnett]
"(At his retirement in 1965)...He was then at the pinnacle of one of his most concentrated creative periods, and he had long since been recognized as one of the best composers in the Nordic countries. Fortunately he also lived long enough to see himself recognized internationally as one of the most human and acute composers - a classic of the twentieth century." [Dacapo Records]
Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996) was a prolific Danish composer and successful teacher. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, at the instigation of Carl Nielsen, completing his studies in Berlin, and taught at the Academy from 1950-65 leaving to devote himself to composition. His list of students is certainly impressive and includes Per Nørgård, Ib Nørholm, Bent Lorentzen and Arne Nordheim, amongst many others - all significant Scandinavian composers today. Holmboe composed almost 400 works including 13 symphonies, three chamber symphonies, four symphonies for strings, 20 string quartets, numerous concertos, one opera, a series of preludes for chamber orchestra, as well as much choral and other music. He is considered to be the most important Danish symphonist after Carl Nielsen and his music is described as neo-classical, approachable and accessible, very much of the 20th-century, and influenced by Nielsen, Sibelius and Stravinsky.
Vagn Holmboe is well served on CD with complete recordings of the symphonies and string quartets, and much more besides, although his one work for double bass is only available on YouTube at present in strong, impressive and confident performances by Frank Reinecke (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz6ZWI3H_5w).
Some pieces seem to have been around for ever without really becoming standard repertoire and Vagn Holmboe's Sonata for unaccompanied double bass is a case in point. First published in 1967 by Wilhelm Hansen Edition, it has been in print for almost fifty years but is still on the periphery of the recital repertoire. Having said that, it hasn't gone away either and now may be time for a complete reassessment and reappraisal for the 21st-century. It was composed in 1962 for the Danish double bassist and teacher Preben Fahnoe, although there is no dedication, and Preben once told me that he met Holmboe at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and simply asked him to write a piece for double bass. This Sonata is the result of the meeting and proves the saying "If you don't ask, you don't get".
Vagn Holmboe's Sonata Op.82 for double bass solo is in three contrasting movements, with the outer fast movements playable as written or an octave higher, at the player's discretion. The composer suggests it is played in solo tuning, in complete contrast to Henze's 'S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207' where 'the author begs his colleague bass players to play the piece in this normal tuning', by which he means orchestral tuning. Each player should decide which tuning they prefer and would an audience know it was in the 'wrong' tuning? I very much doubt it...
The first movement (Praeludium) is marked Andante and the opening theme or motif is also shared with the last movement, though much slower and expressive initially. Long, lyrical melodies in the orchestral register, allied to effective and gentle syncopations, emphasise the sonorous and rich sound of the solo double bass. The opening theme is heard three times, but developed slightly differently on each repetition, with the third building to a strong climax before slowly descending in depth and dynamic, with a gentle and simplified opening theme to end. The composer introduces several brief passages in harmonics, effectively to contrast the melodic material in a much lower tessitura, but nothing to challenge the technique of the bassist.
The second movement (Intermezzo - Con modo) contrasts pizzicato and arco melodies beautifully, offering the soloist many opportunities to create a wealth of tonal and timbral colours. The opening pizzicato motif recurs as a unifying feature, with more lyrical and slow moving arco melodies usually in a higher register. Although only 31 bars in length, the movement is a beautiful and expressive piece which could have a life outside the sonata.
The finale (Allegro) is in 6/8 time, echoing the opening theme of the first movement but in a more rhythmic and energetic style. There is momentum and drive here, almost all in the orchestral register apart from a few simple harmonic interludes, acting as a contrast as before. This movement might benefit from being played an octave higher, placing the music into a more soloistic register, although the harmonics should remain at their original pitch, and the energetic style and impetus of the movement brings the sonata to a lively and successful conclusion.
Why hasn't this piece become part of the standard repertoire? I would suggest that its generally low tessitura works against it and it could be described as a 'student' piece. When bassists have spent hundreds or thousands of hours developing a technique throughout the solo register of the double bass they seldom want to play something that could almost be described as a lyrical orchestral bass part. However, I think here is a piece which would really reward the bassist who can add more than simply technical prowess to a performance. A player with a wealth of tonal colours and great musical insight at their disposal would really bring it to life. Possibly playing the first movement as written but the Finale an octave higher, to add a dramatic and more virtuosic conclusion, would create a work which challenges and entertains in equal measure.
Vagn Holmboe's simple and stark musical vocabulary won't be to everyone's taste, but I think this is certainly worth a second look. It lasts less than ten minutes, so would be easy to programme and would make an effective contrast to the music of Bottesini, Koussevitsky and Hindemith, demonstrating a different sound world for an audience. The 21st-century may be the time to breathe new life into a work which is over fifty years old and certainly deserves another chance.
"If music were a part of man's everyday life, as it should be, there would certainly be less aggression and much more equality and love on Earth; for music is a... means of communication and understanding, a means of reconciliation." (Hans Werner Henze)
S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207: Recordo per un contrabass solo (San Biagio, August 9, 12.07pm: A Remembrance for Solo Double Bass) is a modern work of great simplicity and clarity but also brimming with lyricism and beauty. Lasting around six minutes and written for the professional bassist, the music explores many facets of the solo double bass offering a wealth of musical and technical challenges for the contemporary player.
S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207 is dedicated to Dieter Lange, a bassist with the Zurich Opera and also Professor of Double Bass at the Academy of Music in Lucerne, but there appears to be no documentation to confirm whether Lange commissioned or performed the work and Rolf Wallin writes that Bjorn Ianke (1948-2002) gave the premiere in May 1982. The published edition gives the year of composition as 1977, but the composer's biography suggests it was written later, during the course of the 4th Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte Festival in 1979, a festival Henze had founded Montepulciano (Italy) in 1976. There are several theories about why or how it was written, adding to the interest and mystery of the work, which the composer could easily have corrected if he had written a programme note, although I'm certain the truth is much simpler than the many theories.
Bassist Tom Peters writes in the LA International New Music Festival 2013 brochure: "This is one of my favorite pieces to perform, but the rather enigmatic title posed a mystery. I knew that one of the main cultural sites of Montepulciano is the gothic Tempio de San Biagio, but that was only one piece of the puzzle and not much of a clue. It was not until one of my students, who was born and raised near Montepulciano, helped solve the mystery. Between the 9th and 12th of August the Earth passes through the tail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, causing the Perseid Meteor Shower — one of the most spectacular lightshows the night sky has to offer. The evening of August 9, 1207 had a particularly intense meteor shower. The residents of Montepulciano are said to have been so terrified by the Perseids that they began to see signs and visions of angels coming down out of the sky. It is this remembrance of fear and wonder that Hans Werner Henze captures so eloquently in S. Biagio 9 ore 1207."
Milo Fultz in his 'Analysis of Hans Werner Henze's 'S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207', published on 3 July 2014 suggests another version: "In my research on analyses of the work, I found a few models for what the piece might mean, but found one which piqued my interest. In John Rockwell’s New York Times article regarding a concert from Tanglewood Festival’s Contemporary Music concert, he says: “Mr. Henze's ''S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207'' (1977) for solo bass is an elegy for a departed friend. It makes a mysterious, sad, elusive farewell...”
There is a lot of support in looking at this piece as an elegy and not only through possible interpretations of the music, but also in the subject matter presented by the title. The temple of San Biagio in Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy is a Renaissance Greek church that was built around the year 1000 and reconstructed in the mid to late 1500’s. It was built on the site of an older pieve (a church from the middle-ages) that had been dedicated to St. Mary and later St. Blaise, which is where the name Biagio comes from. St. Blaise was a bishop from the 3rd and 4th century in historical Armenia with a unique story:
His holiness was manifest through many miracles: from all around, people came to him to find cures for their spirit and their body; even wild animals came in herds to receive his blessing. In 316, [the governor]...arrived...to kill the Christians [and] arrested the bishop. As he was being led to prison, a mother set her only son, choking to death of a fish-bone, at his feet, and the child was cured straight away. Regardless, the governor, unable to make Blaise renounce his faith, beat him with a stick, ripped his flesh with iron combs, and beheaded him.
Needless to say, his death was unexpected and heartbreaking, probably leaving many in his town grief-stricken. This temple, dedicated to him, may have evoked some of these feelings in the composer, consciously or subconsciously, and could have steered his work in a way that reflected the grieving process. Before we begin let’s establish a couple of ideas: that this work represents one person’s experience, and that this experience can be described using the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of the grieving process. Lets explore these ideas and how they fit in with our analysis."
Milo Fultz then describes the piece in relation to the five stages - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - which is certainly a unique theory and adds to the mystery of the piece.
Jules Langert (In Praise of Henze: San Francisco Classical Voice) provides a third theory: "San Biagio 9 agosto ore 12:07 (1977) commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. A single motive effectively unifies its separate melodic strands, an introspective fantasy played imaginatively and expressively by Richard Worn." This theory is plausible as the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, but I wonder if the composer would have written more about this if it had been the inspiration?
Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin writes in his excellent programme notes for Bjorn Ianke's CD 'The Contemporary Solo Double Bass': "S. Biagio 9 Agoste ore 1207 - ricordo per un contrabasso solo (1977) came into being due to rather amusing circumstances. Henze sat at a table in a cafe next to the San Biagio church in Montepulciabo, Italy, where he led a music festival. A man with obvious teutonic origin entered the cafe, with a sad expression on his face. Hense started a conversation with the many, who turned out to be a double bass player. The reason for the depression was simply that he had no double bass music that interested him at the time. Sitting at the cafe table, Henze then wrote this piece in a few hours. The title refers to the place, date and time when he put down the last double bar. However, the piece was not performed in concert, neither by the double bass player in question or anybody else, until Bjorn Ianke premiered it in May. 1982."
My own theory, based on no evidence at all only instinct and common sense, is that the composer was probably having a drink or two in the town square in Montepulciano on 9 August and was inspired to write the piece because of the beautiful and relaxed surroundings. A bassist may have previously asked Henze to write something for the instrument, or the idea simply came to him, and he started or ended the composition at 12.07pm. The composer includes the words 'remembrance' in the title, so memories of a happy time could be possible, or he was remembering the departure or death of a good friend... Many ideas for such a short piece of music but in the great scheme of things it probably doesn't matter what inspired the composer. As bassists we are grateful that a composer of international repute and renown composed for the instrument.
S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207 has probably one of the most unusual titles ever conceived. It is in one extended movement and appears to have no traditional form, but is still convincing and coherent, with a strong architectural shape and momentum. Henze explores the entire range of the instrument, with a number of effective double and triple stops, although the closing bars of the piece will test the technical prowess of many a bassist - a series of minor triads, towards the end of the fingerboard, but interspersed with lower notes to add to the challenge.
Beginning Adagio (crotchet = c.60), the music is generally slow, even the more animated sections still have space within the momentum. The opening theme is based around the notes of a whole tone scale beginning on C, and the same notes end the work - a recollection or remembrance possibly - but now two octaves higher in harmonics and played pppp diminuendo. The composer '...begs his collegues bass players to play the piece in normal tuning" - indicating that he wanted a specific sound and timbre and by 'normal' tuning he means orchestral tuning. There are many schools of thought about double bass tunings - orchestral, solo, Viennese, 5ths - and players should decide which tuning is best suited to their playing and performance. Henze was dogmatic about the tuning used for his Double Bass Concerto so he certainly knew his own mind and what he wanted. Vagn Holmboe's Sonata Op.82 for unaccompanied double bass is the exact opposite and the composer wanted the piece to be played in solo tuning. The double bass world is never dull...
Although the work is barred, it still has a very free and rhapsodic feeling and overall the lyrical possibilities of the double bass are exploited throughout the range of the instrument. Henze extends the dynamic range from ffff to pppp, and offers both musical and technical challenges in a work of great musical worth and imagination. He doesn't write thousands of notes but each one seems important and just right - confirming a composer at the height of his powers and someone who certainly accepted the double bass as a solo instrument in it's own right.
S. Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207 is a remarkable and beautiful work and has rightly taken it's place in the solo repertoire. It offers much to the contemporary bassist who has both musical and technical skills in abundance and at around six minutes is easy to programme and doesn't outstay it's welcome. A great addition to the repertoire
A Sinfonia Concertante is neither a concerto nor a symphony but an amalgam of the two. Usually with two or more soloists and developing from the concerto grosso of the Baroque era, it saw its heyday in the Classical age culminating in Mozart's magnificent Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra in E flat makor K.364. The viola part uses a semitone scordatura to create a more brilliant sound, reminiscent of the tuning used to vary the tonality of a number of double bass concertos written for Viennese tuning which favour the key of D major. Other notable examples of the Sinfonia Concertante are by Mozart (Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon), F.J. Haydn (Violin, Cello, Oboe, Bassoon), Leopold Kozeluch (Mandolin, Trumpet, Double Bass, Piano), J.C. Bach (Violin, Cello) and Carl Stamitz (Violin, Viola, Cello), and it wasn't until the 20th-century that the form was taken up again by composers such as Walton, Prokofiev, Enescu, Martinu and Milhaud. Probably the most popular and performed Sinfonia Concertante for double bass is by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. Scored for two soloists (viola, double bass) and orchestra it has been recorded many times, published in a variety of editions, and has rightly taken its place in the standard solo repertoire offering few challenges for either soloist.
Karl Ditters was born in Vienna on 2 November 1739 and studied violin from an early age. In 1751 he was hired as a violinist in the court orchestra of Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen but, when the orchestra was disbanded a few years later, returned to Vienna and in 1761 he was engaged as a violinist with the Imperial Theatre Orchestra. In 1765 he became Kappelmeister for Bishop Adam Patachich of Grosswardein near Pressburg (now Bratislava) and had an orchestra of 34 musicians at his disposal. In 1773 he was enobled and the name of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf is the one by which he is known today.
It is generally believed that Ditterdorf composed his three solo works for Pischelberger, placing their date of composition around the last years of the 1760s, but this is speculation and there are no manuscripts or written evidence to confirm or deny it. The only existing manuscript copy of the Sinfonia Concertante, which has survived thanks to Johann Matthias Sperger (1750-1812) and his collection of double bass concertos, is a set of parts produced by an unknown copyist and now held in the Landesbibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Schwerin). Although today we know the work as Sinfonia Concertante the manuscript describes the piece as 'Sinfonia in D. / a / Contra-Basso e Viola Conc.te'. Scored for solo double bass, solo viola, 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings it was probably renamed by an early publisher or editor to distinguish it from the other symphonies and concertos of Dittersdorf. Placing the double bass before the viola in the title of the work is interesting, creating a music which certainly favours the double bass over the viola and the solo parts confirm this idea and aim. In four movements, typical of the early Classical symphonies, the music is lively, accessible and enjoyable with few challenges for either soloist.
Dittersdorf completed his autobiography just three days before his death on 24 October 1799, which tells of meeting 'the great Pischelberger' in Vienna in 1765 and engaging him for the Prince-Bishop's orchestra. Friedrich Pischelberger (1741-1813) was a virtuoso double bassist of the late 18th-century, who probably also played and possibly commissioned the concertos of Dittersdorf, Pichl and Vanhal amongst others. He was a member of the orchestra at the Vienna theatre, under the management of Emanuel Schikaneder, where Mozart's opera The Magic Flute was premiered in 1791 and Mozart's concert aria 'Per Questa bella mano' was composed for Pischelberger and the bass singer, Franz Gerl. David Sinclair, in his excellent programme notes for his CD 'Wiener Kontrabasskonzerte' (ARS Produktion ARS 30 020) writes: "...It is often taken from granted that Pichl's concertos (like Dittersdorf's) were written in the years 1765-1769, the period during which Pichl, Dittersdorf and the bass virtuoso Friedrich Pischelberger played together at Grosswardein. Josef Focht, in his comprehensive book "Der Wiener Kontrabass", points out that although Dittersdorf often praised the 'brave Pischelberger', he makes no mention in his 'autobiography' of concertos written for him..."
The double bass part was probably written for Viennese tuning (A,F#,D,A), which favoured the key of D major, and was used by all the Classical composers writing for the solo double bass at this time, although today is playable in our modern tuning in 4ths in the original key (orchestral tuning) or in the key of C major (down a tone) for solo tuning. It remains in bass clef throughout, without taxing the virtuosic skills of the double bassist and, if written for Pischelberger, it certainly didn't exploit his solo technique as the concertos of Hoffmeister and Vanhal did. The repeated triplet patterns, around the note A (top line in bass clef, or an octave higher), suggest a tuning with A as the top string and, with a lowest note of A (bottom space in bass clef)but descending no lower than this note - all point to Viennese tuning.
Dittersdorf's Sinfonia Concertante is more a pastoral symphony with two prominent solo parts rather than a concerto and the soloists often comment on the orchestral material rather than sharing the themes, but working very much as a partnership. The first movement (Allegro) is lively and rhythmic with a strong emphasis on tonic and dominant chords and effective arpeggio figures before the soloists enter with new material, played in sixths followed by a question and answer section in arpeggios. The orchestral interjections are full of rhythmic energy linking the solo phrases, never straying far from the home key and ending much as it began.
The second movement (Andantino) is scored for the two soloists but with the violins playing exactly the same as the viola, but an octave higher, with a more interesting and elaborate double bass part which alternates between the role of soloist and accompanist. In A major and in binary form, the movement is beautifully lyrical and melodic creating a strong contrast between the opening Allegro and the following Minuet and Trio. The Minuet is rustic in feel, with a simple call and answer theme initially followed by an eight-bar duet for the soloists, and a modulation to the dominant key for the Trio, also for viola and double bass, with effective melodic interest primarily given to the bassist.
The finale (Allegro ma non troppo) returns to the home key of D major with strong tonic and dominant chords between the soloist's interjections and an impression of lively energy and triumph. There are no great hidden messages or meanings here, just good music which is honest and true. The movement on the whole is given over to the two soloists with tutti passages to point and direct the music. Good use is made of unison rhythmic figures, or the occasional question and answer music to add a little extra, and this movement brings the piece to a strong and happy conclusion.
Dittersdorf's Sinfonia Concertante doesn't tax the technical skills of either player and nor the intellect or imagination of an audience, and yet this is still a great piece which is full of energy and high spirits. Not in the same league as Mozart or Haydn, the work is still a great favourite with bassists, whether played in solo, orchestral or Viennese tuning. It has been in print for almost 80 years and I am sure in another 80 years it will still be in print and still loved by bassists and audiences alike