The Prague School of Double Bass, founded by Vaclav [Wenzel] Hause (1763-1847) at Prague Conservatoire in 1811, has reached to every corner of the world through...out its 200 year history. Frantisek [Franz] Simandl (1840-1912,) was an important figure, whose name is still important today, and many of Simandl's students took the Prague School to countries across the world as they were appointed to key positions in symphony orchestras and at leading conservatoires, universities and music schools. Some names are still known today, usually thanks to the publication of solo pieces, methods and technical studies - a number of which are still in print into the 21st-century.
Bassists such as Ludwig Manoly, Adolf Misek, Th.A.Findeisen, Oswald Schwabe, J.E.Storch, Eduard Madenski, Max Dauthage, amongst many others, are names known to bassists to the present day, some more famous than others. Each made a significant contribution to the history of the double bass as players, teachers and composers, and there is a resugence of interest into these players as information and long out-of-print music is easily shared on the internet. For many years only a few hardened enthusiasts had any interest in this part of our heritage, but thankfully things are now changing and accurate information is being collated, researched and disseminated.
Eduard Madenski is a name known to some bassists today, although I doubt many have ever played or heard a note of his music. Born on 20 September 1877 in Vienna, Madenski began his musical studies at the age of fourteen, studying violin at the Vienna Conservatoire with Josef Maxincsaz and theory with Adolf Prosniz and Stephan Stocker. In 1892 he began to study double bass with Frantisek Simandl, graduating in 1898 with the highest honours. The following year he was appointed a member of the Vienna Court Opera and in 1909 became Principal Bass of the Vienna State Opera.
In 1910 his 'Orchesterstudien aus Richard Strauss' symphonischen Werken' was published by Edition Peters (Leipzig), still in print today, which includes excerpts from many of the challenging orchestral works by Richard Strauss which were new to players and audiences during the early years of the 20th-century, and many thought to be unplayable. Madenski and Strauss worked together in Vienna and the bassist was greatly respected and valued by the composer who commented "So gespielt, braucht der Kontrabass die Rivalität mit dem Violoncell nicht zu scheuen, im Gegenteil, sein Ton hat eine edle Männlichkeit, die dem Violoncell fehlt.“ ["When so played the bass has no rivalry with the violoncello, on the contrary, his tone has a nobility that is missing from the cello."]
Alongside his orchestral duties Madenski also played as a soloist, writing and transcribing a number of works for the instrument. He was described as a 'Kontrabass-Virtuose' at his debut solo recital in the Grosser Musikvereinssaal in Vienna on 26 November 1903, receiving top billing above Betty Schubert, a singer with the Court Opera, alongside pianist Rudolf Heidinger. He performed a varied and eclectic programme of works by Frantisek Simandl, R.M. Mayrhofer, L. Roth, A. Simonetti, three of his own works (Pastorale, Souvenier, Reverie), ending with Bottesini's virtuosic Tarantella, which may have been the inspiration for Madenski to compose his own tarantella a few years later. He subsequently performed in Nuremburg, Brixen and Innsbruck and composed and transcribed works for double bass, and was probably the first to adapt and perform Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen for double bass, popular today in new editions of this most iconic of works for violin.
The following years saw Madenski become a member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and also succeed Simandl as Professor of Double Bass at the Vienna Conservatoire on the latter's retirement. Two of his most successful and famous students were Joseph Prunner (1886-1969) and Hans Fryba (1899-1986), and it is likely that Madenski wrote his 'Instruktive Tonleiter- und Akkordstudien' for his students at this time, advocating the use of the fourth finger in thumb position.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra made its first trip to South America in 1922, performing 34 concerts in Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and according to the orchestra's website "...was greatly admired with true southern fervour wherever it appeared..." The success of the tour was followed by a further invitation to tour South America in the summer of 1923, and this time the orchestra played 42 concerts in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Montevideo, La Plata, Buenos Aires and Bahia. The website continues "...this trip, however turned into a nightmare: first violinist Karl Knoll, suffering with depression, committed suicide by throwing himself out of his hotel window; clarinettist Franz Behrends died in Buenos Aires of pneumonia; and on the return trip plague brok out aboard ship, killing several passengers including contrbassist Eduard Madenski. In the presence of deeply grieving colleagues, his corpse was committed to the deep at latitude 22, longitude 20 near the African coastline."
Polish bassist-composer Michal Bylina writes: "...Madenski made a sizeable contribution to the revival of solo playing on the double bass in Vienna, becoming one of the greatest bassists after Simandl. His premature death was a big blow for the double bass school in Vienna..." Barely 46 years old when he died, Eduard Madenski had been a successful solo and orchestral bassist, teacher and double bass composer, and almost a century after his death, his name is still remembered by many double bass historians and activists. The intriguing question is what esle he would achieved had he lived longer...
Eduard Madenski's Tarantella for double bass and piano was composed in 1909, according to Miloslav Gajdos, and was subsequently published by Louis Oertel. Karl Ludwig Nicol in his CD liner notes for 'The Virtuoso Romantic Double Bass' writes: "...His Tarantella is a very difficult piece requiring tremendous technical skill on the part of the best virtuoso of the contra-bass..." and his description is certainly accurate. As a great player himself, Madenski obviously knew the solo potential of the double bass and exploited the technical challenges to the limit. Bottesini's Tarantella is probably the most popular and performed work in the genre today and technically accessible to many, but Madenski's work is far more advanced but also worth the occasional outing and certainly deserves to be better known. Only available in solo tuning and probably still in print but never seen in music shops and only available by special order, it is unlikely that many bassists even know the existence of the work. It was recorded by Yoan Goilav (double bass) and Laurenz Custer (piano) in 1972 and is still available on CD (http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp…), but there doesn't appear to have been any other recordings since the early 1970s.
In one extended movement and lasting around eight minutes, this is a tour-de-force for the solo bassist, even today, and there are technical challenges throughout the range of the double bass with the opportunity to display a supreme command of the instrument and to demonstrate what is possible on the double bass. There are the usual fireworks and pyrotechnics expected in a tarantella, with a beautifully slow and lyrical middle section framing music of great spirit and energy. There are, however, not many musical depths plumbed here, but this isn't what a tarantella is about, and the music is lively, rhythmic, fun and full of virtuosic bravura. The technical demands put it out of reach of most but there are also many nowadays who would encounter few technical difficulties or challenges. It was included on the repertoire list for the Markneukirchen Double Bass Competition in 2005 and the Sperger Competition in 2008, so there is some interest still although there is no documentation to confirm if it was performed at either competition.
Eduard Madenski may be gone but he is certainly not forgotten. I can imagine organising a mini-festival of his music, alongside that of his contemporaries, in 2023 to commemorate the centenary of his tragic death on his return from South America. There may be no gravestone to visit to remember this great player but the music lives on and deservedly so.
David Heyes [10 August 2015]
thanks to prof. DAVID HEYES
The concertos by Dittersdorf, Vanhal and Hoffmeister are the most popular and performed works from the late 18th-century double bass repertoire, and rightly so.... They are well written for the instrument, albeit for Viennese tuning rather than today's tuning, are full of melodic and harmonic invention and offer both musical and technical challenges for the soloist. Although overshadowed by the music of Mozart and Haydn, these composers still produced engaging, elegant and stylish works which have certainly stood the test of time.
Many other composers at this time also composed concertos for the double bass including Pichl, Kozeluch, Sperger, Zimmermann and Kohaut. All were composed for Viennese tuning, the D major-favoured tuning (A-F#-D-A) which died out with the death of Sperger in 1812, but, after decades of neglect and indifference, many players in the 21st-century are reverting back to this tuning to perform these fine works. Obviously the original tuning is far easier to play than transcribing them for today's tuning in 4ths, and there is increasing interest in Viennese tuning, although the old and far-from urtext editions are still very much at the heart of our solo repertoire today.
Karl Kohaut's Concerto in D major for double bass and strings is probably the least known and performed of the classcial concertos. There appears to be little information about the work, when it was written and who it was written for, and the composer is probably the least well-known of all the classical composers who wrote for the double bass.
Karl Ignaz Augustin Kohaut was born in Vienna in 1726 and baptised in St Stephen's Cathedral on 26 August that year. His father, Jakob Karl Kohaut, was a court musician to Prince Adam von Schwarzenberg, but Karl decided to combine a career as a civil servant and musician and by 1778 had reached the position of court secretary in the state chancellery. Although he often performed as a violinist, Kohaut is best known as a lutenist and composed seven lute concertos, on which his limited fame rests today. Keith Johnson writes: "During his travels, and as a virtuoso lute player, Kohaut became familiar and appreciative of the works of Bach and Handel -- the former's cantatas and the latter's oratorios. He was lauded for his facile abilities on the lute. Even Fetis declared the he was the most skillful lute player of all time and that the music he composed for the lute was the best for that type of music."
Christine Genaro accurately sums up Kohaut's musical style and life: "...his career began just as the Baroque period was drawing to a close. Still, he wrote for and performed on the lute—a distinctly Baroque instrument— well into the Classical period...Kohaut seems to have straddled the borderline between the Baroque and Classical periods quite gracefully..." His lute concertos are still performed and recorded today, described as 'fine examples of this genre', especially the Concerto in F major which has been recorded at least four times. Kohaut was not a particularly prolific composer but composed eight masses, twelve symphonies and a range of chamber music, but his life in the civil service obviously distracted him from composition and performance. Karl Kohout died in Vienna on 6 August 1784.
From Haydn's Double Bass Concerto in 1763 to the death of J.M. Sperger in 1812 was a golden age for the double bass attracting many leading composers of the day to write for the instrument. Amazing performers such as Friedrich Pischelberger (1741-1813) either commissioned or performed many of these concertos, or was the catalyst for the composer to write a solo work for such an outstanding performer, but whatever the history, we have inherited a veritable treasure trove of works for solo double bass and the quality and worth of many of these works is only now being rediscovered.
Karl Kohout's Concerto exists in two sources, an undated set of parts probably made by an 18th-century Viennese copyist and preserved in Vienna in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and from a private collection in Bratislava. The Vienna source is entitled 'Concerto per il/Contrabasso/Violino Primo/Violino Secondo/e/Basso/Del Sigr Kohaut'. It is probably the shortest of all the Viennese concertos, lasts around ten minutes without cadenzas, and is also written for a 5-string double bass (violone) tuned to A, F#, D, A, F natural, although the lowest notes are only used in the slow movement. It is the least virtuosic of all the concertos from this period, remaining almost exclusively in bass clef and in the orchestral register of the instrument, with no exploration into the harmonics or higher register.
Composed in D major, which favours Viennese tuning, the first movement (Allegro), in the home key, is lively and rhythmic with a simple but effective opening theme, a rising D major scale answered by broken thirds. Kohaut's harmonic sense is certainly adventurous and at the end of bar 3 there is a brief modulation to G major, quickly reverting back to the home key, and there are a few nice chromatic twists before the theme is reintroduced by the soloist. The movement contains effective broken chord passagework, exploting the Viennese tuning but which can be more of a problem on the modern double bass tuned in 4ths. The music is simple and effective, honest and well written for the 18th-century double bass with few challenges for all but the most elementary player.
The second movement (Adagio) is in D minor, the tonic minor, with a striking rhythmic drive and momentum. Although the musical invention is slight and the soloist plays scale passages and harmonic or chromatic filigree for much of the time, the music is still effective and contrasts the outer movements, creating a sense of tension and drama within a concerto which is primarily happy and upbeat.
The third movement (Presto) returns to the home key of D major with a four-bar theme of broken chords used as a unifying device throughout. The soloist has no great melodic material to play but, as in previous movements, makes effective use of the arpeggio figures playable across the strings in this tuning, and ends simply and effectively retaining the geniality and bright approach of the two faster movements.
Kohaut's Concerto in D major is not the best or most exciting of the 18th-century concertos but does have a simple elegance and charm. The technical challenges are not great, which probably explains why it hasn't been recorded by the leading soloists today, and the musical material is a long way from Haydn or Mozart, but this is still worth an occasional performance and would make a great concert-filler and contrast alongside a Vanhal, Dittersdorf or Hoffmeister concerto.
The only edition in print is edited by David Young, published in 1996 by Yorke Edition, but Philip Albright in his 1969 doctoral thesis 'Original Solo Concertos for the Double Bass' quotes an edition by Rudolf Malaric, published by Doblinger in Vienna but with no date. The Malaric edition is for solo tuning and is in A major, a 5th higher than the original with the solo part in G major, but it is unclear if this was ever published. Albright writes that Kohaut was "Austrian of high court position with whom music was a sideline...Style is typical of the eighteenth century common practice."
An unpublished arrangement by Miloslav Gajdos retains the key of D major but writes the solo part in C major for solo tuning. Although far from urtext and with numerous changes, which would horrify many in the academic bass community, this is a very playable and effective edition which is written with the player in mind. Prof. Gajdos understands how the modern instrument works and adapts the passages which are a problem for today's tuning, creating an edition which is both player and audience friendly. His cadenzas in all three movements are masterly and idiomatic and, although not for the purists, this is the edition I would favour.
Kohaut's Concerto in D major has been recorded at least twice but remains the least known of all the 18th-century double bass concertos. Although lacking in virtuosity and great musical worth it is still an important part of our heritage and deserves its place alongside the works of Vanhal, Dittersdorf, Sperger and Hoffmeister.
David Heyes [14 August 2015]
thanks to prof. DAVID HEYES
The violin and double bass duo has attracted composers since the time of Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) and the possibilities of partnering the highest and lowest members of the string family has created a wealth of music which offers much to performers and audiences alike. Luigi Savi, Th.A. Findeisen, Adolf Lotter, Tony Osborne, Miloslav Gajdos, John Alexander, Teppo Hauta-aho, David Ellis, Serge Lancen and Frank Proto, to name but ten composers, have each tackled the challenges and possibilities in different ways creating music of great character and invention.
Italian composer Virgilio Mortari is known in the double bass world for several works, primarily composed for the great Italian virtuoso Franco Petracchi. He had two creative bursts of double bass energy in 1966 and 1977, resulting in five works of great diversity and invention, obviously with the virtuosic skills of Franco Petracchi in mind, and adding music of character and style to the growing body of solo works in the second part of the 20th-century.
Virgilo Mortari was born in Passirana di Lainate, near Milan, on 6 December 1902 and studied piano and composition at the Milan Conservatoire with Costante Adolfo Bossi and Ildebrando Pizzetti, subsequently at Parma Conservatoire, where he graduated in 1928. He spent much of his life as a teacher and music administrator, but also composed an impressive list of works and was professor of composition at the Venice Conservatoire (1933-1940) and professor at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia from 1940. He was Artistic Director of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana from 1944 to 1946, from 1955 to 1959 Director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and in 1963 he became Vice-President of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Mortari composed a good amount of music, considering his time consuming administrative posts, including operas, choral music, songs, symphonic works notably concertos for Rostropovoch and Petracchi, and much chamber music. His works for harp and double bass seem to have stood the test of time and the harp pieces are still available on CD. Mortari died in Rome on 5 September 1993.
Mortari's works for double bass were most probably written when he had retired and had more time to devote to composition - presumably his first love, and two impressive works from 1966 demonstrate a talented and skilled composer with a keen eye for colour and texture. Duettini Concertati (1966) is for violin and double bass and is dedicated to Angelo Stefanato and Franco Petracchi who presumably commissioned and premiered the work. In three movements and lasting around 12 minutes, the suite offers musical and technical challenges in equal measure for both performers, resulting in music of great character and spirit. None of the movements outstay their welcome and both instruments are equal partners.
The first movement (Incontro - Alla marcia) is lively and rhythmic, full of nervous energy and momentum, with the sardonic wit and humour of Prokofiev or Shostakovich never too far away. Tonal but modern, the composer writes well for both instruments avoiding the enormous technical and virtuosic possibilities in favour of music which is playable and enjoyable. Mortari obviously enjoyed writing for the violin and double bass and the music displays great warmth, humour and an eye for detail. The slow movement (Elegia - Andante) is essentially a solo rhapsody for double bass which explores the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the instrument. Half the movement is for double bass alone and its slow moving and expressive melodies explore the range of the instrument, also exploiting the wonderful virtuosic talents of Franco Petracchi, before the violin joins in a relaxed and simple counterpoint between the two instruments. A sudden violin cadenza, above an octave drone from the double bass, allows the violinist a moment of glory before the music subsides into a simple and effective ending.
The third movement (Capriccio) is the longest of the three and alternates and contrasts sudden shifts of mood and character. A dramatic five bar introduction, played tremolando and fortissimo by both instruments, develops into chordal and expressive music before a sudden Allegro adds an urgency and propulsion to the movement. The lighthearted character returns, featuring the violin more than the double bass, with its chromatic and modern style which adds character and interest. There is always something to enjoy and savour, each instrument adding something to the mix, and the music slowly develops into a more relaxed but also powerful duet before yet another change of gear. The final section (Piu mosso) is fast, virtuosic, exciting and full of energy and momentum. A short coda of seven four-part chords bring the piece to a loud, dramatic and successful conclusion.
It is easy to see why Mortari's Duettini Concertati is still performed today. It offers much to performers and audiences alike and lasting around 12 minutes is easy to programme. The music is accessible and fun, alongside episodes of great drama and lyrical pathos - a complete Italian opera in 12 minutes? The composer treats the two instruments equally, which is why bassists love the piece, and there is nothing to dislike. In fact the composer liked the piece so much that a decade later he rewrote the last two movements for violin, double bass and string orchestra.
Virgilio Mortari is not the most famous Italian composer but his works for double bass are great additions to the repertoire, helping to keep his name alive into the 21st-century, and confirms the fact that great bassists can inspire composers to write great music.
Thanks to prof. DAVID HEYES
"Early in his career, while teaching at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, Turetzky's life took a change of direction. A friend, a composer, committed suicide at the age of 26. It was thought that the composer despaired because no one would perform his music. This dramatic episode illustrated to Turetzky that modern composers were desperate to have their works performed, and if he wanted to play music on his instrument, he needed to collaborate with them. Along with Henry Larsen, a clerinettist, Turetzky formed the Hartt Chamber Players and sought out the new music of living composers. 'Whatever was written for us, we would play it all. We didn't stick to what was "safe",' he says." [Paul Hormick/Double Bassist, Spring 2003]
This one event completely changed Bert Turetzky's life, but also changed one aspect of the repertoire and direction of the solo double bass for decades to come. Almost single-handedly he persuaded composers to explore every sound, noise and effect possible on the double bass, pushing the boundaries of music/noise to the limit and creating a repertoire which is possibly unique in the history of the instrument. His book 'The Contemporary Contrabass', written in 1974, was described as 'a milestone in the search for new timbres, at the same time futuristic and traditional' and described in great detail the many sounds that were possible on the double bass and was based on much research and exploration in the 1950s and 60s. More than 300 works have been written for him and still at the age of 82 Bert's passion for the double bass is as strong as ever.
Born on 14 February 1933 in Norwich, Connecticut Bertram Turetzky took up the tenor banjo at the age of 12 or 13, he switched to the guitar in high school, having fallen in love with jazz, and then changed to the double bass which he described as '...the core of everything, the glue between the harmony and the wind instruments.' Paul Hormick writes: "...he made a commitment to become a professional jazz bassist. If his playing was not top notch, he had, as he says, 'the energy, commitment, and drive' needed for success. A letter from a classmate, on the occasion of Turetzky's 50th high school reunion says that, of the class, Turetzky 'was the only one who knew what he wanted to do, and went out and did it'."
He subsequently studied at New York University and Hartt College of Music of the University of Hartford and slowly changed direction from jazz to everything else a bassist is asked to do - symphony, opera, contemporary, jazz, teaching and recitals, featuring many of the new works that were being written for him. For many years he combined his hectic performance schedule with teaching, first at the Hartt School of Music and from 1968 as Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, where he retired as 'Distinguished Professor Emeritus' only a few years ago.
Alongside his passion for contemporary music, Bert has also played a wealth of music from the 15th and 16th-centuries. He has transcribed works for every possible combination of instruments, but usually including the flute which was always played by his wife Nancy, and the husband and wife partnership have been fearless in their promotion of music for this rare instrumental duo. The vast majority of repertoire for flute and double bass today was either written for Bert and Nancy, or inspired by them. Bert has an interest in any repertoire which features the double bass and has championed many chamber works which are unknown or have been forgotten.
Bert has composed and transcribed many works for double bass. For some years his interest in the music of Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) was a passion and in the early 1960s he edited six waltzes for unaccompanied double bass by the great Venetian bassist. Published by McGinnis & Marx, the pieces had been completely unknown and unavailable at the time and still in manuscript and this one publication and his subsequent recording in 1975 'Dragonetti Lives!' which featured three of the waltzes, a solo for double bass and piano and a Duo for cello and double bass, probably kick-started the resurgence of interest in Dragonetti's music which is taking flight in the 21st-century. Although Bert Turetzky has spent most of his life playing modern music and creating every possible sound and noise that the double bass can produce, his own compositions, on the whole, are far more traditional and accessible. He has composed a whole range of music for double bass, probably for his own use or for his students, and into his 80s the desire to compose and perform are as strong as ever.
Reflections on Ives and Whittier was completed in 1980 and is scored for 'either Contrabass Quartet, Ensemble, or Solo Contrabass with Self-prepared tape', was published two years later by Elkan-Vogel, Inc. (Pennsylvania), and is still in print over 30 years later. Although recorded twice by the composer, this is a work which deserves to be far better known, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, and is music of great beauty, imagination and atmosphere which really does dispel the notion that the double bass is only an orchestral instrument.
Bert Turetzky writes:
"Growing up near Putnam's Camp, the Housatonic at Stockbridge and the Danbury Fair has made me feel a close affinity to the music of Charles Ives. In 1970 a moving performance of SERENITY (1919) touched me deeply. I found a score and discovered John Greenleaf Whittier's text - The Brewing of Soma.
Soon I began to be haunted by the Whittier text and the Ives song found its way to the piano. Using the text as a springboard for improvisation the work began. The notion of a solo-ensemble piece, in natural harmonics, came to mind in 1974. A rough 'mockup' was made and presented in several concerts. The excellent responses and feedback was inspiring. In a plane back from a Mexico City concert in 1977 I dreamed of an 8-track version. In 1978 the kind assistance of a National Endowment of the Arts composer's grant made it possible to do the studio work properly. The dream was remembered and the work realized."
In 'The Village Voice' Gregory Sandow described the piece "...for one live and several recorded basses, in which diatonic harmonies, changing slowly and seemingly at random in one voice or another, ebb, flow, overlap and blend...At times, as a friend pointed out, the gentle slightly wheezy sound of many basses playing together was like a modest organ in one of the small country churches that Ives might have attended when he was young."
The concept of the piece is remarkably simple, but the effect is mesmeric and gently beautiful and evocative - simplicity is the key here. The composer describes it as 'a random canon', which it is as each player performs the same or similar music but within their own time frame. The dynamics are generally quiet, piano to mezzo-forte, and 'Virtuoso listening is required of the performer(s) to make a free expressive sound, developing well-shaped phrases, and relating one phrase to another and to the other performers or tape.'
The piece is in A major and utilises all the natural harmonics in that key. A slow and effective introduction, played in long notes by one solo bass, sets the relaxed mood of the piece and there are six solos or six accompaniments then to select at random. At the end of the introduction the other players enter at staggered intervals of five to ten seconds and then play one solo and one accompaniment, and are then free to select any of the solos or accompaniments which they feel add to the overall mood or structure of the performance. The composer suggests that solos of 'a restricted pitch range' are chosen initially but as the piece develops to a climax then more adventurous solos could be chosen. The piece should have a beginning, a middle ('an ensemble climax of density more than volume'), and an end. After the piece has reached its climax it should slowly fade away little by little.
'The key to a successful performance is for each performer to structure the solos and accompaniments to what is happening in the piece. If, for example, you hear solos being played and can't hear where and how to enter in a musical way, simply play an accompaniment. If there is too much of either material being "sounded" then listen and enjoy until it feels like time to participate once again.' [BT}
The simplest ideas are often the best and Reflections on Ives and Whittier is a case in point. There is nothing here to challenge either performers or audiences, only a few minutes of gentle serenity and calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the 21st-century, and an opportunity to display a different aspect of the double bass. The music is simple and accessible, lyrical and gentle, and is also a great opportunity for bassists to develop their skills at playing harmonics across the entire register of the double bass.
One musicologist divides the history of the double bass into two periods - BT (before Turetzky) and AT (after Turetzky), which is certainly the case with the 300 or more works written for Bert. His own music, however, has much more of a timeless quality about it - this is music written with skill and expertise, warmth and humanity, and music to be enjoyed and performed. What more can you ask...
Although I had studied in Prague with Frantisek Posta in the late 1980s and had amassed
a wealth of Czech double bass music and knowledge, the name of Rudolf Tuláček was
completely unknown to me until 1994, fifty years after his death. His works for double bass had never been published and the lack of a paper-trail probably resulted in his name not being being
better known in the wider double bass community. The more I researched his life and music, the more I realised what an amazing person he must have been. After Rudolf Tuláček's death in
1954 Jan Kenc, a composer and former President of
the Brno Academy of Music, wrote to his widow: "I liked him very much, because he was not only an excellent and exemplary professor, very meticulous and conscientious, but also an immensely good
person, mild and quiet, who never harmed anybody and who was loved by everybody who met him."
Rudolf Tuláček was born on 25 July 1885 in Jičín, Bohemia, described in travel guides as "the fairytale city of Jičín, with its defining red roof on the city gate, is one of the most picturesque cities in the Czech Republic". He showed outstanding musical talent from an early age and studied violin from the age of six, flute at ten and the following year began his double bass studies. Jičín had a lively and thriving musical life, not only operatic, theatrical and operetta companies performed there, but also some of the leading musicians of the day such as František Ondříček (1857-1922), Jan Kubelík (1880-1940) and Jaroslav Kocián (1883-1950). At the age of twelve Rudolf became a double bassist of the Jičín Municipal Orchestra and in 1901 travelled to Prague to study double bass at the Conservatoire with František Černý (1861-1940). He also studied piano alongside theory, harmony and counterpoint but his studies were interrupted when he father became ill and he has to teach to earn a living. His professor came to the rescue and Rudolf was engaged to teacher musical education to Černý's children. He subsequently graduated in 1907, playing Geissel's Concerto in his public recital, and his graduation diploma stated that his musical talent was "excellent" and his mastery of the double bass was "superior".
For two years he worked in the Municipal Orchestra in Královské Vinohrady, a district of Prague, and in 1909 left for Zagreb (Croatia) where he was appointed solo double bass in the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, also teaching in the city. He soon became well-known amongst music lovers in Zagreb and gave many solo performances, often accompanied on the piano by his wife, performing music by Černý, Dvořák, Geissel, Kukla, Láska, Mišek, Simandl, Tenaglia alongside his own compositions. In 1937 Rudolf Tuláček and his family moved to Brno where he was appointed Professor of Double Bass at the Academy of Music, also teaching piano there for some time.
In Brno Tuláček was able to develop and further his teaching skills and taught many excellent bassists who went on to play in leading Czech and Slovak orchestras, including the Czech Philharmonic and also the Czech Nonet and many theatre and radio orchestras. In 1948, thanks to his outstanding teaching abilities, he was appointed Professor of Double Bass at the newly established Janáček Academy of Music, where he successfully directed the double bass department until his death on 17 September 1954. His teaching programme was based on František Černý's Method alongside studies by Simandl, Kreutzer, Gregora and Josef Hrabě and his own technical exercises and studies in double-stops.
Rudolf Tuláček composed a number of works for double bass, dating from 1903 to 1953, most written during the 1940s in Brno, and all demonstrate a lyrical and cantabile approach, typical of the salon and characteristic music of the early years of the 20th-century, but his Sherzo and Concerto in C# minor also display a technical bravura and flair, requiring an advanced technical command of the entire instrument. His music was described by Professor Krtička, on the first anniversary of his death: "Tuláček's double bass compositions are unique in their professional quality and they show a lyrical warmth in their rendition. The noble profile of an artistically uncompromising artist who lives at the same time in harmony with his heart and has almost no equal anywhere, permeates his compositions; he is kind to anybody who is good and seeks instruction or information, but he is uncompromising wherever purity of rendition was endangered by shortcomings caused by negligence."
Dr. Balátová writes that her father "devoted all his life to the double bass - his only private hobbies were photography and travelling - he liked old castles, chateaux and historic buildings. Though he suffered from arterioscleriosis and anemia during the last years of his life, he didn't have any rest. He played the double bass until his last breath..."
Tuláček's Three Pieces (3 skladby) for double bass and piano were composed in Zagreb between 1919 and 1926 and were brought together by the composer as a set, but there is no indication when he did this. Ukolébavka (Lullaby-Berceuse) was composed in 1919, is in ternary form and is lyrical and effective displaying the sonorous and cantabile qualities of the double bass. A gently rocking piano accompaniment underpins the slow moving solo melody and a more dramatic middle section is framed by music of simple beauty and style.
Miniaturní Valčík (Valse Miniature) was composed in 1926 and is the most adventurous of the three. The music is elegant and accessible, also dramatic and adventurous, requring a bassist who is secure and confident in the higher register. The accompaniment is simple and supportive, sliding through a range of keys, but ending with the opening music which brings the music to a successful conclusion.
Píseň Lásky (Chant d'Amour) was composed in 1920 and is the most romantic and salon-like of the three pieces. The melody is gloriously lyrical and sentimental, contrasting a more animated middle section, again emphasising the cantabile qualities of the double bass, but allied to an excellent technical command of the instrument. The accompaniment is bigger, exploring more colours and timbres than the other pieces, and could easily have been written during the last years of the 19th-century.
All three pieces are bass-friendly, effective and playable, offering much to performers and audiences alike. The musical style is a little out of date today but the quality of the music still shines through and there is nothing wrong with nostaligic music of another age. Rudolf Tuláček was obviously a very fine player, to judge from his compositions, and these pieces were written with skill, expertise and heart. Here is salon music of the highest quality and music which deserves its place in our repertoire today.
A concert in Oxford in 1994 with the Czech violinist, Tomáš Tuláček, led to the discovery of a number of original works for double bass and piano by his great-uncle Rudolf Tuláček, an eminent double bassist in Brno and Zagreb and a significant link within the Brno School of Double Bass. Communication began with Dr. Emilie Balátová-Tuláčková, Tomáš's aunt, who had been an eminent Czech botanist and vegetation scientist, and we maintained regular contact by letter until her death in 2005. Dr. Balátová was so pleased that someone was interested in the music of her father and was very helpful in providing copies of the music alongside photographs and biographical information. We only met once, at her apartment in Brno in 2003 when I was the UK juror at the Brno International Double Bass Competition at the Janacek Academy of Music. We spent a few hours together and she was delightful and charming company, although in declining health, but made me so welcome and our meeting is a memory I will treasure.
Behzad Ranjbaran - Dance of Life for Violin & Double Bass. The violin and double bass duo has long been a favourite with bassists and it is interesting to see how different composers have tackled the problems of this pairing of the high and low. Some have emphasised and exploited the similarities of the two instruments, whereas others have used the many and significant differences, but the possibilities are endless and the best pieces are the ones which utilise what each instrument does best.
"Over the years I have been asked to write more pieces for bass, but it has not worked out yet. Hopefully I will return to writing more pieces for bass in the future. It is a beautiful instrument." The American-based Iranian composer Bezhad Ranjbaran wrote these words in September 2015 and his appreciation of the solo qualities of the double bass has resulted in three pieces for the instrument to date - two original works and one arrangement of the slow movement of his Cello Concerto for double bass and piano. Again we return to the great player inspiring a great composer to write great music scenario. Ranjbaran's Dance of Life, for violin and double bass, was composed for the amazing Eugene Levinson and his son Gary and is a work of quality and imagination. The composer works 'with' the instruments rather 'against' them, producing music which has much to offer performers and audiences alike and described in Double Bassist magazine as "...an excellent new piece."
Behzad Ranjbaran was born in Tehran, Iran in 1955 and studied at the Tehran Music Conservatoire from the age of 9 years. He emigrated to America in 1974 and completed his undergraduate and doctoral thesis with David Diamond, Vincent Persichetti and Joseph Schwantner at Indiana University and the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he now teaches. He has received many awards, scholarships and honours including ASCAP's Rudolf Nissim Award in 1996 for his Violin Concerto, composed for Joshua Bell, and was named as 'Distinguished Artist' by the New Jersey Council on the Arts alongside grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Museum and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His music is published by Theodore Presser (http://www.presser.com/composer/ranjbaran-behzad/) and the website describes his music as "... both evocative and colorful, and also strong in structural integrity and form. He frequently draws inspiration from his cultural roots and Persian heritage in form or subject matter, as exemplified by the tone poems of the “Persian Trilogy”, or the interpretation of sounds and styles in works such as the Violin Concerto and Songs of Eternity."
Dance for Life was composed for Gary Levinson (violin) and Eugene Levinson (double bass) and was premiered at the Juilliard Theatre, New York on 19 December 1990. In two movements and lasting around 8 minutes, the piece was inspired by a Persian poem and the composer writes eloquently and informatively about the work:
"The unusual combination of violin and double bass provides a musical range comparable to an orchestra. In composing the piece, on the one hand, I tried to exploit the homogeneity of the string sound by placing the two instruments in the same register, while, on the other, I emphasised the difference by employing wider separation. The task of blending the two instruments, which at times are more than five octaves apart, is a challenge both for the composer and the performers. The work benefits from the musicianship and virtuosity of Gary and Eugene to whom it is dedicated. In Dance of Life I was inspired by the dramatic lyricism and mystical imagery of a poem written by the great Persian lyric poet Hafiz (c.1320-90). The poem, which bears the same title, is a celebration of life and an expression of human emotions. For me the poetry created an intellectual atmosphere, and stimulated my creative processes." [http://www.magepublishers.com/hafez-dance-life/]
Dance of Life is for double bass in solo tuning and the published edition includes fingerings by Eugene Levinson. The two contrasting movements offer many musical and technical challenges for both players, with a lyricism and strong musical narrative which exploits the qualities and possibilities of both violin and double bass. Both are treated equally, with the double bass having a fair share of the melodic interest, as the two instruments weave long and engaging phrases and melodies, especially in the first movement (Andante con espressione). The double bass part is idiomatic and demonstrates a composer who knows how to write for the instrument and was probably also advised by Eugene Levinson. It utilises the entire range of the double bass and the searing and dramatic musical shapes contrast with the effective use of the lowest register alongside double stops and harmonics.
The second movement (Allegretto) is energetic and rhythmic, with a strong feeling of drive and momentum which pushes to the end of the piece. Both performers are put through their paces in music which has both drama and strength allied to great confidence and character. This work isn't for the amateur performers and requires a double bassist with an excellent technique throughout the range of the double bass, but also great musical insights to display the many colours and timbres which the composer requests. There is much here to explore and also much to enjoy and although the musical language is modern it is still accessible and with a lyrical approach which suits each instrument well.
Dance of Life follows a long and successful history of works for violin and double bass. It is a work of character and colourful landscapes which successfully partners the highest and lowest members of the string family. There is great scope to demonstrate both an advanced technical command and musicality, which is well worth the effort, is an excellent addition to the chamber music repertoire.
David Heyes [16 September 2015]
Many thanks to Behzad Ranjbaran for help and advice with this article.