HISTORY (6)

Thanks in advance to all contributors

GIOVANNI BOTTESINI "DUETS"

The much repeated quote by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) during his audition at the Milan Conservatoire says much about his determination and confidence in his own skills and abilities. He was however proved to be more than accurate, becoming the greatest double bass soloist of the 18th-century, and travelling to every continent during a long and successful career. His great friend, Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901), the eminent Italian cellist who was a classmate at the conservatoire, stated that after his three years of study Bottesini never played better, but only gained experience.

Giovanni Bottesini was born on 22 December 1821 in Crema (Lombardy) into a musical family and his father, Pietro, a clarinettist and composer, encouraged his musical talent.

"...Towards the end of 1835 Pietro Bottesini heard that at the Musical Conservatoire of Milan there were two free scholarships open competition, one for the fagotto (serpent) the other for the double-bass, asked his son which of the two he would prefer to compete for. Our boy decided for the latter - not indeed because the mastodontic proportions of the instrument had any peculiar attractions for him, but for the simple reason that he had already acquired a certain knowledge of the "king of stringed instruments" while under the tuition of his uncle Cogliati. A week before the day fixed for the competition he proceeded with his father to Milan, and was presented to M. Luigi Rossi, professor of double-bass at the Conservatoire, who offered in the meantime to give him some further notions of the instrument. At the examination a few bars written off hand by the vice-censor Ray, were put before him, which at once brought on a cold perspiration. The wretched boy had had in all, four lessons of Rossi! Taking courage however, he tried to execute them - but perceiving at once that he was playing horribly out of tune for want of fingering, he stopped short, and turning to his judges, apostrophised them as follows: "I feel, gentlemen, that I am out of tune; but when I know where to place my fingers I shall play out of tune no more." The gentlemen of the Committee perceiving however that the candidate, although not acquainted with the instrument, had good musical capabilities, gave him the place. Bottesini remained at the Conservatoire until 1839, studying the double-bass under his professor Luigi Rossi, attending at the same time to composition under the guidance of professors Piantanida and Ray, of the famous Basily, and the no less celebrated composer Vaccai. He left the Conservatoire three years before the usual time, not so much because he thought himself sufficiently advanced in his instrument to begin to turn it to account, as to be able to devote himself in a freer and more quiet atmosphere to composition, to which he felt himself irresistibly attracted..." [Biographical Notes by Cesare Lisei, 1886]

Bottesini's 'Tre gran Duetti' date from him time at Milan Conservatoire, probably written between 1836-39, and are likely to be the earliest double bass duets to have been composed. The title page of the manuscript reads "Three grand Duets for two Double Basses. Composed by Giovanni Bottesini. Pupil of the Conservatory of Music and dedicated to his Professor Luigi Rossi." They were described as "Comparable to the best Paganinian capricers" by Marionotti and the recent excellent recordings have unlocked the quality and potential of all three works, demonstrating both Bottesini's obvious skills and knowledge of the solo double bass, but also his compositional accomplishment and development to date.

Luigi Rossi transcribed many violin studies by Polledro, Spohr, Libon and Mayseder for double bass duet, adding an accompaniment below the original, which he obviously used in his class to develop both technical and ensemble skills. With this in mind it is likely that Bottesini's duets were written as the ultimate challenge for two solo double basses and he followed the bel canto tradition of the time, which he combined with some of the most advanced double bass virtuosity. Although it is likely that Bottesini performed these works during his studies in Milan, there appears to be no documentation that they were ever performed publicly.

The recordings by Badila/Guttler and Boguslaw Furtok/Stahle have demonstrated the wealth of imaginative music in these duets, especially when played by such great players. Although the music is primarily soloist and accompanist, two players of equal abilities are needed to match the virtuosic workout that Bottesini demands. When played with style, elegance and a touch of 'joie de vivre' these become works which are worthy of a place on the concert stage. Possibly the inclusion of the repeats may be pushing it a little, but there is sufficient variety of musical ideas and technical challenges to keep an audience entertained and intrigued.

Gran Duetto No.1 in G major is in three contrasting movements (Allegro - Andante -,Polacca) each demonstrating different aspects and possibilities of the double bass duet. The first movement is in 4/4 time, although much of the material has a 12/8 feel, and is "...influenced by Bellini" according to the excellent programme notes by Ovidiu Badila. The slow movement is wonderfully lyrical and expressive, beginning with three-part harmony which sounds almost organ-like. The finale, a Polacca, is a rousing and lively piece with a rhythmic and driving accompaniment, mostly in double stops, against a fun and jaunty melody. The movement ends with a dramatic and exciting passage, mostly in thirds and with a driving triplet figure, which pushes through to the very end and a successful and rousing climax.

Are these great pieces? Probably not. Are they Bottesini at his best? Probably not. However, with two great players, all three duets have something to offer players and audiences alike. They deserve to be performed and recorded and, for a teenage composer, they are remarkable works indeed!

David Heyes

LARS-ERIK LARSON

"Larsson didn't write much, but he often wrote well. His lyricism warms the heart, his dances get the feet moving, and even his more austere works speak directly to a listener. He taps into the folk vein mined by Hugo Alfvén, but without Wagnerian baggage. There's no padding. Incisiveness may well count as his most characteristic trait. His music may not dwell on the highest Olympian peak, but fans of Scandinavian art will find it very easy to love." [Steve Schwartz]
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Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) is known particularly to bassists because of his Concertino for double bass and string orchestra (or piano). He studied in Sweden and Vienna and his music went through a range of styles in his career, being influenced by Sibelius and the modernity of Berg, the inclusion of folk music and dance in many works, alongside writing accessible and enjoyable music which can be characterised as neo-classical or neo-romantic.

Larsson was a fairly prolific composer writing in many genres including symphonies, orchestral works, concertos, chamber music, choral music and much else. In 1937 he was appointed to Swedish Radio and his job included composing incidental music, conducting light music and producing programmes, and from 1945-47 was the inspector of the Swedish state-sponsored amateur orchestras. This gave him an insight into the problems that amateur orchestras faced with programming contemporary music and in 1953 he decided to write a number of works to fulfill this area of repertoire.

Larsson realised that each amateur orchestra usually had a number of professional or semi-professional musicians they could call on and decided to write a series of concertinos for soloist and string orchestra, where the solo part is usually more demanding than the orchestral parts. His 12 Concertinos, Op.45 were started in 1955 and ended in 1957 and were written without a commission and simply to help amateur orchestras find repertoire which is both enjoyable and interesting for players and audiences alike. Each concertino is in three movements, lasting 10-12 minutes in total and a lyrical slow movement is framed by two fast, lively and rhythmic outer movements.

Concertino for double bass and string orchestra (Op.45, No.11), the penultimate of the series, was composed in 1957 and is a work full of fun and good humour. The solo part (in solo tuning) is playable by a professional or good amateur bassist and the string parts are simple and supportive, but also an integral part of the piece.

The first movement is marked 'Ballad: Moderato' and dotted minim (dotted half-note) = c.84. The opening six-bar orchestral theme, in octaves, sets the scene for a short cadenza which takes the bassist from the lowest register towards the end of the fingerboard, answered by another orchestral statement and followed by a more rhythmic solo cadenza leading into the main statement. A rhythmic and driving staccato accompaniment is contrasted by a more lyrical solo theme, developing into more rhythmic material which adds a sense of purpose and drive.

The second movement is marked 'Arioso: Lento' and quaver (eighth note) = c.76. A two-bar repetitive accompaniment figure underpins much of the movement, in ternary form, and the most glorious and lyrical melody demonstrates the cantabile qualities of the solo double bass.

The third movement (Finale:Allegro moderato) is marked crotchet (quarter note) = c.126 and repeats the start of the first movement but in 2/4 rather than 6/4. The solo part is much more rhythmic and energetic here, with echoes of the opening movement and ending with a final coda (Piu mosso) which is full of great drive, momentum and excitement bringing the work to a lively and successful conclusion.

Larsson's Concertino for double bass and string orchestra is a very accessible work for the good intermediate bassist who is able to play in thumb position. The solo part is well written and there are opportunities to demonstrate both musical and technical prowess and all in the space of less than 12 minutes. It offers much to both performers and audiences alike and deserves to be even better known than it is.

David Heyes (12 April 2014)
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12 Concertinos Op.45

No.1 for flute and strings
No.2 for oboe and strings
No.3 for clarinet and strings
No.4 for bassoon and strings
No.5 for horn and strings
No.6 for trumpet and strings
No.7 for trombone and strings
No.8 for violin and strings
No.9 for viola and strings
No.10 for cello and strings
No.11 for double bass and strings
No.12 for piano and strings

HANS FRYBA - Suite in old style

Hans Fryba's Suite in the Olden Style (Suite im alten Stil) has been in print for 60 years. Probably composed in the early 1950s, the suite was first published by Josef Weinberger in 1954 and has subsequently become standard repertoire for almost every international double bass competition.

Obviously inspired by the Bach Cello Suites, popularised in the early 20th-century by the great Pablo Casals, the six movement suite is a 'tour-de-force' for the advanced double bassist and features many technical challenges in the solo register of the instrument. Although movements of the Bach cello suites can be tackled by cellists during the early years of study, the Fryba Suite is the exact opposite and is aimed at the advanced bassist with a strong and confident solo technique and more suitable to the professional bassist and conservatoire or university student.
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Hans Fryba was born in Austria on 24 April 1899 and studied double bass for six years at the Imperial Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in Vienna with Eduard Madenski. In 1922 he joined the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for three years, and in 1925 moved to Athens to become the solo bassist of the Orchestra of the Megaron Mousikis, the most important concert hall in Greece. He was also a teacher at the Athens Royal Conservatoire. In 1929 Fryba became the first bass of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva and spent the next forty years in the orchestra. He worked with many of the greatest conductors and composers of the day and was obviously highly regarded by many of them. In January 1947 Sir Thomas Beecham wrote: "I can truly say that Hans is one of the most outstanding performers on his instrument." and two years later Karl Bohm recalled: "His technique, his purity of sound on this such difficult instrument are just amazing. I do not hesitate to say that I have never heard such delicate playing; he is certainly the most worthy successor to his teacher Madenski."

During his years in Geneva Fryba formed a close working relationship with the Swiss composer Joseph Lauber (1864-1952). Between 1936 and 1942 Lauber composed a number of advanced works for double bass which he dedicated to Fryba with the words 'Hommage a mon cher Hans Fryba, le merveilleux interprete de mes oevres. Son reconaissant Joseph Lauber.' Although none of these work have entered the solo repertoire to date, some have been recorded and performed, and there could be a wealth of undiscovered gems which are worthy of further research.

Fryba retired from the orchestra in 1968 and that year his home country of Austria bestowed on him the honorary title of professor. A year later he was awarded the title of honorary professor of the Geneva Conservatoire and in the same year retired to Austria, after a forty year sojourn in the Swiss capital, and he spent the last fifteen years of his life in Gramneusiedl (Austria), where he died on 3 January 1986.

Hans Fryba was far from a prolific composer and only appears to have composed three original works for double bass - Suite in the Olden Style for unaccompanied double bass - Arabesques for unaccompanied double bass - Concert Study for double bass and piano - all published by Josef Weinberger. Of the above, only the Suite is performed regularly.
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Suite in the Olden Style is in six contrasting movements beginning with a lively and effective Prelude (Allegro moderato) which offers both a technical workout and musical challenges in equal measure. The key of G major makes good use of the entire range of the solo double bass and the mix of scalic passages, double stops and two-voiced broken chords, makes for a piece which is both testing and exciting at the same time.

The Allemande (Adagio) is a complete contrast and is in B minor. The lyrical opening phrase has a nicely gentle lilt, emphasising the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the double bass, and offers potential to create long melodic lines within the technical challenges. The Courante (Allegro non troppo) is dance-like, with a strong forward momentum and returning to the key of G major. Written in 3/4 time, but with an effective mix of 3/4 and 9/8 rhythms, this is happy music which makes a great contrast between two slow movements. A slow and sustained Sarabande (Lento) follows in the key of E flat major. The initial double stops, melody and accompaniment, tests the bassists technique but much of the rest of the movement is accessible and enjoyable to play.

The fifth movement comprises two gavottes (Allegro moderato), with the first one repeated, and is probably the most charming and accessible music of the suite. Gavotte I is in D major and includes a number of effective double stops within the dance music and there is much here to enjoy. Gavotte II returns to G major and makes good use of the the highest harmonics with a fun and light-hearted theme which moves into the lower register and effective music featuring a number of double stops. Gavotte I is repeated before launching into the lively and rhythmic Gigue (Vivace), also in G major. In 3/8 time and full of great forward momentum and drive, this makes a rousing and successful conclusion to the work - a hommage to J.S. Bach, but within a 20th-century idiom and harmonic content.

Much of the printed suite is written in tenor clef, not always a favourite clef with bassists and a new edition is long overdue. Apart from this, the piece is well worthy of study and performance and offers great challenges to any performer who is willing to spend many hours in the practice room. Hans Fryba has created a modern 'classic' which has certainly stood the test of time. Nowadays there are literally thousands of bassists across the world who are able to perform the piece, once the preserve of the few, and in performance it demonstrates not only the musical and technical worth of the performer, but also the viability of the double bass as a solo instrument.

Thanks to the "great"prof. David Heyes

F.J. Haydn - 'Lost' Concerto in D major for Double Bass

 
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 very heart of the repertoire into the 21st-century.
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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?
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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 Gajdoš 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 Heyes [22 June 2014]

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 very 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 Gajdoš 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 HEYES

Week 13 brings together two of my favourite bassists and greatest friends, but under the most tragic of circumstances.

I first met the great Romanian virtuoso Ovidu Badila at Kloster Michaelstein Bass Workshop (Germany) in about 1997. He was the 'star-act' of the week, amongst many great players, and we met almost by accident. The workshop featured masterclasses and lessons each day alongside recitals every evening and Thursday's recital began at 7.00pm and 'a rather disgruntled Badila' took to the stage at 11.00pm, my diary entry reads, but it was certainly worth waiting for! I sat through the entire concert but my wife Sarah Poole had had enough by about 9.00pm and returned to our room for a well deserved glass of wine. She returned about 90 minutes later and there, waiting to play, was a leather-coated Badila, although at the time she didn't know who he was. They started talking and she said she had come back to hear Ovidiu Badila play, because I had told her how good he was! I think he liked the flattery...

Ovidiu played Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations amongst other pieces and was simply the best player I had ever heard. His technique was impeccable, his musicianship supreme and he simply oozed quality and confidence. He knew he was the best and didn't need a big ego to demonstrate this. From this point on we became firm friends. We kept in contact and met again two years later in Odense at Bassissimo 2000 and began our friendship where we had left off two years before. Sarah, Ovidu, Teppo Hauta-aho and I spent every evening together, and most coffee breaks, talking about our families, careers and great plans for the future. We celebrated his 39th birthday in Denmark and he bought many bottles of wine for the tutors. At one point he leant across and quietly said to me "These bottles are for us - these are the best!" Ovidiu knew his wines, and we celebrated his birthday in style.

We left Odense after a wonderful week of playing and teaching, much laughter and great good humour, and had made plans for both our families to holiday together in Sardinia the following summer. Ovidu phoned us on Christmas Day and we had a wonderful conversation about his future concerts - there were so many and they were so varied - and about the Sardinian adventure that summer. I first heard of his death from Mette Hanskov (Principal Bass, Royal Danish Orchestra) in Denmark and both Sarah and I were in total shock. Ovidu was so full of life, had so much to give as a musician, but also as a husband, father, son and brother, and one of the brightest of lights was suddenly extinguished. I think much of the international bass community was in shock and the loss is still keenly felt. Many of us still talk about Ovidu and I have been quite touched that so many younger bassists want to know more about him - they only know him through his recordings and our memories - and I feel very honoured to have been his friend.

Why? for double bass quartet is surely one of the most powerful and original works in the quartet repertoire and demonstrates a composer at the very height of his powers. Teppo Hauta-aho and I had both studied in Prague with Frantisek Posta (1919-1991), who was Principal Bass of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for over 40 years, Teppo in the 1960s and me in the 1980s. Prof. Posta had said we would become good friends and he was correct in this. Teppo is one of the most unique figures in the double bass world today, as a player and composer, and has written a welath of accessible, evocative and challenging music for every level of performer - he is the most prolific double bass composer ever. The piece reflects our great friendships, respect and love for each other, much laughter and good humour, wonderful memories but also tinged with sadness.

Why? was written in memory of Ovidiu Badila and was premiered on 6 April 2002 at Downe House School (Newbury, Berkshire), as part of Bass-Fest 2002, by Teppo Hauta-aho, David Heyes - Double Bass, Mette Hanskov and Peter Leerdam. In one extended movement, it employs a range of musical and percussive skills to explore a wide range of soundworlds and emotions. The opening pizzicato theme is also used in 'Two Dances' for double bass quartet but develops to encompass the entire range of the bass quartet.

The composer describes "...a feeling of sorrow - a sudden stop when everything is going well - the dramatic end to the work after a powerful climax - the shock of Ovidu's sudden death. The start is both happy and sad and uses an Indian scale, which my piano trio also uses, and it's a scale I heard a lot in the 1970s - it stayed in my mind and is almost Jewish in feel."

"...the piece begins with an introspective blues-like melody which is passed from voice to voice. The work moves through a variety of emotions, from tranquillity to sorrow to anger, and belongs amongst the best pieces written for this instrument combination." [Double Bassist]

"Why? was written in memory of the Romanian bass player Ovidiu Badila, and is a work of unusual poignancy for double bass quartet. Its beginning looks back to the melody used in Teppo's Two Dances, and as this material is developed it is, by turns, reflective, heartfelt and sad. There are some lovely harmonies and the closeness of the parts often creates an anguished tension. The impassioned climax, with its alternating chords, comes to an abrupt stop, leaving three silent bars of reflection. The upper parts are sometimes high and the work is advanced, but this quartet is worth exploring." [ESTA - News & Views]

Why? is a double bass quartet like no other. Here is a work of great drama and passion, of power and friendship, of love and loss - so many emotions that we feel in our everyday life, but here distilled into a ten or eleven minute work which is both challenging and thought provoking. The international bass community is slowing beginning to realise the great quality and power of this work, which challenges performers and audiences alike. It really ought to be at the very heart of the bass quartet repertoire and is a testament to the memory of a great soloist and the skills of a great composer. I'm proud to be a friend to both...

David Heyes (19 May 2014)

Auguste Chapuis (1858-1933) was a French composer, organist and teacher but his name, on the whole, has long ago been consigned to the history books. Fame during a lifetime doesn't always translate to a reputation for posterity, but the fac...t that a street in Paris was named after him, and the house where he died bears a plaque, and that he was member of the 'Legion of Honour' gives some indication of his fame and importance during the early decades of the 20th-century. The rue Auguste-Chapuis is in the 20th arrondissement of Paris and connects to the Rue Mendelssohn.

The interest for double bassists is in two works by Chapuis for double bass and piano - the first published in 1907 and the second in 1924. Both works were composed for the 'Concours du Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris' - a treasure trove of pieces by some of the leading French composers and teachers of the day, and written for the final recital of the double bass students who were to graduate that year. This collection of interesting music was always a driving force for me to commission so many works for double bass over the past 30 years, and the initiative by the Paris Conservatoire has created a unique collection of music for double bass, many of which have certainly stood the test of time and entered the solo and educational repertoire.

August Chapuis was born in Dampierre-sur-Salon (Haute-Saone) on 20 April 1858 and died in Paris on 6 December 1933. He was a student of Theodore Dubois, Jules Massenet and Cesar Franck at the Paris Conservatoire, and subsequently became organist of Notre-Dame-des-Champs and St. Rochelle. Chapuis taught harmony at the Paris Conservatoire and both Lili and Nadia Boulanger were among his students.
He composed three church masses, three operas, chamber music, choral an educational music. His music for harp is still in print but sadly the vast majority of his music has been forgotten.
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Choral for double bass and piano was written for the 'Concours du Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris - 1924' and published by Alphonse Leduc the same year. Although lasting only a little over 3 minutes, this is a gem of a piece which, for some unknown reason, has fallen under the radar of most double bassists - perfromers and teachers alike. It is dedicated 'to my colleague and friend Edouard Nanny' who has been recognised as the founding father of French double bass technique. Nanny (1872-1942) taught at the Paris Conservatoire for 20 years and was instrumental in persuading composers to write for double bass, alongside his own original compositions and transcriptions for the instrument. Originally in solo tuning, Recital Music produced a new edition of Choral in 2004 for both tunings and it is now included for Grade 8 by Trinity College London examination.

Choral is full of wonderful music, with enough challenges to keep most bassists happy, and Ravel and Debussy are never far away from the musical language and style. The independent and inventive piano accompaniment contrasts and compliments the solo line which combines lyricism and passion with drama great energy. It ventures into thumb position, primarily in scale or arpeggio themes, but there is nothing here to frighten the horses and much to enjoy. Choral would fit easily into any recital and for any audience and its rich and opulent musical language produces an exquisite miniature which deserves to be better known. The piece makes effective use of the orchestral register of the instrument and it is likely that Edouard Nanny helped with the technical aspects of the piece.

To my knowledge Choral has only been recorded once - by the great Russian double bassist Alexander Michno with pianist Galina Scastnaja. The CD was released in 1998 and all the works had been recorded between 1976 and 1988. Michno is a very lyrical and musical soloist, allied to an excellent virtuosic technique, and is a powerful advocate of the piece.

For many years Choral was out of print, the fate of much double bass music alas, and my own copy is an old French edition now yellowing and falling apart and I wonder if the lack of a good available edition has led to its neglect? Many solo pieces enter the repertoire, some worthy and some not so, and others are forgotten. I hope that this short article and the new edition by Recital Music (RM188 www.recitalmusic.net) will go some way to redressing the balance and persuading soloists, teachers and students to take a look at this beautiful, evocative and dramatic piece which is worthy of study and performance.

David Heyes

 Gunther Schuller - Quartet for double basses

 
"The players were: 1. Robert Gladstone (member of New York Philharmonic for 10 years, then principal of Detroit Symphony for 36 years). 2. Frederick Zimmermann (assistant principal of NY Philharmonic for most of 36 years in NYP: faculty of Juilliard, Columbia, Mannes,etc.) 3. Orin O'Brien (NY Philharmonic since 1966; faculty of Juilliard, Manhattan, Mannes.) 4. Alvin Brehm (bassist, composer; faculty of Mannes, frequent NYP substitute and NY freelance bassist) - Bob, Alvin and I were all pupils of Fred Zimmermann. When Gunther asked Bob to gather together four bassists to record his composition (when it was written in 1948, some players told Gunther it was too difficult and that no one would play it), he asked us and we were thrilled at the idea of working with the composer of such an exciting, challenging work. We practiced our parts, and before we began rehearsals, Gunther asked me to make him a score because he had lost his. There was no Xerox at that time (1959) so I copied each part on a separate stave on onionskin paper, making a handwritten score, which was then reproduced at an architect's-plan- copying place. (That is how you reproduced any music in those days!) We rehearsed with each of us reading from our own copy of that score, so we could see how to coordinate with each other. Gunther has a fantastic ear and corrected and conducted us: we rehearsed on Sunday mornings which was the only time we all had free. Alvin and I were with NYC Ballet and Fred and Bob with the NY Phil. We recorded it in one 3 hour session in July of 1959, and performed it the next year in a concert at Carnegie Recital Hall. It was a concert of 4 quartets, including one for 4 celli, also by Gunther. It was a thrill to work with the composer and with my affectionate and witty colleagues who encouraged me in every way: I think of this wonderful exciting time very often."

Orin O'Brien's wonderful memories of the first recording and premiere of Gunther Schuller's Quartet for double basses, written in April 2014, really adds a new dimension to this important work in the bass quartet repertoire. The composer's manager describes it as a 'seminal' work in the composer's output, but it is also groundbreaking, in terms of what came before it and what has come afterwards.

The double bass quartet came into being in the early 1930s, although it is believed that there are some movement of a quartet by (Frantisek) Franz Simandl. Two works by Bernhard Alt and Arcady Dubensky can claim to be the first works for double bass quartet, one written for members of the Berlin Philharmonic and the other likely to be for members of the New York Philharmonic. Interestingly, both composers were orchestral violinists, Alt a member of the Berlin Philharmonic and Dubensky a member of the New York Philharmonic, each inspired to write for the medium by four enterprising bassists. Dubensky's Prelude & Fugue for double bass quartet is written for four similarly tuned basses and was completed on 16 May 1933 in New York, whereas Alt's four-movement Suite uses solo tuning for basses 1 and 2 and orchestral tuning for basses 3 and 4, giving a wider choice of key possibilities.

Gunther Schuller's Quartet was written in 1947, when the composer was only 22 years old, and only 14 years after the 'birth' of the bass quartet as a genre. Schuller's work is no mere characteristic or light-music piece, but here is a work of enormous scope and depth, which took the form and expanded every aspect in terms of technical and musical demands. He wasn't afraid to challenge the players and the retuning of movements three and four create a work like no other and this is still one of the most important works in the double bass quartet repertoire.

The composer provided the following programme note:

“The Quartet for Doublebasses was composed in 1947, with some revisions in the last movement in 1959. When presented to a well-known bass teacher and ‘virtuoso’ in 1948, it was declared unplayable and the aberrant meanderings of a French-horn playing composer who didn’t know how to write for the bass. I look upon this somewhat bemusedly today, but at the time this rejection of my labor of love on behalf of the bass fraternity and the dearth of serious bass literature depressed me considerably. But then, these things were not unusual in the 1940s – when composers more or less expected not to get performed, unlike today when one has a reasonable expectation of performance of almost any new chamber work with our hundreds of university symposia, arts festivals, and contemporary performing groups.

“In any event, my bass quartet was taken up many years later – in 1959 – by Fred Zimmerman and a group of dedicated young bass players who subsequently gave the first performance of the work under my direction in Carnegie Recital Hall in the spring of 1960. It has since been widely performed all over the world.

“The quartet is nothing more than an attempt to write a non-compromising serious piece for four basses, just as one might normally write a string quartet. It is far removed from the genre and character pieces that have weighted down the bass repertory for decades and centuries.

“The work is in three movements. The first, largely homophonic in concept, groups the four basses into various combinations (two parts, one player accompanied by the other three, etc.). It may be of interest that the initial high-register opening chord, played tremolo, is identical to the last sounds in the fourth movement of Schoenberg's Opus 16, Five Pieces for Orchestra; and in a sense, the entire bass quartet was inspired by and evolved from that single chord, which seemed to me in 1947 (and still does) such an extraordinarily daring instrumental conception for 1909, when Schoenberg's work was written.

“The second movement is a scherzo, complete with a trio (in sustained chords in double-stop harmonics). The third movement is an adagio, including a cadenza-like section featuring the first bass in the highest register, a jazz-pizzicato section, and fade-away coda.

“Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the quartet and its only truly innovational contribution is the special tuning of the basses in the second and third movements. Each bass has a different tuning, thus enabling me to avoid the endless quartel harmonies and double-stops limited to fourths and fifths that afflict so much bass literature. Perhaps the most striking example of the possibilities permitted by such retuning of the strings is the eight-part chord in harmonics in the third movement, a chord literally not possible in harmonics with the conventional tuning.”
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Gunther Schuller's Quartet for double basses is still a work to challenge performers and audiences alike. A substantial and groundbreaking work, certainly for the late 1940s, this quartet has certainly stood the test of time and was an amazing addition to the repertoire when the genre was barely more than a decade old. Possibly it needed the skill, energy and vision of a 22 year-old to challenge bassists and to demonstrate what was possible, even if it had to wait more than ten years for its premiere. My only question is why didn't someone ask the composer to write a second quartet? At the age of 88 Gunther Schuller is still composing and we only need an enterprising and enthusiastic bassist to ask.... Will it be you?

David Heyes (7 May 2014)

Einojuhani Rautavaara

"I was born in 1928 - fortunately in Finland. Fortunately, because this is a country with dramatic destinies, situated between east and west, between Tundra and Europe, between the Lutheran and Orthodox faiths. It is full of symbols, of ancient metaphors, revered archetypes. Just listen to Jean Sibelius..." [Einojuhani Rautavaara]

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b.1928) is one of the best known and most frequently perfomed of Finnish composers, both nationally and internationally. Angels have been an important theme for the composer, beginning in 1978 with 'Angels and Visitations' and 'Playgrounds for Angels' followed in 1981. Most importantly for double bassists is 'Angel of Dusk' - Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra which was composed in 1980.
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Angel of Dusk is dedicated to the memory of Olga Koussevitsky (1901-1978), the widow of the great double bassist and conductor Serge Koussevitsky (1874-1951), who suggested to Rautavaara in 1977 that he should write a concerto for double bass. She even suggested that he could use Kossevitsky's famed Amati double bass for the purpose.

Rautavaara writes: "This concerto was initially requested by Olga Koussevitsky, who had been my patron while I was a student, when I met her in New York in 1977, two decades after my studies in New York. While returning to Helsinki I was reflecting upon this new challenge when, looking out of the window of the plane, I saw a strikingly shaped cloud, grey, but pierced with colour, rising above the Atlantic horizon. Suddenly the words 'Angel of Dusk' came to mind. Those words remained with me and returned to me, like a mantra, when I heard the news of Olga Koussevitsky's death the following year and the project was postponed. A couple of years later the idea of such a concerto resurfaced when the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation commissioned the work. The help of the double bass virtuoso Olli Kosonen was quite indispensable during my work on the piece and, by borrowing a double bass and experimenting at home, I also worked out new types of playing techniques for this unusual but captivating solo instrument.
In the first movement the double bass's songful cantilena is interrupted time after time by dissonant outbursts from the orchestra. These grow and compel the solo instrument to participate in a dialogue which eventually displaces the original theme. This sort of so-called 'disturbance technique' occurs frequently in my works from the 1970s. The second movement is a solo cadenza, in which the fantastic tonal colours and techniques only provoke passing comments from the orchestra. The final movement begins with a gradually rising, peacefully swaying theme. This gives way to rapid figurations from the double bass, framed by strokes from the orchestra, until eventually the soloist and orchestra join together in a final catharsis."

Angel of Dusk was premiered and recorded on 6 May 1981 in Helsinki by Olli Kosonen (double bass) and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leif Segerstam. The work also exists in a chamber music version which the composer created in 1993. Scored for solo double bass, two pianos and percussion, which the composer describes as "an independent version of the concerto for double-bass and orchestra (1980), intended for performance in its own right...", it was premiered by Olli Kosonen at the 1994 Kuhmo Festival in Finland. The published edition is an A3 facsimile score (landscape) of the composer's manuscript.

Angel of Dusk is a monumental and romantic concerto that is both atmospheric and dramatic. The three contrasting movements [1. His First Appearance 2. His Monologue 3. His Last Appearance] deal primarily with colours and timbres, and use the wide range of the solo double bass in a virtuosic and cantabile style. The middle movement explores the dramatic percussive soundworld of the contemporary double bass and is an atmospheric tone-poem often utilising the lower register, creating a feeling of intense desolation. Rautavaara is a master of orchestral colours and sonorities and produces a work of great imagination and skill which apparently works 'with' rather than 'against' the double bass, sometimes the case in certain modern works, and he understands completely the possibilities of the solo double bass which he displays magnificently throughout.

Angel of Dusk is an important and significant contribution to the solo double bass repertoire. It utilises the wonderful sonorous and lyrical capabilities of the double bass, alongside exploring the virtuosic and dramatic possibilities, ultimately creating a work of dramatic intensity and passion. I think Olga Koussevitsky would have been very pleased with the completed work and her financial support of Rautavaara in the 1950s was money well spent.

David Heyes [7 July 2014]

21) Albert Roussel - Duo for Bassoon & Double Bass

 
You can probably count on the fingers of one hand the original works written for the combination of bassoon and double bass - two hands at the extreme, and possibly the most significant of this handful is a four minute work written by the French composer, Albert Roussel.
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Albert Roussel (5 April 1869 - 23 August 1937) initially embarked on a Naval career, but later changed direction in 1896 after meeting Vincent D'Indy and became one of the first pupils at the newly formed Schola Cantorum. He was a prolific composer, writing in many genres, and gradually became one of the leading figures in modern music during the early decades of the 20th-century, both in France and abroad. His early works were partly influenced by Debussy and D'Indy but his own distinctive and individual voice gradually emerged enabling him to create works of melodic impetus with a free sense of modality and rhythmic drive. Polyphony became an increasingly important aspect of his music and, although completely overshadowed by the music of Maurice Ravel, was a significant and inventive composer worthy of revival today.

Duo for bassoon and double bass was composed in 1925, as a gift of congratulation for Serge Sergei Koussevitzky (1874-1951), the revered conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who had recently become a Knight of the Legion of Honour. Although Koussevitsky had, on the whole, stopped playing the double bass at this point it was fitting that the piece featured the double bass in a solo capacity and is part of a small group of works written for and dedicated to Koussevitsky. It was first published in 1943 by Durand & Cie (Paris) in an unplayable edition where the double bass is in solo tuning, but the part is written as for orchestral tuning.

A copy of the published edition, held in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in London and originally owned by Double Bass professor John Walton, includes a hand written note stating that 'although the bass is tuned up a tone the notes written are actual bass pitch (ie. sounding an octave lower than written - starts on open E)'. This isn't quite correct and the solo part merely needs to be played a tone lower - in C major but sounding in D major because of solo tuning - but gives some idea of the confusion surrounding this work. The original edition helpfully includes harmonic signs above all the notes meant to be played at harmonics which helps to establish the correct pitch and key. The piece begins on open D and in this pitch all the harmonics are possible and demonstrate a composer who certainly knew what he was doing, even if the publisher didn't. (Recital Music's 2008 edition [RM193 www.recitalmusic.net] is the only one which includes a correct part for the double bass where the player simply has to play the notes on the page, without wading through all three clefs and a wrong key.)

In one movement and lasting about four minutes, Roussel's Duo is an accessible work of neo-classical energy and charm, full of rhythmic music, humour and invention and is often described as a 'musical joke'. Obviously the idea of two bass instruments playing together has to be funny in the minds of some...

The piece is quite episodic and the frequent change of pace and tempo maintains the interest, and offers many interpretative and musical possibilities. Solo tuning helps to produce a bright and ringing tone, to complement the sound and colour of the bassoon, and the use of high harmonics allows the bassoon to successfully descend into the lower registers, but on the whole both instruments play in their middle registers for much of the time. There is a sprightly feel and momentum, nicely characterising the true image of both instruments and allowing them to emerge from the depths of the orchestral repertoire, for a few minutes at least. The wealth of colours in the double bass part helps to contrast the more percussive and staccato attack of the bassoon.

I have only ever heard one live performance of the Duo and this was at the 1982 Isle of Man Competition. At the time it didn't make much of an impression, but there could be a myriad of reasons for this, not least my youthful bravado and inexperience.

Is this is a long forgotten and overlooked masterpiece? I don't think so, but it does have a unique charm and appeal and is worth the occasional outing if only to celebrate the lives of both composer and dedicatee. Roussel was a fine composer, even though he was completely overshadowed by Ravel, and this work is testament to his skill as composer and orchestrator who was able to create a work of character and invention. Give it a go...

David Heyes [13 July 2014]

 Giovanni Bottesini - Elegia for double bass and piano

Bottesini's Elegia for double bass and piano is a staple of our solo repertoire and one of the most popular solo works. It has been recorded more than any other double bass piece, although the Eccles Sonata is probably a close second, and was rumoured to be one of Bottesini's favourite works. I have played it several hundred times with piano, in both solo and orchestral tunings, with string orchestra and string quartet, and have taught it to dozens and dozens of students over the past 30 years. More recently I arranged fit or the intermediate bassist, opening up the possibility of playing Bottesini at an earlier age, and offering musical and technical challenges but a 4th below the original pitch.
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Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) spent his entire career in Italian opera and the opera house, as a player, conductor and composer, and he is often at his most successful when adapting the bel canto style for the double bass. Elegia, Mélodie (Romanza patetica), Reverie and Romanza Drammatica demonstrate his wonderful melodic gifts. Although his vocal music lacks the joie de vivre of a Rossini, or the dramatic power and beauty of a Verdi, he was an extremely talented and successful composer in his day but sadly only his double bass music has survived in the repertoire into the 21st-century. His vocal music and orchestral works receive an occasional hearing but his elegant and evocative Andante Sostenuto for string orchestra (or string sextet) ought to find a more permanent place in the repertoire.

The operatic style and beautifully shaped melodic phrases of the Elegia make this popular with players and audiences alike, and Bottesini successfully captures the lyrical, cantabile and sonorous qualities of the double bass. The sinuous and evocative solo line is supported by a simple and slow moving chordal piano accompaniment and its first two chords are as distinctive to bassists as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is to most audiences or music-lovers.

The Elegia exists as a companion piece to the fast and virtuosic Tarantella, or as a stand-alone work in its own right. Originally composed for a three-string double bass, it uses a three and a half octave range making use of the high harmonics and descending to a C on the A string - almost the lowest note available to Bottesini. The composer uses this low C to begin the second half of the piece when the soloist quickly ascends into treble clef, and ends with a downward arpeggio figure leading to a long, sonorous and sustained C. The majority of the dramatic and passionate music is in the second half of the piece and demonstrates the great versatility of the solo double bass.

The Elegia is tackled by most bassists at some point in theirstudies and is a useful teaching piece for Grade 8 students to demonstrate the entire range of the double bass and the bel canto style of the 19th-century. It requires both a good technique and musicality for a successful performance, alongside a beautiful sound and excellent bow control. Its 38 bars offer many challenges, primarily musical ones (although many bassists would say the challenges are technical), and the ability to sustain long and lyrical phrases in each register is a must.

It is been recorded more than fifty times, has been published by at least ten publishing companies, including Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net) - in both solo and orchestral tuning - and is also available with string orchestra (or string quartet) accompaniment. Bottesini included the Elegia in his Method for Double Bass as one of the works to demonstrate the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the double bass, alongside arias by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Bellini.

There are four different manuscripts of the Elegia held at the Parma Conservatoire in Italy and Bottesini performed it many times throughout Europe and beyond including Barcelona, Turin, Madrid, Bologna and Buenos Aires, to name but a few. There is also a version with full orchestra (in D major) in Parma, and Dietrich Schubert made his own arrangement with full orchestra for East German Radio, and later recorded by Frantisek Posta.

My own collection of double bass records and cd's includes about 30 recordings of the Elegia - the earliest dating back to 1976 (Klaus Stoll) and 1978 (Ludwig Streicher / Luigi Milani). The timings range from 3'48 (Irena Olkiewicz)) to 5'59 (Duncan McTier), but most seem to settle happily between 4'30 and 5'00. There are a variety of interpretations and performances, some more successful than others, but some players not really understanding the bel canto style of 19th-century Italian opera. The best players, however, understand the style completely and these are likely to be the recordings which stand the test of time.

Bottesini's Elegia seems almost indestructible and has the ability to communicate to any audience. It successfully demonstrates the solo potential of the double bass, giving bassists the chance to leave half position and play the melody, and is an excellent introduction to the solo repertoire for the adventurous and progressing player. Enjoy!

David Heyes (22 March 2014)

8) Lorenziti - Gavotte for double bass and piano

 
Who was Lorenziti and what do we know about him? The answer is hardly anything at all. There is very little documentation about his life and music and only two works for double bass seem to have 'survived' - the eponymous Gavotte and a Sinfonia Concertante for viola d'amore, double bass and orchestra, held in the Torello Collection at the Curtis Institute of Music. In this day and age of instant and mass communication, how many composers are as unknown and unrecorded as Lorenziti? Very few, I would suggest.

There are, however, two very minor composers called Lorenziti, sometimes spelled Lorenzitti, who were Italian but lived and worked mainly in France. Antonio Lorenziti (1740-1789) and his brother, Bernard(o) (c.1764-1813 or 1815) were both fairly prolific composers but their compositional style is completely different to this Gavotte. Were either the composer of this piece? The programme notes in two CD's suggest that (Joseph) Antonio was, and Leduc's first edition gives a date of (1740 - ), the same as Antonio, but no forename.

When and where was our Lorenziti born? Where did he work? Did he write other works for double bass? Was he a double bassist? Many questions but so few answers.

Lorenziti's Gavotte for double bass and piano is a fun and lively piece which has been popularised by the American virtuoso, Gary Karr. Gary added the story of 'The Fly and the Elephant' to the music and played it extensively for children's concerts in the 1970s and 80s. His unique personality and sense of fun made it a great hit with audiences of all ages. It was first published by Alphonse Leduc in 1925 and edited by Edouard Nanny (1872-1942), who at the time was Professor of Double Bass at the Paris Conservatoire. It fits the double bass well, making effective use of an instrument tuned in 4ths, with easy and enjoyable harmonics successfully adding to the mix. There are scale passages, arpeggios, double stops, harmonics - everything that the bass does well but without being too challenging or virtuosic, and certainly not taking itself too seriously.

As I tried to find more information about this elusive composer and hit the proverbial brick wall, my suspicions began to surface about the true authorship of the piece. Who could have written it? I quickly eliminated the two Lorenziti brothers because their compositional style is so completely different to this piece and there is no evidence that they ever composed works for solo double bass.

Supposedly Lorenziti's Gavotte is from the 18th-century, when the double bass was a popular solo instrument, and many of the leading composers of the day wrote concertos, concert works or chamber music featuring the instrument. Composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal, Dittersdorf, Pichl, Sperger, Kozeluch, Zimmermann, Kohaut and many others wrote for the solo double bass but almost always in Viennese tuning (A,F#,D,A,F) rather than for a 3 or 4 string double bass tuned in 4ths. How many other works from the 18th-century fit the 20th or 21st-century so well and with so few adjustments to be made? I cannot think of any, although many of my esteemed colleagues around the world may know more.

Is Lorenziti's Gavotte a 'modern' work but in an 'olden' style? The harmonic structure is not sophisticated or advanced, the solo line sits well on the modern double bass and little by little I came to the conclusion that I knew who had written the piece.

Violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) had fooled the critics for many years with his newly 'discovered' miniatures by long-forgotten composers, so there is certainly precedent in musical history for this type of thing. Even in the bass world everyone is gradually realising that the Dragonetti Concerto in A major is by Edouard Nanny and not the Venetian virtuoso. Search through Dragonetti's manuscripts in the British Library in London and there is no manuscript copy of this work and nor is it typical of Dragonetti's compositional style or other works, but the Concerto is not a million miles away from Nanny's Concerto in E minor, nor his 10 Caprice-Etudes for unaccompanied double bass.

The Gavotte is a very effective and useful teaching piece and introduces a number of techniques which are found and developed in more advanced repertoire. My own students have enjoyed studying and performing it and it is a nice and gentle introduction into more advanced repertoire.

Having found little or no information about Lorenziti I used my 'little grey cells' and eventually came to the conclusion that it is really by Edouard Nanny. The technical aspects of the piece can be found throughout Nanny's Method and teaching material, which is also the case for the 'Dragonetti' Concerto. It works so well on a modern 4 string double bass tuned in 4ths that it must have been written by a bassist. Nanny was the first to 'edit' the piece for publication and having seen and taught much of Nanny's music for double bass I am almost one hundred per cent sure that he is 'Lorenziti'.

Does it matter that Nanny has fooled bassists for almost a century? Not at all! The Gavotte is a nice little characteristic miniature which is popular with young players and audiences alike. Will it stop bassists playing the piece? I don't think so, but it adds a nice bit of mystery and intrigue to a most charming, elegant and fun work in our repertoire.

David Heyes (15 April 2014)

 Adolf Misek - Sonata No.2 in E minor Op.6

 
It is very easy to play music of our solo or study repertoire without knowing anything at all about the composer or their place in the history of the instrument. The Czech bassist-composer Adolf Misek (1875-1955) is a case in point and, although his double bass sonatas are played on every continent, very few bassists know much about him or his other works for double bass.

Adolf Misek [pronounced MEE-SHEK] was born in Modletin (Bohemia) on 29 August 1875, the son of a weaver and bandmaster. He studied double bass with Frantisek Simandl at the Vienna Conservatoire from 1890-94 and from 1898-1900 was a bassist with the Vienna Hofopernorchester (Court Opera Orchestra), and subsequently with the Vienna Philharmonic. He maintained his Czech connections however by conducting a number of Czech choirs and orchestras in Vienna during these years.

From 1910-1914 Misek taught double bass at the Neue Wiener Konservatorium (New Vienna Conservatoire) but when the First Czech Republic was established in 1918, after the end of the First World War, he resigned from the orchestra and returned to Prague, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was appointed soloist of the National Theatre Orchestra (1920-34) in Prague and spent the last twenty years of his life as a freelance composer, teacher and bassist. Misek died in Prague on 20 October 1955.

Misek composed three sonatas for double bass and piano and the first two have become standard repertoire for almost every conservatoire, university and professional double bassist. Sonata No.1 was first published in 1909 and Sonata No.2 in 1911, and it is likely they were written during the early years of the 20th-century and are completely different in terms of style, composition and scope. Sonata No.1 is in three characteristic movements, with echoes of Dvorak and the Czech folk idiom ever present, whereas Sonata No.2 is a different beast altogether.

Sonata No.2 in E minor Op.6 is in four movements (1. Con fuoco / 2. Andante cantabile / 3. Furiant: Allegro energico / 4. Finale: Allegro appassionato), each playable as a separate concert work and lasting around 25 minutes overall. The influence of Brahms and the late-romantic composers of the day are evident in the opening movement, which is full of romantic breadth and spirit, Brahmsian in design and scope, beautifully contrasted by the slow second movement which Szymon Marciniak describes so well in the programme notes of his two-CD complete Misek work for double bass: "There is love, there is affection, sublime expression and passion, but there is also melancholy, and all of it so naturally flowing from the pen of this remarkable composer."

The third movement is the most 'Czech' of the four with its use of the Furiant, an exuberant Bohemian folkdance in 3/4 time but with cross accents to give an impression of 2/4 time. Dvorak composed a number and his influence can be felt throughout the movement. The finale is dramatic and passionate, full of great energy and momentum, bringing this great sonata to a successful conclusion. Misek challenges the bassist, both technically and musically, and it's easy to see why bassists enjoy performing this work.

Sonata No.2 is a work of great contrasts and challenges, an opportunity to display more than simply technical proficiency and to demonstrate that the double bass is a serious solo instrument and capable of so much more than non-bassists realise. If any pieces will help to dispel the myth that the double bass is only an orchestral instrument, the sonatas by Misek and Hertl are the ones to do this.

Frantisek Posta (1919-1991), Principal Bass of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for over 40 years, once told me that he met Adolf Misek. Posta, probably about 20 years old at the time, was playing Misek's Sonata No.2 in a concert and the composer was in the audience and spoke to him afterwards to say how much he had enjoyed the performance.

David Heyes (21 April 2014)

Norman O'Neill - Soliloquy for double bass and piano

"... the leading theatrical composer of his day, and one of the outstanding musical figures of this century. Those who have long known Norman O'Neill's music for 'The Blue Bird', 'Mary Rose', 'A Kiss for Cinderella', 'Kismet', and so many other plays, can now see that the man himself was as charming and distinctive as everything he wrote. No one has ever been more popular in the world of music or the theatre than O'Neill - and whether as musical director of the Haymarket Theatre for over twenty years, treasurer of the Royal Philharmonic Society, composer and conductor for the BBC, teacher at the R.A.M., or genial companion at the Savage Club, his influence was most widely felt." [Derek Hudson, 1945]
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The above text is taken from the back cover of 'Norman O'Neill - A Life in Music', the biography of the composer and published in 1945. O'Neill had the misfortune to die in the same year as Elgar, Holst and Delius - he was a friend of all three - and although he was much respected and loved during his lifetime his reputation and music have not fared so well over the past 80 years.

Norman O'Neill (1875-1934) was the leading British theatrical composer of the 1920s and 30s and was possibly destined for Hollywood at the time of his death. He composed music for more than 50 plays, notably by J.M. Barrie, Shakespeare, A.A. Milne, Ibsen, Walter Scott and Ashley Dukes, showing a remarkable aptitude for devsing music which enhanced a situation and reflected the stage characters. He studied composition with Arthur Somervell and subsequently with Iwan Knorr in Frankfurt, alongside fellow students Balfour Gardiner, Percy Grainger, Cyril Scott and Roger Quilter - subsequently nicknamed 'the Frankfurt gang'. O'Neill was Musical Director of the Haymarket Theatre (London) from 1908-19 and returned there in 1920 for the production of J.M. Barrie's 'Mary Rose' - one of his most successful scores. He was a prolific composer, writing in many genres, and at the time of his untimely death was at the very height of his musical powers.

Soliloquy for double bass and piano is Norman O'Neill's only work for double bass and was composed in 1926 for the English double bassist Victor Watson (1886-1963). There is no mention of the piece in Derek Hudson's book and it was unknown and forgotten until I discovered the manuscript in 2005, 79 years after its premiere. Watson, alongside Eugene Cruft, was one of the most pre-eminent London orchestral bassists of the day, and often performed as a soloist. His recital at London's Wigmore Hall on Thursday 15 April 1926 was the first double bass recital ever to be heard at the hall and included a wonderfully rich mixture of solo repertoire, where he was joined by Steuart Wilson (tenor), Frank Howard (viola), Herbert Lodge (double bass) and Sidney Crooke (piano).

At the time of the concert Soliloquy was simply described as 'New Work' and this was its first performance - the concert included five further premieres. The three-page manuscript score is written in O'Neill's hand and the work is dedicated to Victor Watson. It is likely that the bassist had worked with the composer in London and had simply asked a number of friends to write new works for his Wigmore Hall recital, O'Neill one of them.

Soliloquy is a short lyrical solo, originally in solo tuning, and was composed for a 3-stringed bass, or certainly only uses three strings. Utilising the full solo range of the instrument, it employs long, expansive and lyrical phrases demonstrating the sonorous and cantabile qualities of the solo double bass. A wistful quality, and Delius-like harmonies, produce a work of great quality and beauty, and gives an indication of the solo performance skills of Victor Watson whose recital was an amazing programme for the day.

Early 20th-century British works for solo double bass are as rare as hen's teeth this is a work of great quality which deserves a place in the solo repertoire. It is a wonderfully rhapsodic and brief miniature from a composer who was one of the most popular composers of the day, although laregly forgotten today. The accompaniment is effective and supportive, full of wonderful and original music which contrasts and enhances the lyrical solo line as the bassist ascends into the higher registers. It had lain unknown and forgotten for many years and I was pleased to give the 'modern premiere' on 2 October 2005 and to prepare a new edition for Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net / RM377) which includes piano accompaniments for both solo and orchestral tuning.

Norman O'Neill's name is not one generally known today, but he was a composer of high repute during his lifetime, writing music of great quality and musical worth. Why has been forgotten and overlooked? I have no idea, but there does seem to be a little more interest in his music over the past few years, and I am pleased to have brought this beautiful and pastoral work back to life.

David Heyes (28 April 2014)

Works for soprano and double bass date back to the early 1790s and the music of Johannes Matthias Sperger (1750-1812). His two concert arias for soprano double bass and orchestra -'Se Tene, del tuo fuoco' and 'Non t'avvilir la cura' date from 1791 and 1793 respectively and Vincent Novello's Concert Aria 'Thy Mighty Power' for soprano, double bass and piano is in a long line of works for this interesting combination, which is far from uncommon. My wife, Sarah Poole, is a magnificent soprano soloist and we have been together for 33 years, and I know of many other soprano-double bass couples, so there is something about an attractive soprano that attracts a bassist! Even Patrick Susskind's eponymous hero in his play 'The Double Bass' is in love with a soprano called Sarah. Who wouldn't be?

Vincent Novello (1781-1861) was an organist, pianist, conductor, composer, editor and publisher and the founder of Novello's publishing house which is still in existence today. He was a successful and popular musician throughout his lifetime and was a prolific composer, although his daughter Mary wrote that his compositions were "over-shadowed by his still more abundant arrangements." Novello edited and produced editions of many choral works at a price which was affordable - with the addition of a piano or organ accompaniment and these were the foundation of his publishing empire.

Vincent Novello would have known many of the leading figures of his day and of particular interest to double bassists is his long and enduring friendship with Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846). Dragonetti had lived in London from 1794 and was one of the most famous and beloved musicians of the first half of the 19th-century. His cello-bass partnership with Robert Lindley (1776-1855) was legendary and it was said that no musical festival was complete without the participation of these two musicians. Novello was one of the executors of Dragonetti's will and he spent a number of years collating and documenting the music of this great Italian double bassist which he presented to The British Library in 1849, on his retirement to Italy.

Novello composed Thy Mighty Power for a concert at the Hanover Square Rooms, London on Monday 24 April 1837. His daughter Clara (1818-1908), a noted singer of the day, was intending to study in Italy in the autumn of 1837 and this concert was an opportunity 'to take leave of her Friends' as the playbill notes. Composed for soprano, double bass and piano, it was remarkable that Dragonetti, at the age of about 74 years, performed as the bass soloist at a time when he no longer performed solos in public and this is probably in no small part because of his close personal friendship with the composer and his family.

The original playbill states "MISS CLARA NOVELLO has the gratification of announcing, she has prevailed upon SIGNOR DRAGONETTI to depart from his resolution of not playing Solos in public, and for this time only, he will accompany her in A NEW SONG, WITH CONTRA BASSO OBLIGATO, composed expressly for the concert, by VINCENT NOVELLO."

The New Monthly Belle Assemble (May 1837) stated that "...the performance was magnificent and drew forth immense applause." Similarly, The Musical World (28 April 1837) reviewer stated "...The gem of the concert consisted in a new, sacred, triumphant song ('Thy mighty Power'). It is saying little that the whole interest of the performance was engrossed by the illustrious Contra-basso, although the singer acquitted herself very admirably, taking the D in alt, at the close, with the utmost precision, and apparent ease. The piece was enthusiastically encored from every quarter of the Room...joining in their admiration of the astonishing feat which had been performed. The chief merit in the song lies in the accurate knowledge the composer has displayed of the genius and resources of the double bass."

Thy Mighty Power is a fun work which exploits the tessitura differences between the high soprano and low double bass, particularly in the original version in orchestral tuning, and works well as a final item in a concert. The music is accessible and pleasant - nothing here to frighten the horses - and is simply an entertainment and nothing more. Fiona M. Palmer isn't so enamoured of the song however and mentions it, rather uncharitably in my opinion, in her book 'Vincent Novello (1781-1861): Music for the Masses, Ashgate Publishing): "Novello's aria, Thy Mighty Power is a musical 'lollipop'; it demonstrates little sense of harmonic adventure and is firmly rooted in tonic-dominant relationships. Novello writes idiomatically for Dragonetti's bass exploiting the projection and timbre of the highest string. The voice and bass parts interweave in contrasting motion, word painting abounds and the influence of Handel oratorio is fully evident..."

It was first published in The Musical World (A Weekly Record of Musical Science, Literature and Intelligence) on 12 May 1837 (No. LXI-Vol.V), which also includes an article about the 'Violoncello and contrabasso' as part of Cipriani Potter's 'Companion to the Orchestra; or history of instrumentation - No.V'. It obviously travelled worldwide and New Zealand's Auckland Star (19 November 1904) announces a forthcoming performance at Pitt Street Methodist Church on Wednesday 23 November when it was to be performed by tenor (Mr R. James) with violin obbligato (Mr J. Shaw).

The song had been out of print for many decades before the first modern edition (RM003) was produced by Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net) in 1986 - it's third publication, after two charming salon works by the Czech bassist-composer, Vojta Kuchynka. An edition for double bass in solo tuning (RM109) is also available, and a version with string orchestra is in preparation.

Thy Mighty Power is fun and lively, has great player and audience appeal, and doesn't outstay its welcome. Admittedly Novello had none of the skills of a Mozart or Beethoven, but without the lesser names would we appreciate the great composers as much? Probably not. Novello's music certainly deserves the occasional performance, after all he did make a fantastic contribution to the musical world as a whole, and this is a charming piece which doesn't hurt anyone. Just sit back and enjoy...

David Heyes (12 May 2014)

"Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's Concerto in E major for double bass (Krebs 172) is considered the classical double bass concerto par excellence. Indeed it may well be the best-known and most frequently played work for double bass altogether. Also, it has long established itself as an essential piece for auditions and competitions." (Tobias Glockler, Dresden 2005)
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Carl Ditters was born in Vienna on 2 November 1739 and died in Neuhof (Bohemia) on 24 October 1799. He was a successful violinist and composer and was one of the most important figures of the Viennese Classical school. He is particularly remembered by double bassists for the four works he composed for the instrument - two concertos, a Sinfonia Concertante for viola, double bass and orchestra and a Duetto for viola and double bass (violone). On 5 June 1773 Empress Maria Theresia granted him a certficate of nobility, by which he acquired the additional surname 'von Dittersdorf', and this is how we know him today.

On 1 April 1765 Dittersdorf was appointed Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein, succeeding Michael Haydn, and his works for double bass appear to have been written at this time. Double bassist Friedrich Pischelberger (1741-1813) was a member of the orchestra and it is more than probable that Dittersdorf composed the double bass works for him, and in 1791 Pischelberger also gave the premiere of Mozart's 'Per questa bella mano' for bass, double bass and orchestra. Alongside the 'lost' Concerto of Haydn, composed in 1763, the works by Dittersdorf are some of the earliest concertos for solo double bass.

No original manuscripts exist for these works, but thanks to the great J.M. Sperger (1750-1812) music by Dittersdorf, Anton Zimmermann, J.B. Vanhal and F.A. Hoffmeister, alongside Sperger's own enormous catalogue of works, are preserved in handwritten copies in Sperger's library, which is still proving to be a valuable resource for historians and historically-aware performers, into the 21st-century. The only source for this work is a set of parts held in the music collection of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin and most scholars speculate they are by an unknown copyist, probably from Vienna.

For a brief period, dating from about 1760 to the death of Sperger in 1812, a specific double bass tuning was employed in and around Vienna which was the case for this Concerto. It was written for a 5-string instrument, probably with frets, and using a 3rd-4th tuning (A F# D A F) and which favours the key of D major. Many solo works from this time use this tuning and then employing a semitone (half step) scordatura into E flat major for the accompaniment to vary the keys. Although this tuning was popular it fell out of favour in the early 19th-century and the knowledge of its existence seems to have been 'forgotten' until the early 20th-century and Franz Tischer-Zeit's edition for Schott & Co. in 1938. To make the work fit the modern double bass, tuned in 4ths, he judiciously pruned and edited much of the music, which is totally unacceptable with today's excellent research and improvements in every aspect of double bass playing, but it was a groundbreaking edition for its day and was the starting point for the increase in interest in this long forgotten music and historical tunings. Many excellent modern editions have returned to the manuscripts and created editions which are as close to Dittersdorf's own as we can get. The Schott edition (2473) is still in print, 76 years later and is, arguably, still the preferred edition of many bassists.

The surviving parts of this Concerto are typical of much music from this time and include few performance markings, dynamics or directions - all things which would have been known to musicians of his day. Performers would have embellished the written music and Leopold Mozart commented in his Violin Tutor of 1756 "...the player himself must know how to apply the slurring and detaching tastefully and in the right place." They would probably have written their own cadenzas and it is fascinating to see the surviving ones by Sperger. H.K. Gruber's cadenzas, written for his double bass teacher Ludwig Streicher, are probably the most popular today and challenge the technique of the soloist far more than the original concerto. Stefano Dall'Ora has recently completed idiomatic and tasteful cadenzas for the first and second movements which will be published by Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net)

"[Why?]...belongs amongst the best pieces written for this instrument combination." [Double Bassist]
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Week 13 brings together two of my favourite bassists and greatest friends, but under the most tragic of circumstances.

I first met the great Romanian virtuoso Ovidu Badila at Kloster Michaelstein Bass Workshop (Germany) in about 1997. He was the 'star-act' of the week, amongst many great players, and we met almost by accident. The workshop featured masterclasses and lessons each day alongside recitals every evening and Thursday's recital began at 7.00pm and 'a rather disgruntled Badila' took to the stage at 11.00pm, my diary entry reads, but it was certainly worth waiting for! I sat through the entire concert but my wife Sarah Poole had had enough by about 9.00pm and returned to our room for a well deserved glass of wine. She returned about 90 minutes later and there, waiting to play, was a leather-coated Badila, although at the time she didn't know who he was. They started talking and she said she had come back to hear Ovidiu Badila play, because I had told her how good he was! I think he liked the flattery...

Ovidiu played Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations amongst other pieces and was simply the best player I had ever heard. His technique was impeccable, his musicianship supreme and he simply oozed quality and confidence. He knew he was the best and didn't need a big ego to demonstrate this. From this point on we became firm friends. We kept in contact and met again two years later in Odense at Bassissimo 2000 and began our friendship where we had left off two years before. Sarah, Ovidu, Teppo Hauta-aho and I spent every evening together, and most coffee breaks, talking about our families, careers and great plans for the future. We celebrated his 39th birthday in Denmark and he bought many bottles of wine for the tutors. At one point he leant across and quietly said to me "These bottles are for us - these are the best!" Ovidiu knew his wines, and we celebrated his birthday in style.

We left Odense after a wonderful week of playing and teaching, much laughter and great good humour, and had made plans for both our families to holiday together in Sardinia the following summer. Ovidu phoned us on Christmas Day and we had a wonderful conversation about his future concerts - there were so many and they were so varied - and about the Sardinian adventure that summer. I first heard of his death from Mette Hanskov (Principal Bass, Royal Danish Orchestra) in Denmark and both Sarah and I were in total shock. Ovidu was so full of life, had so much to give as a musician, but also as a husband, father, son and brother, and one of the brightest of lights was suddenly extinguished. I think much of the international bass community was in shock and the loss is still keenly felt. Many of us still talk about Ovidu and I have been quite touched that so many younger bassists want to know more about him - they only know him through his recordings and our memories - and I feel very honoured to have been his friend.

Why? for double bass quartet is surely one of the most powerful and original works in the quartet repertoire and demonstrates a composer at the very height of his powers. Teppo Hauta-aho and I had both studied in Prague with Frantisek Posta (1919-1991), who was Principal Bass of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for over 40 years, Teppo in the 1960s and me in the 1980s. Prof. Posta had said we would become good friends and he was correct in this. Teppo is one of the most unique figures in the double bass world today, as a player and composer, and has written a welath of accessible, evocative and challenging music for every level of performer - he is the most prolific double bass composer ever. The piece reflects our great friendships, respect and love for each other, much laughter and good humour, wonderful memories but also tinged with sadness.

Why? was written in memory of Ovidiu Badila and was premiered on 6 April 2002 at Downe House School (Newbury, Berkshire), as part of Bass-Fest 2002, by Teppo Hauta-aho, David Heyes - Double Bass, Mette Hanskov and Peter Leerdam. In one extended movement, it employs a range of musical and percussive skills to explore a wide range of soundworlds and emotions. The opening pizzicato theme is also used in 'Two Dances' for double bass quartet but develops to encompass the entire range of the bass quartet.

The composer describes "...a feeling of sorrow - a sudden stop when everything is going well - the dramatic end to the work after a powerful climax - the shock of Ovidu's sudden death. The start is both happy and sad and uses an Indian scale, which my piano trio also uses, and it's a scale I heard a lot in the 1970s - it stayed in my mind and is almost Jewish in feel."

"...the piece begins with an introspective blues-like melody which is passed from voice to voice. The work moves through a variety of emotions, from tranquillity to sorrow to anger, and belongs amongst the best pieces written for this instrument combination." [Double Bassist]

"Why? was written in memory of the Romanian bass player Ovidiu Badila, and is a work of unusual poignancy for double bass quartet. Its beginning looks back to the melody used in Teppo's Two Dances, and as this material is developed it is, by turns, reflective, heartfelt and sad. There are some lovely harmonies and the closeness of the parts often creates an anguished tension. The impassioned climax, with its alternating chords, comes to an abrupt stop, leaving three silent bars of reflection. The upper parts are sometimes high and the work is advanced, but this quartet is worth exploring." [ESTA - News & Views]

Why? is a double bass quartet like no other. Here is a work of great drama and passion, of power and friendship, of love and loss - so many emotions that we feel in our everyday life, but here distilled into a ten or eleven minute work which is both challenging and thought provoking. The international bass community is slowing beginning to realise the great quality and power of this work, which challenges performers and audiences alike. It really ought to be at the very heart of the bass quartet repertoire and is a testament to the memory of a great soloist and the skills of a great composer. I'm proud to be a friend to both...

David Heyes (19 May 2014)

Victor Serventi's Largo et Scherzando for double bass and piano is 70 years old this year. Composed in 1944, it has been in print for all that time and is part of the rich heritage of pieces commissioned by the Paris Conservatoire for the greater part of the 20th-century. A work was commissioned each year, presumably for each instrument, and the students who were to graduate included the new piece as part of their final recital programme. The vast majority of works commissioned were from the leading French composers and teachers of the day, and gives a fascinating insight into the music and styles which were prevalent over a sixty-year history. 'Morceau de Concours' by Alex Schmitt dates from 1905 and is presumably one of the first commissioned works of the series, followed by transcriptions of Bach by Edouard Nanny in the 1920s, and Nanny's Concerto in E minor in 1938, followed by a wonderfully rich and interesting list of composers over the next six decades.

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Victor Serventi was born on 23 June 1907 in Algiers and studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire from 1921, firstly with Joseph Morpain and later with Lazare Levy. He studied composition with Henri Busser (1872-1973), who also composed two works for double bass for the project in the 1930s, and in 1937 won the coveted Prix de Rome with his cantata 'La Belle et la bete', but he was unable to participate in studies in Rome because of the outbreak of the 2nd World War.

In 1943 Serventi was appointed Professor at the Paris Conservatoire, a position he held until his retirement in September 1977, and alongside his teaching duties he was also Head of Singing at the Paris Opera. He was married to the famous French singer Suzanne Juyol (1920-1994), considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of her generation, and they lived in Margency, Val-d'Oise for the rest of their lives. Serventi outlived his wife by six years, dying on 16 March 2000.

Although Victor Serventi had a busy and successful career, he seems to have only composed a small number of works. Obviously there could be a shed full of unknown compositions - remember the great Charles Ives - which are waiting to be discovered. His known compositions include Variations on a Corsican lament for piano (1938), a Suite for piano (1942) and Variations for clarinet and piano (1956), but more importantly for double bassists is his Largo et Scherzando dating from 1944. This is Serventi's most famous work and to date there are three recordings of the piece.

Largo et Scherzando is in one extended movement, in two parts as the title implies, and lasting a little over seven minutes. It is dedicated to Alphonse-Joseph Delmas-Boussagol (1891-1958), Professor of double bass at the Paris Conservatoire, and is a beautiful and expressive work which is full of wonderful music and contrasts. The opening Largo is both lyrical and soulful, making effective use of the cantabile qualities of the double bass, accompanied with great delicacy and simplicity. As the music develops in contrapuntal intensity and complexity the two musicians work together to create a strong partnership, each complementing the other. A hint of the opening theme returns before plunging into a scherzando of energy and drive, but the first theme is never far from the mix and the composer really understood the technical possibilities of the double bass and I am sure Monsieur Delmas-Boussagol was consulted on more than one occasion.

Serventi was obviously a very accomplished pianist and composer, creating a modern classic for double bass and piano. The music is challenging and accessible, lyrical and virtuosic, exciting and dramatic, but overall full of great music which should appeal to both performers and audiences alike. The original edition is for double bass in orchestral tuning, possibly why it isn't quite as well known as it ought to be, but there is no reason why the original publishers couldn't produce an edition for solo tuning to make it more accessible for bassists in the 21st-century.

The Paris Conservatoire model of commissioning a new work each year for double bass is one that has inspired me to commission so many works for double bass over the past 30 years and I would be a very happy man indeed if I had commissioned Serventi's Largo et Scherzando. Why did no one ask him to write another piece for double bass?

David Heyes [28 July 2014]

THOMAS MARTIN says:

"We all must thank you, Dear Vito, for your tireless work for all of us bassists!"  You are doing so much for your colleagues and your art.

prof.dr. Vito Domenico Liuzzi "Doctor of Law" -"Magna cum Laude"

dr. Vito Liuzzi
dr. Vito Liuzzi

TRANSLATOR

"A TRIBUTE TO TEPPO" - Teppo Hauta-aho "THE KING" by Nbbrecords

DAN STYFFE "Octophonia" NEW CD

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CATALIN ROTARU or "The PAGANINI of the DOUBLE BASS"

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Click on the image for the free download

MARCOS MACHADO & His New Book (VOL.1) for The Left Hand. HR!

SPERGER DUO - "Sonatas for Double Bass and Piano" with PILIP JARO & Xénia Jarovà

GOLDBERG VARIATIONS

PINO ETTORRE

LEON BOSH

BOTTESINI

ALBERTO BOCINI

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DAXUN ZHANG

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MICHAEL WOLF BOOK, if you like click on to Schott Edition
MICHAEL WOLF BOOK, if you like click on to Schott Edition

 

PIERMARIO MURELLI

PIERMARIO MURELLI - "Nuova didattica per contrabbasso " Ed. RICORDI

ALFREDO TREBBI

ALFREDO TREBBI - Novissimo manuale semiserio per contrabbasso (click on the picture above to read more)
ALFREDO TREBBI - Novissimo manuale semiserio per contrabbasso (click on the picture above to read more)

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GEIRD REINKE

BOGUSLAW FURTOK

SILVIO DALLA TORRE

ENRICO FAGONE

IRINA KALINA GOUDEVA

MICHAEL KLINGHOFFER

OVIDIU BADILA

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THE BASS GANG

Thomas Martin & Timothy Cobb

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THE BASS SONORITY

THE BASS SONORITY: Vito Liuzzi, Michele Cellaro, Vincenzo Chiapperini, Leonardo Presicci, Giuseppe Lillo, Giovanni Rinaldi
THE BASS SONORITY: Vito Liuzzi, Michele Cellaro, Vincenzo Chiapperini, Leonardo Presicci, Giuseppe Lillo, Giovanni Rinaldi

DONOVAN STOKES

STEFANO SCODANIBBIO

Dead in Macerata at 55 years old

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FEDERICO BAGNASCO

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CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO BUY

ALFREDO TREBBI

Lo Zen e l' arte di imparare uno strumento
High Recommended

THOMAS MARTIN & his "Requiem" by Bottesini

PAOLO BENELLI

Dragonetti: Solos for double bass

by PAOLO BENELLI for CARISCH
by PAOLO BENELLI for CARISCH

FEDERICO BAGNASCO

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MICHELE VERONESE

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"Portraits for friends" by BERNARD SALLES

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IRINA-KALINA GOUDEVA

"Recomenzar El Infinito"

Mr. PETRU IUGA "invention" !!!

Vito Liuzzi !!

Rino Liuzzi in STUDIOS