HISTORY (7)

Thanks to all contributors!!!

Thanks to DAVID HEYES and www.recitalmusic.net

Paul Hindemith's Sonata for double bass and piano was written in 1949, and the year proved to be a turning point for the double bass repertoire. This was the first work in the 20th-century to be written by a composer with a truly international reputation, and although Tubin's Concerto (1948) and Gunther Schuller's Bass Quartet (1947) are important, these composers are not in the same league as Hindemith. The double bass still required the genius of Gary Karr, however, to kick-start the interest by commissioning and inspiring composers to write for the instrument. From this reawakening of interest, countless bassists have now commissioned, performed and recorded many thousands of new works and we are truly in a 'Golden Age' for the double bass.
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Between 1918 and 1955 Hindemith (1895-1963) wrote 21 duo sonatas for all the orchestral instruments and others besides, such as the viola d'amore, organ and alto saxophone. The Sonata for double bass dates from 1949, composed on 17/18 August in Taos, New Mexico, when the composer and his wife were enjoying a two-week holiday. No evidence exists, however, to explain why the sonata was written at this precise time when Hindemith still had to prepare work for the Connecticut Academy, prepare six important public lectures to be delivered at Harvard University, and to compose an orchestra work for the Louisville Symphony Orchestra.

One suggestion put forward is that his publisher (Schott & Co. Ltd) had asked him to write the sonata, which was rushed into print early in 1950 and premiered in Vienna by Otto Ruhm (Principal Bass, Vienna Philharmonic) and Gerhard Ruhm (piano) on 26 April 1950, although a publication by the Hindemith Archives suggests the premiere was on 20 April. The composer may have written the sonata as a relaxation exercise during his holiday, or to ward off boredom, but whatever the reason, this is an important work in the solo double bass repertoire which helped to stimulate other important 20th-century composers to write for the double bass.

Gary Karr has recorded the sonata twice and recalls: "I had the great fortune of working with Hindemith during my student days at the Juilliard School. I was immensely impressed by his lyrical musical demands (I was his bassist in his chamber opera 'Back and Forth' and by his most extraordinarily perceptive ear. He seemed to be able to hear absolutely everything at once, a quality rare to most conductors! Like Haydn, his music has suffered terribly from overly academic performances and, like Haydn, his music is basically very lyrical and highly charged with emotion. This was apparent in working with him, and also very evident when I heard Walter Trampler perform his unaccompanied viola works. It certainly changed by concept of his double bass sonata..."

American bassist, Phyllis Edwards and George Hunter (piano_ probably gave the US premiere on 6 May 1951 at the University of Illinois of Music, and Roy Watson (double bass) and Hubert Dawkes (piano) gave the UK premiere in 1950 or 51, at a Youth Orchestra Course in Liverpool. Roy Watson was the double bass tutor and Hubert Dawkes remembers "...to get a good balance, we found the only way was to close the piano lid right down and put the music on top of the piano!"

When Phyllis Edwards was preparing the sonata for performance in 1951 she discovered a chord which seemed unplayable and recalls, in a fascinating article in ISB Journal (Vol.XX, No.1, Winter 1995 pp.14-15), "Not long ago I checked a recent printing of Paul Hindemith's Double Bass Sonata (1949), Schott No.4043, to see what notes are currently given for the pizzicato chord in the last movement, measure 103, after beat three in the bass part (Ex.1). It may not be generally known that in the first printing of this work, published in 1950, the chord was quite different. The notes in the bass part of the first edition resulted in an unplayable chord (Ex.2). In subsequent printings of the sonata the bass chord was evidently corrected by making the notes the same as given for the bass in the piano part. This solves the problem of playability, although in my opinion does not make much sense. I received [a letter] more than 40 years ago from Hindemith himself. I wrote to him asking about the mystery chord, in preparation for a performance of the sonata. Later, when I discovered that the chord in the most recent edition is not the same chord that Hindemith gave me, I was unable to find the all-important letter with his corrections. But at last the letter has resurfaced, and I think people will agree that his chord is much better suited to the musical line... On 6 May 1951 I performed the sonata at a faculty recital in Smith Hall at the University of Illinois with George Hunter, a former student of Hindemith's at Yale, at the piano."

Hindemith's note read: "I don't have a printed copy and don't know how this nonsense chord could happen. Looking up the manuscript I found the following chord (Ex.3). Greetings! P.H."

The printed chord in the 1950 edition (Ex.2) was quite close to the original, with B flat (or A sharp, enharmonically speaking) already there, and the only wrong note being D natural which was one tone too low. My own copy of the sonata, probably bought in the early 1980s still has the wrong chord and I am sure the most recent copies are the same.

1949 was a busy year for Hindemith who composed three concertos and a work for children's or female voices (Kanon: Musica divina laudes) alongside the double bass sonata. The sonata has been recorded at least a dozen times and has an inventive and expressive richness combined with a rhythmic momentum which captures many facets of the solo double bass. The most successful recordings encapsulate the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the instrument contrasting a more spiky and acerbic accompaniment.

The very first recording was probably by Wolfgang Nestle (double bass) and Oda Klemann (piano) on LP, for the Musical Heritage Society (OR H-295) in the mid-1960s as part of the complete Hindemith Chamber Music Series. The LP was volume VII and was couple with Sonata no.2 for cello and piano and a quartet. The dust jacket provides few clues about the recording or release date, but simply mentions that the sonata is written for solo tuning and "after the merry first movement in 2/2, the lively Scherzo intrigues us by its frequent change of rhythm. The third movement is likewise in a very free rhythm, though slow for the most part. Finally a Recitative (free dialogue of the two instruments) serves as a transition to the concise coda in form of a simple song setting."

David Heyes (February 2014)

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)

American composer Armand Russell (b.1932) has had a busy and successful career, dividing his time between composition, as a university professor and as a double bassist, both performer and teacher. In retirement he has produced a wealth of music for every level of bassist, both original works and transcriptions, and his music for the beginner bassist is just as detailed and beautifully structured as is his music for the professional performer.

I have known Armand for about a decade, organising the world premiere of his Grand Ritornello for 12 double basses in America a few years ago, and also publishing many of his works for double bass with Recital Music in recent years. He celebrated his 80th birthday with us in England with a series of workshop performances and concerts at Wells Cathedral School in September 2012, when many of his works were performed and a number received their premieres.

My 50th birthday was the starting point for a new commissioning project which developed into 'Fizz @ 50' and ultimately attracted composers from 11 countries. I asked many friends if they would write a short work aimed at the school-age double bassist and payment would be a bottle of champagne. Armand was the first to take up the challenge and 'Divergent Dances' started the project off at a very high level of composition indeed. The piece was premiered by one of my talented double bass students at Wells Cathedral School, who went on to perform it four or five more times that year. Armand also wrote the 26th work (Elegy for double bass and piano), the beginning of the second phase of 'Fizz @ 50', and it seemed only fitting to ask him to write the final work.

For much of his working life Armand Russell had been a Professor of Music at the University of Hawaii and the link between writing the 50th piece for 'Fizz @ 50' and Hawaii being the unofficial 50th state of the USA was the inspiration for the piece. I also asked that this final work would be more challenging than others in the series and a fitting conclusion to the two-year project. The original programme note is wonderfully descriptive and evocative and sets the scene for a very lyrical and atmospheric work.

'The Hawai’i Variations are based on a melody attributed to a Hawaiian princess, Laura Konia, step-mother of the last Queen of Hawai’i. It is dated around 1897 in the Queen’s song book. This composition for double bass and piano begins with a statement of this theme followed by six variations and a coda. The piece is intended to reflect some of the implications of original song text which in the Hawaiian language is titled 'Nani Haili Po I Ka Lehua'. This can be translated in English as 'Haili is beautiful, dense with the fragrant Lehua blossoms'. The term 'Haili' refers to a forest on the Big Island of Hawaii noted for its many birds and 'Lehua', a very attractive Hawaiian flower.'

Armand Russell has recently written further about the piece and it is a rare privilege to be able to ask a composer to give more insight into his own piece and the working process which ultimately produces the finished work. How nice it would be to phone or email Mozart or Beethoven.....

'My preparations for writing the Hawai’i Variations began with a wish to find a theme that originated in Hawai’i over one hundred years ago within the culture of the Hawaiian people. In the Queen's songbook I found a theme that suited my wishes. Like other songs in the Queen's songbook this is in an acculturated style based on the melodic and structural features typical of the American and European influence that were current in Hawai’i at the time. I have added my own harmony but the original melody does have some subtle qualities that relate to Hawaiian music of the 19th century. Also the narrow range of each phrase might been seen as an influence from Hawaiian chant, the indigenous music of the Islands.

It was my intention to follow some of the basic features of traditional variations but include a few liberties in the use of keys and different methods for linking the variations to the theme. Variation 1 changes the key to a higher pitch level and retains almost all of the melodic tones plus added elaborations around these tones. It retains the harmony of the theme with only a few deviations. Variation 2 is marked dolce con rubato and uses slower note values to create a more expressive effect. It is in yet another key, and retains fewer notes of the theme and adds several added tones around these. It uses some but not all of the original harmony. Variation 3 returns to the original key and stays very close to the original harmony. In this variation,however, the melodic line is very different from the theme but is based very closely on the harmony of the theme.'

The solo part is written almost exclusively in treble clef, making effective use of the lyrical higher registers, and the composer maintains interest by the use of contrasts and key changes, which offer both musical and technical challenges for the double bassist. The accompaniment is primarily chordal, exploring a rich harmonic palette which beautifully supports the solo double bass. Each variation offers something new and something of interest for performers and audiences alike, and was a fitting conclusion to 'Fizz @ 50'. Hawai'i Variations is a work of quality and worth and is a great addition to the solo repertoire - music which speaks to an audience and which demonstrates the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the double bass. I was very pleased to premiere Hawai'i Variations on 16 September 2012 at Wells Cathedral School (Somerset, UK) as part of Armand Russell's 80th birthday celebrations at the school.

I am pleased and privileged to have been the commissioner and dedicatee of many works by Armand Russell in recent years. His music has an immediacy and accessibility, which is often rare amongst many contemporary composers, and he is both practical and approachable with the desire to make every piece as player-friendly as possible.

David Heyes [3 August 2014]

The 1940s was not the best time for new double bass music although the last three years of the decade produced three works which have certainly stood the test of time - Gunther Schuller's Double Bass Quartet (1947), Paul Hindemith's Sonata for Double Bass and Piano (1949) and Eduard Tubin's monumental and magnificent Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (1947/48). Eduard Tubin (1905-1982) was an Estonian composer who fled to Stockholm when the Soviet Union invaded his homeland in 1944 and remained in Sweden until his death, becoming a Swedish citizen in 1961. Tubin was a prolific composer writing ten symphonies, orchestral works, concertos, a ballet, two opera, chamber music alongside solo and choral songs.

Tubin's Double Bass Concerto was commissioned by fellow Estonian, the double bass virtuoso Ludvig Juht (1894-1957), in 1947 and was completed the following year. Juht performed as a soloist and orchestral bassist across the world and for the last twenty years of his life was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He performed twice as a soloist in Sweden and during his 1947 tour he met Tubin and commissioned him to write a Concerto for him. "Write it in this way, that every double bass player in the whole USA will have it on his music stand just to show off" Juht suggested to the composer. It turned out to be one of Tubin's most successful works and the publisher (Korlings/Stockholm) sold more copies of this than any other work by the composer. Work on the concerto began during the latter part of 1947 and the orchestral score was completed on 31 May 1948.

The composer admitted that Juht had played a vital role in tailoring the solo part to fit the double bass and wrote "Juht showed me all kinds of solo tricks when he was visiting Stockholm. Then it became a veritable correspondence course. When I asked if it was possible to play certain passages, the answer was: 'Yes with practice.' "

In 1957, after Juht's death, Tubin remembered: "For the first time my close contact with Ludvig Juht took place here in Stockholm when he suggested to me to write something for his instrument...But I do not know your instrument and your techniques, I said. Come, I'll show you some technical principles and then we can communicate when you already compose. Send it me, I'll look through and will tell you what suits and what not answered Juht. That's how we did. I got one introductory lesson from him in Stockholm and later we had an intense correspondence between Boston and Stockholm, on the basis of which my Double Bass Concerto was created section by section. When I now, later, look over those letters I truly understand how many of Juht's instructions are there in that work..."

Juht was pleased with the work and after receiving the piano score wrote to Tubin in 1948 stating "The piece is very good and very suitable for the double bass, even a double bass player would not have written it better...Overall you have written this work so furiously well that I am absolutely enchanted...I have a strong feeling that with this concerto the double bass will without doubts be raised to the family of solo instruments."

The first performance with piano accompaniment took place in Rockport, Massachusetts (USA) on 19 July 1948 - Juht was the soloist accompanied by Sofia Stumberg, and the first performance with orchestra took place in Bogota, Colombia on 8 March 1957, performed by Manuel Verdeguer (double bass) with the Colombia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Olav Roots.

Over the years the Concerto has been performed and recorded many times, including performances in Argentina, Venezuela, Moscow, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, USA and Japan, but the only current commercial recording is BIS CD-337, performed by Haken Ehren (double bass) with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Jarvi.

In one extended movement, lasting around 18 minutes, but divided into defined 'movements' or sections, Tubin's Concerto demonstrates a composer who certainly knew who to write successfully for the orchestra, also understanding how to orchestrate effectively when accompanying the soloist. He created a work which is both monumental and magnificent, lyrical and passionate, and always full of humour and virtuosity. The orchestral colours and rhythmic energy create a symphonic solo work which also demonstrates what is possible when soloist and composer collaborate. The solo part tests the musicality and technical proficiency of the double bassist, but the music is always idiomatic and playable - Tubin's concerto is a work which demonstrates the possibilities of the solo double bass and is certainly deserves its place as an important work form the mid 20th-century.
David Heyes (31 March 2014)
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My thanks to Kerri Kotta (Executive Director) and Vardo Rumessen (Chairman) of the Eduard Tubin Society for providing a wealth of information about Tubin's Concerto for Double Bass & Orchestra. Herbert Connor and Edward Jurowski's articles about the work are both beautifully written and expertly researched and I am grateful to the Society for sending copies of these articles.

John Downey's Concerto for Double Bass & Orchestra is never likely to be in the Top Ten of favourite or most popular bass concertos, but this is magnificent work full of enormous breadth and scope. A work which challenges the technical and musical skills of the soloist, pitted against a large orchestra which produces a wonderfully evocative, passionate, dramatic and magisterial accompaniment and demonstrates a composer at the very height of his powers.
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The Concerto was commissioned by Gary Karr, who gave the first performance in September 1987 at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon. It is dedicated to Gary who has an unenviable track record in commissioning many works for double bass over his long and hugely successful international performing and recording career.

Gary Karr recalled in 1995 (The British Double Bass Society Newsletter / June 1995) "I heard John Downey's music at a friends house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about 10-15 years ago. I loved his unique harmonic vocabulary and especially his lyrical gifts. I therefore commissioned him on the spot to write a concerto, and it was premiered in Sydney in the Opera House. Later, I played it with other Australian orchestra as well as US orchestras."

Lasting over 30 minutes, in four contrasting and epic movements, and scored for large symphony orchestra, it was recorded by Gary Karr with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon, at Blackheath Concert Halls between 27 February and 1 March 1991 for Cala Records (CACD 1003) on an all-Downey recording.
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In 1995 John Downey wrote to David Heyes about the Concerto and his memories were first published by The Briitish Double Bass Society (Newsletter June 1995).

"My Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra is definitely lyrical in nature and concept, as I realised that the most stunning attribute of Gary Karr's playing for me was his soaring lyricism. I took it as a challenge to undertake the writing of a composition of this nature for an instrument not ordinarily associated with an expression of this kind, but certainly, as I have found out, supremely capable of realizing it.

At the time of composition of the Concerto I was very much into a kind of avant-garde vocabulary; one featuring many aleatoric moves and a preoccupation with random sonorities. At first I thought that Gary Karr had perhaps heard or even played my 'Silhouette' for solo double bass which highlights these latter qualities, and that was the reason he was commissioning me to write a concerto for him. However, I soon discovered that Gary did not particularly relish randomness in music that he performs. His idea was that the composer write the notes, and he would see to it that they get played. His words to me were: "You create the score, and I will bring it to life."

In actual fact, Gary Karr had heard a work of mine, a bassoon fantasy called 'The Edge of Space', recorded by Chandos, masterfully performed by Robert Thompson, solo bassoon, and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon. Gary's idea was that a composer who could get a bassoon to project over a full orchestra would be a good choice as one to do likewise with the double bass. He wanted a show piece that he could perform with any of the large symphony orchestra. These were the underlying precepts for commissioning my Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra.

Realizing that some of the random and rather extemporized sounds of a piece like 'Silhouette' (commissioned by Roger Ruggeri, principal double bass of the Milwauukee Symphony Orchestra) would not be desirable for Gary, I then decided to confine whatever aleatoric sound qualities I might feel a need for, to the orchestra. This is especially evident in the first movement of the concerto. Of particular interest to me was introducing the unusual colour of a duo between cello and double bass as soloists, with the bass floating above the cello line. Randon filigree passages in the high strings as well as some random glisses and middle and low bends in the strings keep the vocabulary somewhat on the edge. My working plan aimed at giving me a certain liberty in composition while yet concentrating on the lyrical qualities of the solo double bass part. This latter quality, I believe, is most apparent in the second movement, where I present the soloist with an introspective, song-like theme, which becomes more and more adventurous as it rises up and up in register. At its second appearance, for example, the solo bass finds itself above five individual cello parts, making a somewhat impassioned statement of that theme. At the end of the movement, that same melody is stated once more in yet a higher octave, this time suspended in harmonics.

A certain lightness is aimed at in the short third movement which barely lasts a minute and a half. The sonority of the solo double bass is confined to pizzicato notes as it dialogues, mostly with winds, principally in pairs.

The Finale was a particular challenge for me. I wanted to see if I could sustain a long, fast movement, from beginning to end, without any break in tempo. I wanted to involve the entire orchestra in a mass of sonorities - at the same time allowing the solo double bass to project and keep its identity above the large orchestral sounds. I liken this to a speeding train ride. Once you've come aboard, there is no way to get off until the train finally pulls into its ultimate destination in a fury of sound, engaging the whole orchestra, and, of course, the soloist. The hope was to create a feeling of exhilaration and speed while displaying the tremendous virtuoso possibilities of the double bass." (John Downey, Shorewood, Wisconsin, 1995).
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John Downey was born on 5 October 1927 in Chicago and studied, among others, with Ernst Krenek and Vittorio Rieti, and subsequently in Paris with Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. His studies abroad conculed with a Prix de Composition from the Paris Conservatoire and a Ph.D (Docteur es Lettres) from the Sorbonne. Upon his return to the United States he continued to compose, while embarking upon a career as a Professor of Theory and Composition.

In 1964 he became Composer-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a position he held for many years, and founded and directed the Wisconsin Contemporary Music Forum. His numerous compositions have received performance swolrdwide. In 1980 the French Government awarded him the coveted Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for distinguished achievements in the field of French culture. In 1986 John Downey was honoured with the title 'Distinguished Professor of Music' by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.

"John Downey's oeuvre is imbued with qualities of warmth and humanity which have endeared him to concert audiences and earned him the widespread respect of his fellow musicians."

John Downey died on 18 December 2004.
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David Heyes recalls: "John and I corresponded for some years and I was pleased to meet him in London in 1999, during a Downey Festival. He was wonderfully friendly and generous with his time although was in poor health and quite frail. My memories are of a wonderfully talented and passionate composer who had no problem with taking the double bass seriously as a solo instrument and produced a wealth of challenging music which asks as much from the audience as it does from the performers. His music communicates on many levels and demonstrates a humanity, energy and warmth which deserves a wider audience.

The CD of John's Double Bass Concerto demonstrates two artists at the very height of their powers - composer and soloist - and should be in the collection of every serious double bassist."

David Heyes (2 March 2014)

18) 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 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 Gajdos rose to the challenge magnificently, each writing works of great skill and imagination, and both completely different. Tony's 'Concerto in the Classical Style' is in one-movement and combines the style and feel of Haydn with a modern touch. Miloslav Gajdos has performed and edited many of the Classical concertos and knows the music intimately and instead of writing one movement, he wrote three! His Concerto No.2 'Haydn' bears the imprint of a great double bassist producing music of wonderful character, spirit and style.

I suggested to Tony Osborne that the theme could be changed by doubling the length of the notes, which would give a much faster feel to the music. I subsequently used the theme for a composition competition and was amazed at the response and the quality and ingenuity of many composers when tackling the project. Stephen Latham presumed the theme was for a slow movement and wrote a lyrical and Haydn-esque 'Concerto for Double Bass after Haydn', although the cadenza has much more of a contemporary feel; Christopher Brown created a rhapsodic 'Resurgam - Concertino for double bass and strings' which never states the theme but explores around it and 'resurgam' means 'I shall rise again' which is appropriate for a work which has been unknown for 251 years; Judith Bailey's 'Concerto in the style of Haydn' is in one movement and is both lyrical and approachable with the spirit of Haydn never far from the music; and Anthony Green's 'Concerto in One Movement on a fragment of Haydn' is much more adventurous in terms of style and idiom, and many key changes which create an exciting work of great energy and drive - more Schoenberg than Haydn, but still full of imagination and skill.

The Haydn Project produced some really intriguing works from a range of composers, many of which I have performed with orchestra. Each composer followed a different path, producing works which really have something to say, and one of my next projects is to record all these works with chamber orchestra.

David Heyes [22 June 2014]
KOUSSEVITZKY CONCERTO
Gary Karr recalls "In 1962, the morning after I played my debut recital in Town Hall, I received a surprise call from Mme. Koussevitzky. When I heard this strange, soft-spoken, aristocratic Russian accent, I thought that it was a friend pla...ying a practical joke on me. She said, “This is Olga Koussevitzky calling,” and, without hesitation, I replied, “Yeh baby, I’ll bet!” Undaunted by my insolence, she kindly invited me to her apartment.

Upon arriving, the first thing that I noticed was her husband’s famous Amati doublebass made in 1611. She then said, “After having heard you play last night, I felt that you were the one to carry on my husband’s legacy. Therefore I have decided to offer you my husband’s doublebass as a gift.” She told me that his Amati was his “constant companion” and that he practiced on it “everyday of his life.” I later discovered that she had been invited to my recital by Jennie Tourel, the great mezzo soprano whom I consider to be my musical mentor. She told Mme. Tourel that, during my concert, she had seen the ghost of her husband with his arms around both my doublebass and me in approval. It was that vision which convinced her that his Amati, which I am playing tonight, should be in my hands.

During many of my performances in the past few decades, several parapsychologists have told me that they too had seen the apparition, always wearing the same long frock and white gloves. Now, even as a dapper ghost, the figure of the great Serge Koussevitzky still haunts the concert stage."
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The music of Koussevitsky (1874-1951) is often associated with Gary Karr and the famed Amati double bass, and the opportunity to hear the music of this Russian 'giant' played on his own double bass is always a great thrill. Although known in the double bass world as one of the 'mighty four', Serge Sergei Koussevitzky was far more than that and his position as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra enabled him to commission many important orchestral works, founding Tanglewood Music Festival, alongside supporting many composers who had emigrated to America from a troubled Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The Koussevitsky Foundation continue the work that he started all those many years ago and there is surely a thesis waiting to be written about the importance of Serge Koussevitsky on the orchestral repertoire during the first half of the 20th-century.

Koussevitsky's early life was dominated by the double bass, as performer, composer and transcriber, and he arranged a number of works for the double bass, notably the Eccles Sonata, Bruch's Kol Nidrei, Mozart's Bassoon Concerto and Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor. As a composer he produced four characterful and idiomatic miniatures for double bass and piano (Andante, Valse Miniature, Chanson Triste, Humoresque) and a Concerto in F# minor for double bass and orchestra. The concerto is probably one of the most popular and performed of all double bass concertos and is accessible to professionals, amateurs, high school, college and conservatoire students alike.

1902 saw the premieres of Debussy's opera 'Pelleas et Melisande', Mahler's Symphony No.3 and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No.2 'The Four Temperaments', and it also marked the composition of Koussevitsky's Concerto in F# minor for double bass. Stuart Sankey places the composition a year later (ISB Vol. XVIII No.3, Spring 1993), but everyone agrees that it was premiered on 25 February 1905 in Moscow, performed by the composer as soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic. It was dedicated to Mlle. Natalie Ouchkoff, whom he married the same year, and interestingly several sources state that Koussevitsky conceived the work as 'a one-movement statement divided into three sections...A-B-A' which does make sense as the first two 'movements' are played segue and a repeat of the opening material does now act as a recapitulation.

Koussevitsky performed the Concerto a number of times in Boston and New York in 1927, both times with piano, and it was reviewed favourably by a number of critics. "Koussevitsky's Concerto is not a mere show piece for vain display. It is thoughtfully conceived, carefully written, without trivial details" wrote Philip Hale after the Boston recital. New York Times critic Olin Downes was just even more effusive "...His Concerto is well written, very much better than one might have expected of a piece which is avowedly a virtuoso's vehicle. As soon as Mr. Koussevitsky played the opening phrase, he had commanded the attention of the audience. Thereafter the listener surrendered himself to an astonishing exhibition. Those who have not heard him have probably little conception of what the double bass can become in the hands of a master. In other hands, of course, it remains an element of instrumental ensembles. A man of genius last night gave it momentarily a greater significance."

In the Saturday Review of July 1954, Mme Koussevitsky wrote that her husband '...likened the inner voice of the sound of the strings to cords of the natural instrument - the human voice. Listening to the great singers of his day, trying to imitate their vocal art, he was not merely playing on a string instrument, he was singing through the voice of the doublebass.'

Koussevitsky's Concerto is a work of great Russian passion and lyricism. The influence of the great masters - Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Glinka and Scribian - is never very far away and the work, lasting only about 16 or 17 minutes, offers both technical and musical challenges for the soloist and an opportunity to display more than simply technical prowess and to sing! There has been much speculation over the years that Koussevitsky didn't write the work, but his great friend Reinhold Gliere did. My feeling is that Gliere possibly helped with the orchestration - he was a master at the art - but the work is definitely by Koussevitsky and has all the fingerprints and clues to suggest a work written by someone who knew the double bass intimately.

Most concertos have at least one cadenza for the soloist to excel and display great virtuosity and bravura, but Koussevitsky's does not have any. The great Hungarian double bassist, Lajos Montag (1906-1997), after much trouble and subterfuge, eventually was able to speak to Koussevitsky about this dilemma and asked why he had not provided a cadenza. The Maestro replied: "If I were to write the Concerto today I would gladly add a cadenza. But, I regret to say, at this time the bass is not of prime interest to me. Owing to my duties as Conductor there is no possibility for me to occupy myself with the details of writing a cadenza." Montag writes: ...with a wave of his hand, as if to say writing a cadenza would be the easiest thing in the world Koussevitsky added "But why don't you write a cadenza?" Lajos Montag did write a cadenza and so have David Walter and Teppo Hauta-aho. Does the work benefit from the addition? It certainly adds to the interest of the work and contrasts a change of timbre and texture from the lush orchestral colours.

The last word goes to Jo Kirkbride for her most beautiful and evocative description: '...Rather than a virtuosic display piece, the concerto is a more understated, lyrical work that speaks of his passion for the instrument...Its three movements resonate with the music he loved - Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Glinka - while its heartfelt folk-like melodies sing of his native Russia.'


"Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) was a prolific and multi-faceted creative figure whose work embraced a full panoply of styles and influences. Like Kafka and Mahler, a German Jew in a Czech cultural milieu, the composer took full advantage of his “outsider looking in” status to forge a compelling musical personality. One of the earliest and most successful exponents of art music drawing on jazz, Schulhoff refracts multiple approaches of his time, from Dada to Expressionism, and from a distanced self-mockery to the stolid seriousness of Socialist Realism." [Derek Katz]
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When I first started researching for this article I presumed that I would be able to count on the fingers of one hand the number of pieces written for the combination of flute, viola and double bass. How wrong I was! Although most of these pieces are not written by the most famous of composers, there are a good number of examples, particularly from the 20th and 21st-century, but also dating as far back as the late 18th-century. Johannes Mathias Sperger (1750-1812) was the most prolific double bass composer of the 18th-century and he composed two works for this combination of instruments - a Trio for flute (or horn), viola and double bass, composed between 1786 and 1789, in D major and in three movements; and a Sinfonia Concertante for flute, viola, double bass and orchestra dating from July 1778, also in the same key and also in three movements. The history of the flute, viola and double bass trio is far older than I had imagined and is in fact over 200 years old.
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Erwin Schulhoff (8 June 1894 – 18 August 1942) was a prolific Czech composer and pianist, displaying his musical talent from a young age. He studied at Prague Conservatoire from the age of ten years, on the recommendation of Antonin Dvorak, and subsequently completed his studies in piano, composition and conducting in Leipzig, Vienna and Cologne. Schulhoff's compositional career can be divided into four separate and distinct phases, each completely different from the others. His early works were much influenced by the music of Richard Strauss and the late-romantics - he attended the Czech premiere of Strauss' opera Salome in 1906 - but from about 1912 the influence of Claude Debussy was even greater and his compositional style began to encompass whole-tone scales, quartel harmonies and parallel chords. He fought and was injured in the First World War and afterwards the influence of Expressionism and Dadaism took hold. He produced a wealth of works in this new style which challenged both performers and audiences alike and his music was 'cutting edge' as he moved in a lively circle of artists, musicians and dancers.

Possibly his most important and creative period, from about 1923 to 1932, included the influence of jazz and neo-classicism on his music, alongside folk music and contemporary styles. Works written during these years are more accessible and are some of his most frequently performed pieces to the present day. A final period of 'Socialist Realism' led to him joining the communist party and even setting part of the Communist Manifesto to music in 1932. As a jew in Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia in the early 1940s, it was difficult for Schulhoff to earn a living and in 1941 the Soviet Union approved his petition for citizenship, but he was arrested and imprisoned before he could leave Prague. In June 1941, Erwin Schulhoff was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp, near Weißenburg, Bavaria and died there on 18 August 1942 from tuberculosis.

Unlike other well-known Czech composers such as Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Hans Krása, Erwin Schulhoff was arrested for being a Soviet citizen, rather than for being a Jew, and he was therefore not taken to the Theresienstadt concentration camp on the outskirts of Prague, where his father also died in 1942.
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Schulhoff's Concertino for flute (doubling piccolo), viola and double bass dates from his third creative period and was composed in Prague between 28 May and 1 June 1925. The four contrasting movements create a wealth of colours and timbres from the three instruments, both musically and spacially, exaggerated when the piccolo plays in its high register and the double bass in its lowest. Two movements were premiered on 25 July 1926 at Donaueschingen (Germany) at a concert organised by the Swiss flautist H.W. Drauber, to whom the work is dedicated, with the two Hindemith brothers, Paul (viola) and Rudi (double bass).

The first movement (Andante con moto) begins slowly and with the viola and double bass in unison, albeit two octaves apart, above which the flute sings its Debussyian and Eastern-sounding melody. Faster and more acerbic episodes contrast the slow and simple opening, with the composer exploring both range and colour within a short space of time. The movement ends with the flute and double bass playing the chant-like opening, now three octaves apart, and with a lyrical and sonorous counter-melody for viola.

The second movement (Furiant: Allegro furioso) returns the composer to the music of his native Czechoslovakia and a fast and lively folk dance in 5/8 time. A driving rhythmic accompaniment, played pizzicato and col legno, produces a strong and charcterful backdrop against which the flute plays its folk-inspired melody of great energy and drive. A slow and more stately 5/4 section slows the pace a little, before the furiant music is re-introduced and the work ends simply and with a 'throw away' ending. The double bass does play the melody here but in its lowest register, almost orchestral in feel, and below the viola accompaniment.

Schulhoff was particularly interested in the folk music and culture of Ruthenia, the easternmost part of pre-World War 2 Czechoslovakia and now Western Ukraine, and a love song from this region is the basis of the third movement (Andante). Generally soulful, the music is lyrical and contrapuntal with its flowing melody for flute against which the viola and double bass weave long and sinuous melodies. At last the double bass is allowed out of the depths to play in its solo register and all three instruments are now in a much higher range than before, creating new and interesting textures, as the flute and double bass duet together before the darked hued viola enters the scene.

The final movement (Rondino: Allegro gaio) is folk-like and full of fun and wit. The two chords to open the movement attract the attention of the audience instantly before the lively and rustic music begins. A feeling of the hoe-down or village fair are ever present, the fun of the circus almost, and the piccolo drives the music merrily along with a strongly rhythmic and exciting accompaniment from viola and double bass. The middle section employs a pizzicato accompaniment above which the flute a melody which the composer describes as 'Moravian seller of shepherd's flutes in the streets of Prague', before the dance music in reintroduced and the movement successfully ends full of good humour and great energy.
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I rather like Schulhoff's Concertino, which I first discovered in the early 1980s when I was a student at the Royal College of Music is London, and is full of wonderful contrasts and textures. The four movements are well defined and characterised, each with a different message to convey and, lasting about 15 minutes, the suite is easily programmable and certainly doesn't outstay its welcome. The music is accessible and enjoyable, with few technical challenges for the performers, and opportunities to create a soundworld which will be new and interesting for an audience. The slow and lyrical melodies, within a modern-ish idiom, are contrasted by the Czech and folk styles of the faster movements and there is nothing here to frighten anyone and much to enjoy.

Almost 90 years old, this is a piece worthy of a more permanent place in the chamber music repertoire and to bring the name of this fascinating composer to a much wider audience.

Simon Garcia - Mali-malist for double bass quartet


Every so often a piece of music comes along which captures both the imagination of players and audiences alike. Something which is original, has a message to convey and doesn't outstay its welcome. Something which is different to everything else around it and with just a hint of genius. Mali-malist, by the talented young Spanish bassist-composer, Simón García, is one of those pieces. Barely two years old, it has already been performed in about a dozen countries, has been published in two versions by Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net) and has been recently recorded by the great Bassiona Amorosa.

As the title suggests, here is a fusion of minimalism and the music of the west African country of Mali, which is currently in the middle of a civil war.

Simon Garcia writes: "I received an invitation from Alberto Bocini to participate in the "Festival au desert presenza d'Africa" 2012. A risky bet where we had to accompany the singing and drumming of the women singers of Mali´s group Tartit. Alberto said "We need about 20 minutes of music to start the concert with bass quartet alone. We should play music that does not clash with what they do, something repetitive and rhythmic ".

I thought: "repetitive and rhythmic...minimalist music will be great" but drums also sounded in my head. I started to work at my piano looking for something simple and powerful and then found the essence of the piece. When I included the percussion everything fitted. I also wanted to convey the tension of a country at war and introduced elements that emulate sirens of war and feelings of tension, action and chaos. So much so that Frederick Hanssen wrote "Simon Garcia's suggestive-suspenseful "Mali-malist" offers itself for the next James Bond soundtrack..." in a review at the "Der Tagesspiegel".

The venue for the concert was wonderful, Piazza della Murate in Florence. In my study room I imagined the place, with coloured lights on stage and the bass quartet going on stage while the voices of basses are sounding stepwise, The Tartit singers really liked the piece and Mali-malist was premiered mixing with lovely traditional songs of Mali in a magical combination and it was a great success!"

Mali-malist was premiered at the "Festival au Desert, Presenza dAfrica" in Florence in July 2012 by Alberto Bocini, Anita Mazzantini, Marco Martelli and Simon Garcia.

It received its UK premiere at Wells Cathedral School (Somerset) on 8 June 2013 by David Heyes, Nicolas Lum, Joe Prindl, Josie Jobbins and Pete-Li D'Oyley.
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I have been very pleased to have organised and performed in both the UK premiere on 8 June 2013 with my students at Wells Cathedral School, and also the Czech premiere at Prague Conservatory on 5 April 2014 alongside my great friend Jiri Jiří Valenta (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) and two of his his students from the conservatoire. Mali-malist has a drive and momentum like few others and the blending of two such different styles of music works brilliantly to portray some of the horrors of the Malian war and the plight of many of its people. The composer uses a range of sounds and effects to create a soundworld which is exciting to play and also full of great interest and intrigue for an audience. We recently performed it with a massed bass orchestra and even with larger forces it still retained its great magic and spirit.

One of my happiest memories of the piece was directly after the UK premiere when a cellist colleague, Liz Anderson, asked if it would transcribe for cello quartet. Surely a first - a double bass work being arranged for cellos!

Mali-malist lasts about three minutes and the music builds, player by player, with added interest from various accented syncopations. Bass 4 enters at bar 21, playing 'extreme sul ponticello' and then you know that here is something different with an expectation of things to come. As basses 1 and 2 shoot into the higher registers the music is grounded by the various percussive effects of bass 4 - brilliantly played by the composer at Bass-Fest 2013, when he was a Featured Composer. Bass 3 adds to the rhythmic effect before Bass 4 plays a combination of pizzicato and percussion accompaniment, keeping the music constantly grounded. The war sirens and feeling of conflict is introduced by Bass 3 (sul ponticello), as the others maintain a constant drive and momentum and the final 17 bars build to a sudden and dramatic climax (sfz).

Mali-malist works brilliantly as the first or last piece in a concert. It has both player and audience appeal and is certainly worth the effort. Simon Garcia is certainly 'flavour of the month' at the moment and his music effectively combines a wealth of styles and idioms into pieces which 'speak' to any audience. Here is a new and exciting voice, someone who understands what bassists want to play and what will work well in any concert setting. A composer who writes music from the heart.

David Heyes (2 June 2014)

"... 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)



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]



John Alexander (b.1942) won the 1st BIBF Composition Competition in 1999 and subsequently has written a wealth of challenging and accessible music for double bass. He has been a judge for a number of our competitions, has been a Featured Composer at Bass-Fest many times, most notably Bass-Fest 2013, and returns a Composer-in-Residence for Bass-Fest 2014.

John's attention to detail and a sharp eye for colour and timbre has resulted in a wide-ranging catalogue of music for bassists of all ages and abilities. His music has been played by many leading players around the world and, although primarily a miniaturist, is creating music which has the ability to challenge and entertain - not an easy combination to achieve.

I met John shortly after winning the 1999 competition and we have been great friends ever since and his wonderful support of me, Recital Music and Bass-Fest have been constant and unwavering for the past 15 years. He is quietly charming and unassuming, has a wonderful intellect and imagination, which he employs in every note he writes, whether for the beginner or virtuoso, and is one of the nicest composers to work with. He understands the need to make every piece fit the performer 'like a glove' and has few compunctions about changing details to ensure his music speaks to both performer and audience alike.

I commissioned 'unquiet air' for the 7th BIBF Bass Workshop, held at Downe House School (Cold Ash, near Newbury, Berkshire) and it was premiered on 10 April 2001 by James George Adolpho, Alex Forbes, Noah Tonkin and Jack Judd, ably conducted by the composer, and the piece is dedicated to the four bassists.

Having read hundreds of scores over the years, I have to admit that the qualities and success of this piece passed me by spectacularly. The music didn't 'jump off' the page as it tends to do with quality works, I wasn't particularly interested in a 'fun' piece which included balloons, but how wrong I was! The premiere was a magnificent success and none of us knew anything about the piece until the first performance. The composer had taken the players to a remote part of the school to rehearse and we were blown away, if you will pardon the pun, by the performance. This was one of the highlights, amongst many, of the 2001 workshop.

The work employs traditional notation alongside 'actions' and directions, which bassists are rarely caused to use in normal life, and the challenges are all possible and allow the performers to develop their non-classical skills in a work which speaks to both performers and audiences. The introduction of balloons into the mix is one of sheer genius and is probably a first for the double bass world.

I have commissioned more than 500 works for double bass over the past 30 years, and hopefully there are still many more to come before my 100th birthday, and this is probably the quirkiest and most unusual, but also one which delights and entertains at every performance. John has created a fun work, which is also serious and confident, and is playable by bassists of any age. The music is modern without being inaccessible and would fit easily into any recital or concert and will be a staple at Bass-Fest for many years to come.

David Heyes (Somerset, 17 March 2014)
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Having received this lovely commission from David Heyes to compose a quartet for double basses, and having at that time been reading ‘Silence’ (Lectures and Writings) by John Cage, I was inspired to write a piece for capable young people (part of the commission ‘brief’) that had at its heart the notion of sound – its cause; the organisation and communication of it to ‘make’ music; the knowledge that we always live with sound, even during those moments we refer to as ‘silence’.

I also wanted to offer the adventurous ‘young’ player (however old they might be!) with ways of performing music other than via traditional notation. These thoughts led me to include a sense of unpredictability by incorporating individual choice through aleatoric ideas, some improvisation, elements of graphic notation, and aspects of extra musical sounds to explore connections between ‘noise’ and ‘music’, all contained within a controlled yet reassuring structure. Another aim was to design a piece that could be put together relatively quickly – ie: rehearsed and performed – possibly within a time frame of an hour, as well as to have some sound enjoyment along the way.

With these self-imposed limitations in place, all I had to do was to choose a structural order and write something!

As I recall, fairly early in the compositional process, I realised there would need to be a music director to cue the quartet through the ‘free’ areas of the piece, a decision that also prompted me to include this additional 5th body to help produce the extra-musical sounds towards the end. Using simple graphic notation – a page of notes in the score and parts give explanations – I elected to symbolically open the work with an audible sharp intake of breath from each of the players in turn, with the notion of the ‘breath’ being something of a background theme at various places during ‘unquiet air’.

Witold Lutoslawski, whose work I have long admired, frequently used aleatory techniques. I read somewhere that he would take his time to make sure the resulting accumulation of notes between instruments always made musical/harmonic sense. Influenced by this thought, I decided to give each of my quartet of players the same five pitches in the opening section of my piece, but in a different melodic order. These notes would be gradually and successively introduced in the array of 1; 1, 2; then, 1, 2, 3; and so on, until all five had been presented – a technique I picked up from the music of another admired composer, Frederick Rzewski. Each player would start at a different time, with the choice of rhythmic pattern/duration of notes – the aleatoric bit – down to the individual performer on the day, in the moment. Because of the deliberately selected intervals between the five notes, they would consequentially always blend together, by my estimation, being from the same aural field, no matter what order of melodic/harmonic spelling is gradually built up and revealed during performance. To give an added aura to the final held chord in this section, I opted to ask the bassists to quietly hum their particular last note.

After some consideration, the middle section became a traditionally notated ‘air’ and accompaniment (a self-borrowing of part of something I had written some eight years earlier), set in 5/4 meter and frequently interrupted by seemingly extraneous (yet relevant) sounds from the basses. I chose to leave the co-opted ‘air’ hanging in its surroundings, unresolved, before moving dramatically on.

I wanted the final section to be a lot of fun whilst still maintaining meaning and inspiration from my title. I immediately thought of a funky pizzicato bass line to lay down the required mood. I wrote this out for Double bass 4, who could also choose, set and keep a pace that would suit both the player and the feel of the line. Alongside this, I plumped for a second bassist to beat out an improvised rhythm with hand slaps on the top edge of the bass; however, for the player who might not be comfortable with this improvisational aspect, I wrote a suitable rhythm. On top of these two parts, I wanted to somehow express the idea of air being visually shown and aurally heard, simultaneously. How could this be achieved? And I thought: balloons! Blowing up colourful balloons with human breath is a fairly noisy business; letting air out again by squeezing the neck of a balloon with fingers and thumbs illustrate other interesting and varied sorts of noise; as do the sound of beating an inflated balloon against the strings of a double bass or the fist of a hand. I had indeed found my answer.

The final closing sound of the piece is of five musicians loudly but voicelessly exhaling a complete breath, reciprocating the beginning of this work; music which has now been successfully performed on many occasions, including the 2002 Scottish Bass Weekend (RSAMD) Glasgow, where it was awarded the audience prize in the Composers’ Contest sponsored by Double Bassist; at the Rotterdam Conservatoire Double Bass Weekend in 2004; and at Bass-Fest 2013, Frome.

Faced with the entire field of sound, the composer makes a limited selection from what is available, in the attempt to produce a cohesive piece of music, always aware of the vast possibilities and vagaries of choice (at a specific time and place) available to the human imagination, in order to make sense of that ever present unquiet air.

John Alexander (West Sussex, March 2014)
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John Alexander was born in West Sussex in 1942 and began to compose at the age of 20. At the time he discovered a fascination for art, literature, dance, architecture and sculpture and these topics, along with mathematics, have continued to have a bearing on his work. He studied composition with Edmund Rubbra at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and later with Jonathan Harvey and Peter Wiegold at the University of Sussex.

John Alexander has never been a prolific composer, but an impressive and growing body of work reflects a rare eye for detail and structure - each work beautifully crafted and reworked until every inflection, detail and nuance is perfect. Probably best described as a miniaturist, he writes in a fluent, independent and strongly personal style with an intense desire to create music which communicates to both performer and audience alike.

In 1999 John Alexander won the 1st BIBF Composition Contest and was invited to be a judge for several BIBF competitions. He was a featured composer at Bass-Fest 2001, was an spnm short-listed composer for three years, and was Composer-in-residence at the 2004 Rotterdam Conservatoire Double Bass Weekend, Bass-Fest 2006 and 2007 Wells Double Bass Weekend. His works have been performed and broadcast throughout the world and he was written an impressive and unique body of work for double bass.

"Per questa bella mano" W.A. MOZART

For many years it was believed that Mozart's Concert Aria 'Per questa bella mano' for bass voice, double bass and orchestra was not written for the double bass at all. The solo part was written in treble clef and thought unplayable on the double bass and also that Mozart's other music for double bass was all written in bass clef and completely idiomatic for the instrument. Nowhere else had Mozart written such 'unplayable' music for the double bass...
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For much of the 19th and early 20th-centuries the knowledge about 'Viennese tuning' had been lost. Most of the solo works for double bass, written between the early 1760s and 1812 - the composition of the 'lost' Haydn Double Bass Concerto and the death of J.M. Sperger - had been written for this tuning, including works by Dittersdorf, Kozeluch, Hoffmeister, Pichl, Vanhal, Kohaut and Zimmerman. Usually the solo part had been written in treble clef which was two octaves higher than sounding pitch. This new tuning for a four-stringed 18th-century double bass (violone) comprised of a combination of intervals of thirds and fourths (A-F#-D-A), sometimes with a 5th string tuned to low F natural. This tuning favoured the key of D major, hence the abundance of concertos from this time in this key, and composers would occasionally use a double bass scordatura of a semitone higher which allowed for some variety and the use of E flat major.

John Reynolds in his 'Difficult Passages for the Double Bass - Selected from the Works of the Great Masters' includes a wonderful one-page article which discusses Mozart's 'unplayable' piece for double bass and, when the volume was 'Newly revised and enlarged by H. Samuel Sterling' in 1924, the opinion was still the same. The conclusion being that it was unplayable as it is written and that "...when Bottesini played it at the Philharmonic he played it nearly all, two octaves lower than it is written. Certainly, if he found it unplayable in the original form, there are not many living men likely to dispute his verdict." Bottesini's performance was probably in the 1870s or 80s and in the intervening 30 years his verdict about the piece hadn't changed.

John Reynolds was absolutely correct in the late 19th-century, although he didn't know it at the time, and that the solo double bass part does sound two octaves lower than written, which was the convention for this tuning and time period, and was the intention of Mozart all along. Reynolds thought the work "...was written for a viol da gamba or similar instrument..." and he ends my praising Bottesini's performance, albeit with a back-handed compliment, "...it is hardly necessary to say, there is no intention to criticise Bottesini's mode of playing this work. He, no doubt, saw the absurdity of such passages being written for the double-bass; but the work had to be done, and he made the best of it, and even to do what was no easy matter."

Bottesini had created his own solo part for his performance which was written in C major, using a combination of solo and orchestral tunings we use today - the top two strings were tuned to A and E (solo tuning) and his third string was tuned to A (orchestral tuning). The two tunings allowed him to sound in D major but play the music a tone lower.
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Many of Mozart's Concert Arias as we know them today began life as custom-tailored showpieces specially written for the leading singers to insert into operas at their choosing and usually composed to display greater fireworks and virtuosity than the original aria. Per questa bella mano K.612 (By this beautiful/fair hand) was completed on 8 March 1791, according to Mozart's own catalogue of works, but there is no evidence that this aria was an extra item for an opera, but simply a work to display the talents of two performers who worked closely with the composer towards the end of his life - Franz Gerl and Friedrich Pischelberger.

Franz Xaver Gerl (1764-1827) was an Austrian bass singer and composer who sang the part of Sarastro in the first production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, having previously sung in Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and The Abduction from the Seraglio. Apparently he had an impressively low vocal range which Mozart exploited in The Magic Flute, to the despair of many bass singers, and he performed the role until 1792, leaving the company the following year.

Friedrich Pischelberger (1741-1813) was a virtuoso double bassist of the late 18th-century, who probably also played and possibly commissioned the concertos of Dittersdorf, Pichl and Vanhal amongst others, and was a member of the orchestra at the theatre, under the management of Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812). Schikaneder was a German impresario, dramatist, actor, singer and composer and was the librettist of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, who also sang the part of Papageno in the production at his own theatre. He was described as "one of the most talented theatre men of his era" and played a significant and important role during Mozart's last year.

Per questa bella mano is set to an anonymous text and is scored for bass voice, solo double bass (violone), flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings. Although lasting less than seven minutes and only 136 bars long, it is a 'tour de force' for the double bassist and an opportunity for the singer to revel in beautiful lyrical melodies which exploit the dark timbres of the bass voice. Written for a double bass in Viennese tuning (A-D-F#-A), it exploits the technical prowess of the performer throughout, whether playing double stops or fast semiquaver scale and arpeggio passages, alongside lyrical phrases which echo the melodies of the bass singer. When arranged for the modern double bass, in solo or orchestral tuning, it becomes a work which is far more technically demanding than when played in its original tuning, and for many years was only attempted by the most advanced and enterprising of double bassists. It is likely that it was premiered by the Gerl and Pischelberger in Vienna during 1791, although there seems to be no evidence of this.

Now that Viennese tuning is fully understood, many players are performing this wonderful music with the original tuning, and the beauty of this long-forgotten 18th-century repertoire is gradually being unearthed. Less than a century ago the tuning was unknown and the only way to perform these works was to hack the solo part so that it fitted the standard tunings of the day. Fortunately the urtext movement has discovered this repertoire and new editions offer the 21st-century bassist the opportunity to perform wonderful concertos and chamber works in a range of tunings, but always faithful to the original.

The manuscript of Mozart's Per questa bella mano was held at the Preussische Staatsbibliotek (Berlin) for many years and disappeared in 1945. Fortunately it was discovered a few years ago in the Biblioteka Jagiellonska (Krakow, Poland) and Tobias Glockler was able to use the original manuscript as the basis of his 1995 edition for Hofmeister Musikverlag. This edition includes double bass parts for solo and orchestral tuning and even a tablature-like notation which enables the player to use the original Viennese tuning.

In 1919 Bote & Bock (Berlin) published an edition, in German, for soprano, double bass and piano. Edited by Lebrecht Goedecke (1872-1947), Principal Bass of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and transcribed for the German soprano Claire Dux (1885-1967), it transposes the aria a 5th higher than the original making the double bass part even more challenging! Goedecke performed regularly as a soloist and I am certain this aria was performed by the bassist and soprano on many occasions.

IMC have even created an edition where the solo double bass part is incorporated into the piano accompaniment, excluding the double bassist altogether, although the edition does also include the original instrumentation with the solo bass part edited by Stuart Sankey.

At a time when the standard of double bass playing is arguably the best it has ever been, Mozart's Per questa bella mano is now the preserve of the many and not the few. More bassists are able to tackle the work and triumph in its technical and musical challenges than ever before. Although we don't have a Double Bass Concerto by Mozart - transcriptions of the Bassoon Concerto aside - at least we have one original work from the Austrian master which demonstrates that he understood the exploited the solo possibilities of the double bass over 200 years ago.

David Heyes [23 August 2014]

DOMENICO DRAGONETI "NEWS"

ARE YOU ABLE TO TRANSLATE THIS PAGE???
ARE YOU ABLE TO TRANSLATE THIS PAGE???

"[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)


Elegia by GIOVANNI BOTTESINI was first published in Bottesini's Method for Double Bass to illustrate the lyrical capabilities of the instrument, and was rumoured to be the composer's favourite work. It has been recorded more than any other work by Bottesini and is his most attractive piece for bass. This is ideal for any bassist of about Grade 8+ level who is interested to learn about the entire range of the double bas...s and it has proved very popular with adventurous young bassists. An ideal 'easy' virtuoso work for students who are venturing into the higher reaches of the instrument.

"Here is an excellent edition of a staple of our solo repertoire." (ISB)

The edition is published with piano accompaniments for both solo and orchestral tunings and also includes two bass parts - edited by Frantisek Posta and David Heyes.

Also available in editions for double bass and string orchestra [RM251 - Solo tuning / RM252 - Orchestral tuning] which are also playable with string quartet or quintet accompaniment.

Elegia has been selected for inclusion on the 2010 Advanced Certificate repertoire list by Trinity-Guildhall Exams.
ALCM in Performance
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"How he bewildered us by playing all sorts of melodies in flute like harmonics, as though he had a hundred nightingales caged in his double bass... I never wearied of his consummate grace and finish, his fatal precision, his heavenly tone, his fine taste. One sometimes yearned for a touch of human imperfection, but he was like a dead shot; he never missed what he aimed at, and he never aimed at less than perfection." [H.Haweis, 1888]

Giovanni Bottesini was called the 'Paganini of the Double Bass' and was the finest double bass soloist of the 19th-century. He was born in Crema (Lombardy) on 24 December 1821 and studied at the double bass at the Milan Conservatoire with Luigi Rossi, alongside harmony and composition with Nicola Vaccai (1790-1848) and Francesco Basili (1767-1850). His remarkable career as a soloist began in 1839 and lasted fifty years, taking him to every corner of the world. From Italy, his travels took him to Cuba (1846), USA (1847), England (annually from 1849), Egypt, Ireland, France, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Spain, Belgium, Monte carlo and many other countries throughout a long and distinguished career.

Bottesini was also famous as a composer writing at least 13 operas (Cristoforo Colombo, 1847 / Il diavolo della notte, 1856 / Ali Baba, 1871 / Ero e Leandro, 1879), a Messa da Requiem (1880) and an oratorio, The Garden of Olivet (1887 - first performed at the Norwich Festival), works for orchestra, 11 string quartets, string quintets, songs and many virtuoso works for double bass. As a conductor he is remembered primarily for directing the first performance of Verdi's Aida in Cairo in 1871, but was also a repsected composer of Italian opera, including seasons in Mexico, Paris, Palermo, Barcelona, London, Buenos Aires and Parma.

Bottesini's music for double bass is still at the heart of the solo repertoire into the 21st-century, even though his orchestral and operatic music has generally fallen from favour, but his Elegia for double bass and piano is one of the most recorded works of the 20th-century.

Giovanni Bottesini died in Parma on 7 July 1889.



Tony Osborne and Teppo Hauta-aho are arguably the most prolific composers
writing for the double bass today. Each writing in a completely different style and idiom, inhabiting their own distinct sound worlds, and also composing music for every level of performer - from complete beginner to virtuoso, and from one to twelve double basses.

The sudden death of the Romanian double bass virtuoso, Ovidiu Badila, in 2001, at the age of 39, completely shook the international double bass world. A number of new compositions were written in his memory and the two best ones, in my opinion, are Why? for double bass quartet by Teppo Hauta-aho and Threnody for Ovidu by Tony Osborne.
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Ovidiu Badila and I had worked together at Kloster Michaelstein Double Bass Workshop (Germany) in 1998 and at Bassissimo in Odense (Denmark) two years later, and we had planned for our two families to spend time together in Sardinia in the summer of 2001. We became firm friends almost instantly and in Denmark we - Ovidu, my wife Sarah Poole, Teppo Hauta-aho, my student Alex Forbes and I - spent all our free time together, joking and laughing - Ovidiu was such a fun and larger-than-life person to be around. My favourite photograph was taken by Alex at about 1.00am, outside a Take Away in Odense, and shows Ovidu, Teppo and I holding kebabs. We had spent the evening talking, joking and laughing, helped by the odd bottle of wine or two and, as is often the case in the early hours of the morning, we all felt hungry - hence the visit for much needed food.

Ovidiu phoned us on Christmas Day 2001 and we had a wonderful and long conversation about our musical plans for the following year and the future - his plans were always far more impressive and grandiose than mine - but he was Badila! We heard the tragic news of Ovidiu's death, at Kloster Michaelstein (Germany) on 21 March 2001, from my great friend in Denmark, Mette Hanskov (Principal Bass, Royal Danish Orchestra). We, and the entire double bass world, were absolutely stunned and shattered by the news. Ovidu had always seemed like a human dynamo and so full of energy and life - a force of nature who had such a wonderful future ahead of him.

Bass-Fest 2001 was held a few weeks later at Downe House School (Newbury, Berkshire) and Mette Hanskov and Teppo Hauta-aho were both guests for the week. We decided to include an informal concert in memory of our great friend and I asked Tony Osborne, a long-standing friend and superb composer, if he would write a trio for the three of us to play. I suggested the title of 'Threnody for Ovidiu' and then waited. I think I contacted Tony on Saturday 24 March, probably in the evening, and by the afternoon of Sunday 25 March he had faxed the piece to me. His compositional skill, technique and inspiration are second-to-none, and this is one of Tony's finest pieces, amongst many, many fine works for double bass from this prolific and successful composer-bassist.

Tony's wonderfully worded and detailed programme note gives an idea of the style and background of the piece:

'Threnody for Ovidiu was commissioned by David Heyes as a heartfelt tribute to the memory and work of his close friend, the Romanian virtuoso Ovidiu Badila, following his untimely death. The piece has a characteristically elegiac mood and flows at a slow pulse to reflect on the sadness of the occasion, but there is also a sense of the lyricism that one would associate with Ovidiu's playing, and reflecting his devotion to his art.

There are several moments where the music reaches a more stark cadence on a chord of open fifths - often referred to as 'power chords' in rock guitar playing - but especially heard in traditional Georgian 'Rustavi' choir style. This is not directly related to Ovidiu or his playing, but provides an essence of firm resolve, that however sad events may be, life goes on, and this is further emphasised in the more triumphant conclusion of the piece, reflecting a fine player who was loved and respected in the world of music.'
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We premiered the piece at Bass-Fest 2001, alongside a range of music which had been performed by Ovidu, ending quietly and contemplatively with a Bach Sarabande for unaccompanied double bass, played so eloquently and beautifully by Teppo Hauta-aho, who would later go on to write his magnificent 'Why?' for double bass quartet, also in memory of Ovidiu Badila.

Threnody for Ovidiu was written for Mette, Teppo and I to perform in memory of our great friend, and the opening D minor phrase, with its shifting harmonies and evocative atmosphere, sets the tone for a work of quality and great musical worth. The audience quickly realised that here was a composer who knew his trade, a composer who knew how to use and exploit the double bass trio so well, and who was able to write for our strengths and qualities as performers.

From the slow and sustained opening the music begins to build and grow away from the three-part harmony, moving downwards for bass 3 as the others move into a higher register. Basses 1 and 2 work together and the music builds and dies away a number of times before pausing on an open and ambiguous A major/minor chord. The basses now play in the higher register and gradually descend, bar by bar, before rising in pitch but also in intensity and drama.

The middle section, based on triplet rhythms, has a drive and momentum which ebbs and flows, and eventually the essence of the opening theme is reintroduced but strongly syncopated against a steady and upward crotchet (quarter-note) line for bass 3. The minor tonality dominated much of the piece until the final five bars where a triumphant and hopeful D major is suddenly and dramatically introduced. The four part texture - bass 3 has a strong and steadfast quaver accompaniment in double stops - against which the two solo lines sing and proclaim their intense emotions and feelings before a sustained D major chord gradually dissolves into nothingness.

Threnody for Ovidiu is one of the most beautiful, evocative and passionate works for double bass ensemble and, although it lasts less than under five minutes, encompasses many of the feelings, emotions, dreams and pain which we all encounter throughout our lives. This is music which speaks from the heart.

I feel very proud and privileged to have had a small input into this work which never fails to communicate so much to the audience and the performers. Threnody for Ovidiu is a fitting tribute to a giant amongst bassists. It was a unique and powerful experience to premiere a work by and with two of my greatest friends - Tony, Mette and Teppo.

David Heyes [31 August 2014]



"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



John Downey's Concerto for Double Bass & Orchestra is never likely to be in the Top Ten of favourite or most popular bass concertos, but this is magnificent work full of enormous breadth and scope. A work which challenges the technical and musical skills of the soloist, pitted against a large orchestra which produces a wonderfully evocative, passionate, dramatic and magisterial accompaniment and demonstrates a composer at the very height of his powers.
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The Concerto was commissioned by Gary Karr, who gave the first performance in September 1987 at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon. It is dedicated to Gary who has an unenviable track record in commissioning many works for double bass over his long and hugely successful international performing and recording career.

Gary Karr recalled in 1995 (The British Double Bass Society Newsletter / June 1995) "I heard John Downey's music at a friends house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about 10-15 years ago. I loved his unique harmonic vocabulary and especially his lyrical gifts. I therefore commissioned him on the spot to write a concerto, and it was premiered in Sydney in the Opera House. Later, I played it with other Australian orchestra as well as US orchestras."

Lasting over 30 minutes, in four contrasting and epic movements, and scored for large symphony orchestra, it was recorded by Gary Karr with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon, at Blackheath Concert Halls between 27 February and 1 March 1991 for Cala Records (CACD 1003) on an all-Downey recording.
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In 1995 John Downey wrote to David Heyes about the Concerto and his memories were first published by The Briitish Double Bass Society (Newsletter June 1995).

"My Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra is definitely lyrical in nature and concept, as I realised that the most stunning attribute of Gary Karr's playing for me was his soaring lyricism. I took it as a challenge to undertake the writing of a composition of this nature for an instrument not ordinarily associated with an expression of this kind, but certainly, as I have found out, supremely capable of realizing it.

At the time of composition of the Concerto I was very much into a kind of avant-garde vocabulary; one featuring many aleatoric moves and a preoccupation with random sonorities. At first I thought that Gary Karr had perhaps heard or even played my 'Silhouette' for solo double bass which highlights these latter qualities, and that was the reason he was commissioning me to write a concerto for him. However, I soon discovered that Gary did not particularly relish randomness in music that he performs. His idea was that the composer write the notes, and he would see to it that they get played. His words to me were: "You create the score, and I will bring it to life."

In actual fact, Gary Karr had heard a work of mine, a bassoon fantasy called 'The Edge of Space', recorded by Chandos, masterfully performed by Robert Thompson, solo bassoon, and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon. Gary's idea was that a composer who could get a bassoon to project over a full orchestra would be a good choice as one to do likewise with the double bass. He wanted a show piece that he could perform with any of the large symphony orchestra. These were the underlying precepts for commissioning my Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra.

Realizing that some of the random and rather extemporized sounds of a piece like 'Silhouette' (commissioned by Roger Ruggeri, principal double bass of the Milwauukee Symphony Orchestra) would not be desirable for Gary, I then decided to confine whatever aleatoric sound qualities I might feel a need for, to the orchestra. This is especially evident in the first movement of the concerto. Of particular interest to me was introducing the unusual colour of a duo between cello and double bass as soloists, with the bass floating above the cello line. Randon filigree passages in the high strings as well as some random glisses and middle and low bends in the strings keep the vocabulary somewhat on the edge. My working plan aimed at giving me a certain liberty in composition while yet concentrating on the lyrical qualities of the solo double bass part. This latter quality, I believe, is most apparent in the second movement, where I present the soloist with an introspective, song-like theme, which becomes more and more adventurous as it rises up and up in register. At its second appearance, for example, the solo bass finds itself above five individual cello parts, making a somewhat impassioned statement of that theme. At the end of the movement, that same melody is stated once more in yet a higher octave, this time suspended in harmonics.

A certain lightness is aimed at in the short third movement which barely lasts a minute and a half. The sonority of the solo double bass is confined to pizzicato notes as it dialogues, mostly with winds, principally in pairs.

The Finale was a particular challenge for me. I wanted to see if I could sustain a long, fast movement, from beginning to end, without any break in tempo. I wanted to involve the entire orchestra in a mass of sonorities - at the same time allowing the solo double bass to project and keep its identity above the large orchestral sounds. I liken this to a speeding train ride. Once you've come aboard, there is no way to get off until the train finally pulls into its ultimate destination in a fury of sound, engaging the whole orchestra, and, of course, the soloist. The hope was to create a feeling of exhilaration and speed while displaying the tremendous virtuoso possibilities of the double bass." (John Downey, Shorewood, Wisconsin, 1995).
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John Downey was born on 5 October 1927 in Chicago and studied, among others, with Ernst Krenek and Vittorio Rieti, and subsequently in Paris with Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. His studies abroad conculed with a Prix de Composition from the Paris Conservatoire and a Ph.D (Docteur es Lettres) from the Sorbonne. Upon his return to the United States he continued to compose, while embarking upon a career as a Professor of Theory and Composition.

In 1964 he became Composer-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a position he held for many years, and founded and directed the Wisconsin Contemporary Music Forum. His numerous compositions have received performance swolrdwide. In 1980 the French Government awarded him the coveted Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for distinguished achievements in the field of French culture. In 1986 John Downey was honoured with the title 'Distinguished Professor of Music' by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.

"John Downey's oeuvre is imbued with qualities of warmth and humanity which have endeared him to concert audiences and earned him the widespread respect of his fellow musicians."

John Downey died on 18 December 2004.
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David Heyes recalls: "John and I corresponded for some years and I was pleased to meet him in London in 1999, during a Downey Festival. He was wonderfully friendly and generous with his time although was in poor health and quite frail. My memories are of a wonderfully talented and passionate composer who had no problem with taking the double bass seriously as a solo instrument and produced a wealth of challenging music which asks as much from the audience as it does from the performers. His music communicates on many levels and demonstrates a humanity, energy and warmth which deserves a wider audience.

The CD of John's Double Bass Concerto demonstrates two artists at the very height of their powers - composer and soloist - and should be in the collection of every serious double bassist."

David Heyes (2 March 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 fact 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' does give 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 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 and 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 - performers 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 and 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 [30 June 2014]



Just like London buses, you wait ages for one Carmen Fantasy to come along and then three arrive almost at the same time!

Frank Proto's A Carmen Fantasy for double bass and piano was composed in 1991 as a 60th birthday present for the great Francois Rabbath; Stuart Sankey's Carmen Fantasy on themes from Bizet's Carmen for double bass and orchestra, written for and dedicated to the unique Gary Karr, also dates from the early 1990s; and Bernard Salles' wonderful arrangement of five pieces for double bass quartet also dates from the early 1990s - surely an interesting few years for Bizet and the double bass! Why nothing before?

French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875) was fairly prolific during his short life and his final opera Carmen, composed in 1873-4 and premiered at the Paris Opera-Comique on 3 March 1875, is one of the most popular of operas in the repertoire today. The wonderful arias and choruses have timeless melodies which have been plundered for almost 150 years. Franz Waxman, Pablo de Sarasate, Jeno Hubay and Frantisek Drdla produced works for violin and orchestra based on the most popular melodies; Joseph Hollman produced one for cello and piano; Carl Fruhling and Wilhelm Kuhe ones for piano; and Francois Borne one for flute and piano - but why none for double bass? It seems amazing, when you think of the many hundreds of works which have been transcribed for bass over the past 100 years that no one thought to write one. Giovanni Bottesini produced operatic fantasies on many popular Italian operas, as did Louis Winsel, but the Carmen, probably the most tuneful of all the operas, was untouched.
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Frank Proto was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941 and has had a long and successful career as a jazz pianist, double bassist, arranger and composer. He is practically self-taught as a composer and his many works for double bass are imbued with the rich influences of classical, jazz, pop, contemporary and improvisation which add a feeling of freedom and flair, producing works which are popular with players and audiences alike. A Carmen Fantasy began life as a 60th birthday present for the great French virtuoso, Francois Rabbath, and is Proto's fifth work based on the French opera. Proto explains, "The tunes lend themselves to a myriad of different styles, unlike those of, say, Puccini or Wagner. They work and retain their vitality in the same way that those early Gershwin show tunes do. Had he lived fifty years later Bizet might have been the toast of Broadway."

Proto's Fantasy was composed for a recital in Cincinnati on 5 July 1991, with Rabbath as soloist and the composer as pianist, and they recorded it five days later. Rabbath performed the work many times across America and Canada and suggested that Proto orchestra it, which he did in November 1992 and which Rabbath premiered with the Chamber Orchestra of Toulouse. The orchestration, for two flutes, oboe, cor angalis, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion, piano, harp and strings produces an exotic and atmospheric accompaniment which contrasts beautifully with the melodies, improvisation and virtuosic outbursts of the double bass.
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An introductory Prelude, for solo double bass, acts as a kind of overture for the suite and hints at the music to come in the Aragonaise, which continues attacca. The music is rhapsodic and challenging and uses the entire range of the double bass. The Aragonaise begins gently and simply before moving into a different soundworld and idiom as the accompaniment gently drifts away into jazz and improvisation. Proto neatly joins the different styles together seamlessly and Rabbath's middle eastern background is never far from the mix. The movement ends as it began.

The third movement - Nocturne - Micaela's Aria - is gloriously lyrical and fits the double bass like a glove, exploiting the lyricism and wonderful talents of Francois Rabbath. The jazz-inspired chordal accompaniment towards the end feels so 'right' that you would swear that Bizet had written them - glorious writing for double bass and piano.

The Toreador Song is not what you would expect and the writing is truly inspired. A gentle and lyrical melody is set against a gentle arpeggio accompaniment initially before moving away into a more contemporary and jazz-inspired middle section. The 'big tune' ends the movement and is played pianissimo against a jazzy and chordal accompaniment. Not the rousing chorus of the opera, but just as successful.

The suite ends with a virtuosic and fiery Bohemian Dance which is a tour de force for the soloist and a magnificent ending to a work which has quickly, and rightly so, found a place in the solo double bass repertoire. To my mind Frank Proto has created a 'classic' which will certainly stand the test of time and the blending of different styles and idioms with Bizet's timeless melodies works magnificently. The four recordings by Francois Rabbath, Jorma Katrama and Catalin Rotaru, each attest to the wealth of great music in this suite and how a great player can inspire a great composer to write great music. More please Mr Proto....

David Heyes (26 May 2014)



"For composers to enjoy great popularity in their lifetime and then, after their death, to be gradually forgotten is not uncommon. Spohr is a case in point; there was a time, according to Stanford, when he was considered to be an even greater composer than Beethoven. Moreover his popularity was by no means confined to his native Germany. From 1820 onwards, for example, he made frequent appearances at concerts of the Philharmonic Society in London and between that year and 1897 almost three hundred performances of his works were given there." [John Lade]
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Although much of Spohr's prolific output remains unknown and unperformed, undeservedly so in my opinion, one work has remained popular and been performed throughout its entire existence - two hundred and one years to be precise. His Nonet, more accurately his Grand Nonetto in F major, Op.31, was composed in 1813 and is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass. It has remained in the repertoire for all this time, has been recorded many times, and was the forerunner and blueprint of almost every nonet since. Although other works had been written for nine players before, Spohr's work was the first to actually use the title 'nonet' and many composers have written for the same combination of instruments over the past two hundred years, particularly for the Czech Nonet, founded in 1924. The basic instrumentation of the group was influenced by Spohr's Nonet, which was performed in their first concert on 17 January 1924, and more than 300 works have been composed for them over the past 90 years.

Louis Spohr, apparently he preferred the French spelling of his name to the German Ludwig, was born in Brunswick (Braunschweig) on 5 April 1784 and died in Kassel on 22 October 1859, where he had lived and worked for the last 37 years of his life. Spohr's early years were spent as a violin virtuoso, composer and conductor, travelling extensively, and he relied on the patronage of the wealthy aristocracy for commissions and invitations, as did most of the composers of the day.

Spohr spent three years in Vienna (1812-1815), when he became friendly with Beethoven, and his Nonet and Octet were both written at this time. Spohr's autobiography (Selbstbiographie, published 1860-61) gives a wonderful account of the commission for both works, which was unusual to say the least, but also demonstrates a business man with a lateral approach to meeting potential clients and business partners.

“Word had hardly gotten around Vienna that I was to settle there when one morning a distinguished visitor presented himself: a Herr Johann von Tost, manufacturer and passionate music lover. [Tost is remembered today, for commissioning two sets of string quartets from Haydn and two string quintets from Mozart]. He began a hymn of praise about my talent as a composer, and expressed the wish that, for a suitable emolument, everything that I should write in Vienna be reckoned as his property for a period of three years. Then he added, ‘Your works may be performed as often as possible, but the score must be borrowed from me for each occasion and performed only in my presence.’ I was to think it over and myself determine the fee for each type of composition. With this he presented his card and took his leave. I attempted in vain to fathom the motive of this proposal, and I finally decided to question him directly. First, however, I made some inquiries about him, and determined that he was a rich man and a great lover of music who never missed a public concert. This was reassuring, and I decided to accept his proposal. As fee, I set 30 ducats for a quartet, 35 for a quintet and so forth. When I asked him just what he proposed to do with my works, he was reluctant to answer, but finally said, ‘I have two objectives. First, I want to be invited to the musicales where your pieces will be played, and therefore I must have them in my possession. Secondly, I hope that on my business trips the possession of such treasures will bring me the acquaintanceship of music lovers who, in turn, may be useful to me in my business.’ While all this did not make much sense to me, I found it most pleasantly flattering, and I had no further reservations. Tost accepted the fees that I had set, and further agreed to pay upon delivery. The appropriate documents were drawn up and signed accordingly...I bethought myself of my obligation to Tost, and asked him what he would like. He thought for a moment and decided for a nonet, made up of four strings plus flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, to be written in such a way that each instrument would appear in its true character. I was much attracted by the difficulty of the assignment and went right to work. This was the origin of the famous Nonet...I finished the work in short order and delivered it to Tost. It was played at one of the first musicales of the new season and aroused such enthusiasm that it was repeated frequently in the course of that same season. Tost appeared each time with the score and parts under his arm, set them out on the music stands himself, and gathered them up again after the performance. He was as pleased by the applause as if he himself had been the composer.”

The Nonet is in four well-contrasted movements and lasts around 30 minutes, allowing it to be easily programmed with similar chamber works, and is often the work around which programmes are based. One writer describes the work as containing "...many beautiful melodic ideas presented with a Beethovenian sense of soulful thematic work. In it, the composer combined strings and winds in the most varied ways to achieve unusual effects..."

The first movement (Allegro) is dominated by a short motif introduced by the violin and the melodic material is passed from player to player, with the double bass usually providing a support for the ensemble or occasionally doubling a low theme or phrase with the cello. The music generally bubbles along and is gently rhapsodic contrasted with short outbursts of virtuosity from the violin and cello. The second movement (Allegro), a scherzo with two trios "in which one experiences a sensation both of darkness and peaceful serenity." The movement has a Viennese charm, offering a solo role for the violin which was probably played the composer at the first performances in Vienna.

The Adagio "is related to the first movement using its opening motif combined with song-like passages of exceptional beauty." Spohr produces simple and sonorous textures against which the players are able to weave their lyrical melodies and the beauty of the movement creates a moment of peace and serenity before a fun and cheerful Finale (Vivace), with its cheeky opening theme which dominates the movement. Even the cello and bass are included, albeit in their lowest register, and the music merrily bounces along providing a fitting and successful conclusion to a chamber work of great invention and worth. It isn't difficult to understand why players and audiences have loved this piece for over 200 years.

The double bass part is typical of much chamber music of the time, with its combination of bass-line support and occasional forays into the melodic material, but usually supported by the cellist. There is nothing here to tax the bassist but much to enjoy. Will Spohr's Nonet survive another 200 years? I can't see why not and am almost certain that it will. The music is lively, inventive, beautifully written and scored and is a wonderful introduction to the music of this underrated and great composer. If you like the Nonet try some of the symphonies...

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

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