Basso profondo

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Basso profondo (Italian: "deep bass", sometimes basso profundo) is the bass voice subtype with the lowest vocal range.

Range of a basso profondo according to the Italian definition ranging from F4 to C2

While The New Grove Dictionary of Opera defines a typical bass as having a range that is limited to the second E below middle C (E2),[1] operatic basso profondos can be called on to sing low C (C2), such as in the role of Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier. Often in non-solo context, choral composers make use of lower notes (G1 or even F1), and these specialist basso profondos are usually called oktavists because they sing a full octave below tenor.

Oktavists are especially typical of Russian Orthodox vocal music. Because the male voice usually takes a very long time to develop and grow, especially in the lower range, low notes sound resonant and full when the singer is around 40 or even 50 years of age[citation needed]. This part is thus often reserved for older men.[2]


According to the Italian definition,[citation needed] any singer with an E2 in fortissimo is a basso profondo. Italian composers considered basso profondos as basses with a large voice, which can descend slightly lower than the usual bass singers with a range of E2 to E4. The essential part being the large sonorous voice and not the lower register. Parts for Slavic basso profondos have included notes as low as G1 (e.g. measure 76 of "Ne otverzhi mene" by Pavel Chesnokov) or F1 in "Kheruvimskaya pesn" (Song of Cherubim) by Krzysztof Penderecki. However most basso profondos have trouble reaching those notes, and the use of them in works by Slavic composers has led to the colloquial term "Russian bass" for an exceptionally deep-ranged basso profondo, called oktavist, who can easily sing these notes. Some Russian religious music calls for A2 (110 Hz) like in "We Praise Thee" (Tebe poyom), which is doubled by A1 (55 Hz) in the rare occasion that a choir includes exceptionally gifted basso profondos who can produce this very low human voice pitch.

Approximate vocal range of an operatic basso profondo, middle C to C2; of a Russian oktavist, middle C to G1 and rarely to F1

Hence Russian composers often make no distinction between a basso profondo and an oktavist or "contrabass" a singer who sings a full octave below the normal bass part. Pavel Chesnokov divides the bass section into these groups:

  1. baritones
  2. light basses
  3. strong basses
  4. strong basses with a good low register
  5. oktavists with medium range, power and a soft sound
  6. strong and deep oktavists

So it makes sense to put most basses who fall in between E2 and C2 in the third and fourth groups, depending on their power. Groups 4 and 5 are considered basso profondos, leaving group 6 as the proper oktavists, who are extremely rare and especially typical of Russian Orthodox vocal music.

A further definition of the basso profondo range, in the eyes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who, on page 66 of his Dictionnaire de musique (1768), states: "Basse-contres ~ the most profound of all voices, singing lower than the bass like a double bass, and should not be confused with contrabasses, which are instruments."[3]

Notable basso profondos[edit]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J. B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes (ed L Macy). "Bass". Grove Music Online. Archived from the original on 13 June 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2006. ; The Oxford Dictionary of Music gives E2–e4/f4
  2. ^ Croan, Robert (7 October 2010). "The basses of 'the Barber'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1775). Dictionnaire de musique (in French). Paris. Basse-Contres ~ les plus graves de toutes les Voix, qui chantent la Basse sous la Basse même, & qu'il ne faut pas confondre avec les Contre-basses, qui sont des Instruments