Double bass concerto

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A double bass concerto is a notated musical composition, usually in three parts or movements (see concerto), for a solo double bass accompanied by an orchestra. Bass concertos typically require an advanced level of technique, as they often use very high-register passages, harmonics, challenging scale and arpeggio lines and difficult bowing techniques. Music students typically play bass concerti with the orchestral part played by a pianist who reads from an orchestral reduction (the orchestra parts arranged for piano).

History[edit]

Many of the first concerti for solo bass were written in the late classical period by Domenico Dragonetti and Johannes Matthias Sperger. Dragonetti was a bass virtuoso who introduced advanced new techniques for the instrument, such as playing very high register passages, bouncing bowings such as ricochet and spicatto, and harmonics. Dragonetti's friendship with the composer Beethoven helped the latter to learn about the true potential for the instrument. This influenced Beethoven to write more advanced, technically difficult bass parts in his symphonies, notably the double bass recitative in his ninth symphony.

Several concerti were also written by Johann Baptist Vanhal, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, and Joseph Haydn, although Haydn's has since been lost. Giovanni Bottesini, a nineteenth century bass virtuoso and composer, made enormous contributions to the solo double bass repertoire. Among his many works are two virtuostic concerti for double bass and orchestra which use extremely high harmonic passages that, when Bottesini first introduced them, were deemed "unplayable". In the 20th century, many composers created new works for the instrument, including Serge Koussevitsky, Eduard Tubin, Hans Werner Henze, and John Harbison.[1]

Challenges[edit]

The double bass has not been a popular choice for a solo instrument, mainly due to the difficulties of balancing the soloist and orchestra so that the former is not overshadowed by the orchestra's volume. The low register of the double bass makes it difficult to project; to help resolve this problem, many composers (most notably Bottesini) wrote solo parts in the high register of the instrument. Another solution is to refrain from large tuttis (or employ chamberistic orchestration) when the double bass is playing in its lower register. Few major composers of the classical and romantic eras were disposed to writing double bass concerti, as there were few instrumentalists capable of taking on the demands of playing as a soloist; it was only through the efforts of virtuosi like Dragonetti, Bottesini, Koussevitsky, and Karr that the double bass began to be recognized as a solo instrument. As the twentieth century began, the standard of double bass technique improved by a significant degree, making it a more popular choice for composers.

Selected list[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "IMSLP: Scores Featuring Double Bass". IMSLP.org. International Music Score Library Project. Retrieved 5 December 2013.