Because you know I’m all about that Bass (no Treble!)

July 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

We’ve got violin concertos a-plenty. We’ve got piano concertos galore. You want cello concertos? We’ve got twenty. But who cares? No big deal. I want more …

When it comes to solo repertoire, some instruments get all the attention (piano and violin). Then there’s the second tier of instruments that get less play time, despite having a solid repertoire of masterpieces (flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, cello). Then there’s the “only if we have to” group of instruments that rarely get featured in concerts (oboe, bassoon, trombone, viola, organ). Finally, at the bottom, is the “I didn’t know that existed” repertoire – the Double Bass! ***

Giovanni Bottesini is known as the “Paganini of the Double Bass” (that is, a virtuoso that set the standard for great bass playing). Before Bottesini, the bass was seen as purely a support instrument. The cello is the official bass voice of the violin family, and the Double Bass doubles (copies) the cellos an octave lower, giving gravity to the cello part. The bass is a second-cousin-once-removed to the cello – they’re not actually in the same family (this is why the Double Bass has a different body shape from the violin family and a different tuning system.)

Here is the first movement of one of Bottesini’s concertos for the instrument. It is standard, good romantic writing; it’s gorgeously lyrical and really shows off the instrument as something way more than just a supporting voice in the orchestra.

*** To be fair, there is actually one tier of instruments below the Double Bass. It would be the “what the hell are you thinking” group – any instrument whose name has a modifying word in it, like “contra”, “alto”, or “tenor”.


Will Compose for Food

July 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

Q: What’s the difference between a musician and a pizza?
A: A pizza can feed a family of four!

Felix Mendelssohn was a wunderkind and successful musician all around – performing, conducting, composing. Unlike many musicians, he never really had to “sing for his supper.” He did, however, take an interesting commission to write a piece for a friend – he composed this mini-concerto for clarinet and basset-horn in exchange for a generous portion of dumplings and cheese Danish.


Q: What’s the quickest way to get a musician off your porch?
A: Pay for the pizza.


Life isn’t fair

July 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

To dovetail off of yesterday’s post, music has to be in the present in order to exist. Organized dots on a page are not music – it doesn’t become music until it exists either as imagined or real vibrating air molecules, heard by a human. The harsh reality of this is, sometimes great music can be sitting dormant in books (or even a person’s brain), waiting to be heard by others. Take, for example, Edward Elgar‘s Cello Concerto.

The concerto received one of the famously worst premieres in music history – all thanks to an inconsiderate conductor who didn’t allow for enough time to rehearse the piece. When it was first performed in 1919, the orchestra did so poorly that the piece instantly fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1960 – 25 years after Elgar’s death – that the piece exploded in popularity due to a particularly stunning performance by Jacqueline du Pré (about whom a film was recently made.)

A twist of circumstances, a poor decision by a person in control, and history can be changed. It might not be fair, but it’s life.