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”.