Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Septet session

Things here have been rather quiet of late, for which I apologise.  However, this evening I have a session of string septets to go to.  The programme consists of the Strauss Metamorphosen as well as septets by Martinu and the leader of the group.

On first inspection, the Martinu doesn't appear to be too tricky, but, having played his mixed nonet on many an occasion, this may be misleading.  I'll write again if there are any tricky bits!  Hmm.  -1 for observation - the part says "Sextet" at the top - is it one of those optional double bass / 2nd cello things?  [Edit - turns out that it is a sextet with an optional bass part; fortunately for my sanity, the bass part is not just a follow-the-cello thing, but adds a distinct texture to the piece.]

As for the other piece...  Anyone got any suggestions about how to play passages in running octaves?  I don't think my fingers will stretch to double-stopping this low down on the bass!  Sample below...

[Edit - the composer says that he wants the player to play the bottom line if the bass is extended, or a five string, and the top line otherwise...]

Saturday, 24 October 2009

"Classical Spooktacular"

A cheesy title for this afternoon's concert by the WYSO, which was a child-friendly early Halloween concert.

Programme included the obvious suspects for such a gig:
  • Grieg - Hall of the Mountain King
  • Mussorgsky - Night on a Bare Mountain
  • Monster Mash
  • Berlioz - Witches Sabbath (you know, the last movement of Symphonie Fantastique)
  • Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries (a somewhat dumbed-down arrangement)
  • Saint-SaĆ«ns - Danse Macabre
  • "Dem Bones" (with some words I don't recall from my childhood)
  • John Williams - Harry Potter Suite (from the first movie)
There were prizes for fancy dress, audience participation, and other odds and ends to help keep the younger members of the audience involved, and create the occasional distraction for us in t'band - pseudo Mexican-waves, racing witches, skeletons, etc, but no helicopters during the Wagner.

Anything to worry about from the bassist point of view?  No, not really, thanks to the arrangement of the Valkyries

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Berg - Excerpts from Wozzeck

As promised yesterday, the particularly unpleasant solo from the second of three excerpts from Berg's Wozzeck.

Key points:
  • No key signature, and he prefixes every note with some form of accidental.  This is most unfriendly.
  • It's very exposed, and part of a fugue subject.  First, voice.  Then viola, then violin, then you.
  • On the plus side, however - it's nice and slow!
I also like the way that Sibelius 5 shows every note apart from the b flat in red, indicating that this might be a bit on the high side!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

It's a lonely life...

One of the reasons behind the name of this blog is that last year, I was playing in Gotterdammerung, and I was the only double bass.  Which wasn't really so bad, all things considered, except when the part said "nur 4" (only 4).  However, when the part said "nur 8", I did wonder just how big was the bass section for which Wagner was writing?

Anyway, just for a change, this year I am not the only double bass in the Northern Wagner Orchestra.  The programme this year is a little lighter than it has been, after we completed the Ring in 2008.  The programme:

  • Wagner - Wesendonck Lieder (nothing to worry about here for the bass section.)
  • Berg - excerpts from Wozzeck (tricky and exposed solo in the second excerpt, the notes of which I shall attempt to post up here tomorrow.  The rest is straightforward.)
  • Stravinsky - Rite of Spring  (oh dear.  I've done this before, and forgotten just how fiendish it is in places.  The notes themselves aren't so bad, but the rhythms, particularly at the end.  Why couldn't he just pick a time signature and stick with it?)

I'm sorry - did I say "lighter" music?  Since when was that little lot "light"?

Where was I?  Oh yes.  I have been joined this year, swelling the section to two.  Luxury!  But still not enough, for the bass part in Rite divides into 6 at the top of page 2.  Ah well...  There's a rumour that there'll be a third player tomorrow, but, given her previous record, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Haydn - Farewell Symphony

I was recently asked to join a local orchestra for a performance of Haydn's Symphony 45 - "Farewell". Unfortunately, I was unable to accept their invitation; however, an alarm bell did start ringing...

So I found a copy of the cello / bass part, and had a quick flick through. Nothing to worry about by looking at the first page - 3 sharps, big deal. But my memory was telling me there was a passage in 6 sharps, and a rather exposed bass solo. And, me being a bit pessimistic about these things, I thought that it might be that the solo itself was in 6 sharps. Oh dear. So I had to keep looking...

First movement - nothing to worry about. Second movement - an awkward "Scotch Snap" type rhythm at the beginning of the second half, but not much of a problem. Third movement - Minuet & Trio - again, nothing there apart from the 6 sharp key signature. It must be in the Finale.

The finale. "Presto". Oh dear. Thankfully, only 3 sharps in the key signature. But again, nothing immediately obvious until I turned on to the last page, where the presto leads into an Adagio passage (whew!) in 3/8, which seems to be about the point where Haydn starts sending the players home. And there we have it - the dread phrase "uno Basso solo", with an exposed triplet semiquaver passage.

And here's that passage for future reference (click for a bigger version suitable for printing and practising):

(NB: I typeset this using Sibelius, and tried to publish this as a Scorch object, but, for whatever reason, it didn't want to display the score. I'll have to try this properly when I get the time...)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bow Rehairing

I had one of my bows rehaired last month. It's a bit of a monster - quite the longest bass bow I've ever seen, and too long to fit in a "normal" bow case. The person who rehaired it did not put on sufficient hair for my liking - I think it may even have had less hair after the work than it had before it went in...

Anyway, I got the bow back, and tried it out and it seemed to be OK, so I thought nothing more about it. I finally got round to using it properly in a Schubert Octet, and got halfway down the first page before I noticed that the bow seemed to be a bit loose. Kept tightening it up as I went along, and by the repeat mark realised that the thing was not at all happy. It seems as though the hair is not being gripped properly at the frog.

Does this sort of thing happen regularly? I did once have a cello bow that failed completely at the tip - the glue just gave way in the middle of a concert (most embarrassing). But surely a rehairer should be able to deal with a bigger bow?

Anyway. I am waiting for a refund, and a recommendation for a rehairer somewhere near Leeds who's up to the challenge! (The length of the playing area is 24 inches, and I like white hair - thanks!)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Trout Quintet

At last! The piece I have been waiting for all week. A pleasant romp through Schubert's "Trout" Quintet. Although I have played this many times, it still has potential to catch me out in places. And it's remarkably evocative - I find it very hard to play without remembering the times I played it with my grandmother taking the piano part. Music & Memory - I'm sure there's research potential here.

We coupled this with the Mme Farrenc's second quintet for the same combination (Piano, violin, viola, cello, bass). Like other works of hers that I have sampled, this is eminently playable without too much to worry the bass player.

Beethoven & Berwald Septets

Last night was a the regular Beethoven Septet session, fixed by the boss with his favourite players. Coupled with a very relaxed and calm Beethoven septet, we also did the Berwald. This is one that I have seen before, once or twice, and definitely need to look at properly for there are some trickier passages here & there.

Hmm. I seem to be building up quite a shopping list!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Helsted Decet

Have just come out of a session of mixed decets (string quartet + bass, + wind quintet). The main feature was the Helsted decet - a new piece to me, that definitely requires some attention! There are all sorts of interesting corners and fiddly bits, and even the double bass gets a look-in. I need to get hold of a copy of the bass part and go through it in detail.

We finished off the session with the Dvorak Bagatelles, arranged by Geoffrey Emerson. A fun arrangement, if a little light on the bass side.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Nonets, nonets everywhere

Today has mostly been spent playing mixed nonets. Spohr & Farrenc this morning (but we only really had time for the first two movements of the Farrenc). And then this afternoon I was covering for another bass player who's not well. And that session was supposed to be the same again, but we switched in the Onslow for the Spohr.

Nothing too hairy in these, thankfully, but the odd corner would repay attention. Again, I'll try to get some notes together at a later date.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Dvorak Quintet

Played the Dvorak quintet (string quartet + double bass) this morning - and am doing it again this evening (hopefully more successfully this time).

There are some tricky passages to look at here - more details later.

To add to the fun, there's a mistake in the double bass part - 1st movement, 10 bars before the final "Piu mosso", the first three quavers should be triplets. This problem is in both the editions I've looked at today. Oops. You have been warned.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Strauss Metamorphosen

A fun start to the week. I was invited at short notice (half an hour or so) to play the Strauss Metamorphosen, in the arrangement for String Septet (2 vln, 2 vla, 2 vlc, cb) as a sort of musical night-cap.

Technically, it's not really that complicated - there's a short stretch in the tenor clef (not a thing to spring on a lad after a long day's drive), and a couple of exposed passages where (shock) the double bass has the tune, but it's really quite playable. Assuming, that is, that there's a clear beat from a strong leader. Oh, and it helps to know how quickly you can detune your bottom string to a C (if, like me, you've only got an ordinary, un-extended 4-string bass). This is important - it's the bottom of the last chord, and needs to be that low, and it is noticeable when you get it right. (I've done this before in the full 23-part version, and the conductor complimented me on the low note afterwards.)

Unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to find a copy of the score on the interweb from which I can extract the hairy bits that need to be looked at, so will have to go grovelling in the morning.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Busy week ahead

I have a big week of music ahead of me, which is good. I'll try to post briefly as it happens, and end each day with a summary. Well, it's an idea, anyway.

What sort of stuff is coming up? A sneak preview of the first couple of sessions shows me down for Brandenburgs, Dvorak quintet, Spohr & Farrenc Nonets. There's almost certain to be a Beethoven septet later in the week, to which I'm looking forward.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


I am a double bass player. There. I've said it. Nothing to be ashamed of there, right? But that's not the reason for this blog.

I find myself very often the only double bass player in things. Sometimes this is right - after all, did Schubert write the Trout sextet for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Bass? Quite. That would be silly - not that I'm against silliness.

However, what has been happening over the last few years has meant that I have been the only double bass player in Wagner operas. Yes indeed. Gotterdammerung was the most recent one I did "solo", which made the divisi parts quite entertaining. And as for the sections marked "only 4", that was to be expected. However, some parts were marked "only 8"!

So. Anyway. This blog is to be primarily about music involving double bass. It'll probably be more chamber than orchestral, and may contain some snippets of music showing particularly unpleasant / tricky sections for you to cut out & keep practising.