Concerti: Bottesini and Dittersdorf

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[Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 58 seconds]

The concerti by Bottesini and Dittersdorff are central works in the double bass repertoire, and are of the asked for orchestra auditions. Concerti place high technical demands on double bassists. Originally written for instruments in different than modern tunings, now are greatly complicated. Basically there are a lot of hard passages, positions changings and string crossing.

Giovnni Bottesini (1821-1889) is one of the most famous double bass virtuosi ever to have lived. In the age of 14, he entered the Milan Conservatory on a scholarship. He quickly became a virtuoso player and, after leaving the conservatory, established himself as an outstanding soloist. Bottesini performed throughout Europe and also toured America earning the nickname “Paganini of the double bass.” In later life he became a noted conductor and composer, but it is for his double bass techniques that Bottesini is best remembered, and where he made his most significant contributions.

Bottesini composed his Concerto in B (the autograph full score is in C minor and titled “Concertino in do min / per Contrabasso / G. Bottesini”) in 1845 but it remained unpublished until 1950. Soon thereafter it became a standard work for double bass, in both its orchestral and piano reduction versions. Bottesini was using three-string bass with a solo scordatura, tuning his silk strings anything from a semitone to a fourth higher than was normal at that time (GDA). The second movement is an aria for double bass, warm and lyrical, with an understated string accompaniment, while the third features a vigorous, muscular theme that later transforms into a march. Through his brilliant playing, Bottesini singlehandedly gave the double bass a new identity as a virtuoso instrument. He also composed a number of works that feature the double bass, although many are seldom performed today because of their extreme technical difficulty.

My intrepretation of Bottesini concerto, the first movement:

 

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 – 1799) was an Austrian composer and violinist. After early success in Vienna, he settled for a modest career as a provincial Kapellmeister and administrator. His works span nearly the entire development of the Viennese Classical style. Dittersdorf’s substantial catalog of works span all the major genres of his time. Adding to his dozens of symphonies, operas (opera buffa), cantatas, and assorted chamber music are concertos for almost every instrument in the early classical orchestra. The oldest surviving concertos for double bass are the two composed by Dittersdorf. They were written for and premiered by Friedrich Pischelberger (1741-1813), a virtuoso double bassist. Concertos were composed in the Viennese tuning (F-A-d-f#-a).

Most of the technical problems based in both concertos are: fast changing of positions in high register (mostly on G and D string), strings crossing, intonation challenges, harmonics, fast runs of passages, big intervals jumps and in general – playing in epoch style (classical, romantic). What is expected from good double bassist is: perfection of intonation, clarity of sound, and the
right articulation and rhythm. Moreover, important are also: interesting interpretation, playing in the right style and with musicality. To achieve all of the above components, double bassists are working incessantly for many years or even a lifetime. Francoise Rabbath said: “I developed my technique in six years. You can’t reach velocity trying to go quick. You can be virtuoso only when you develop your endurance. To reach it practice two hours every day for six years with the same training. You must do it very carefully, endurance have to be developed little by little, don’t rush, don’t try to be smart.”

What are your experiences in playing mentioned concerti? What do you find the most challenging? Whose interpretation do you like?

/ Monika

Sources:

Rodney Slatford, Editor’s Note, Givanni Bottesini Concerto no. 2 in A minor for Double Dass and Piano, Yorke Edition 1982.

“Giovanni Bottesini,” accessed April 26, 2016, http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/065740/details.html.

“Concerto No.2 in B minor for Double Bass and Orchestra,” Oregon Symphony Concert Programme, https://www.orsymphony.org/concerts/0809/programnotes/cl7.aspx.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., s.v. “Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf.”

Jeffrey R. Pierce “Dittersdorf: Concerto No. 2 for Double-bass and Orchestra,” last modified November 11, 2014,
http://theelginreview.blogspot.se/2014/11/dittersdorf-concert-no-2-for-double.html.

Francoise Rabbath, Art of the left hand with Francois Rabbath DVD, (Muncie: Ball State University, 2010).

  • Louis P.

    Dear Monika, thanks for the nice explanation, I really enjoyed reading it! There’s one thing that’s not completely clear to me, and maybe you can help? The Bottesini concerto is called Concerto in b, and I heard indeed a lot of versions in this tonality. In this case I saw that the bass was tuned in solo tuning F#, B, E, A. You found out that Bottesini wrote it for a 3 string bass tuned A, D, G, the same tuning you use (and I use), but then the concerto sounds in a. Then I stumbled on the version of Ruiz that I like a lot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2ppGk-YqpQ). He plays it on 3 strings, which is probably a historical consideration but then his version sounds in c… When bottesini played it did it sound then like how we play it? Or he played on A, D, G everything a tone higher so the concerto was in b, like it’s name says? Or did he make it even more complex to make us even more confused? (I secretly hope he played it in a 😉 )

    I hope my question is not to chaotic,… and otherwise you can blame my confusion (and my chaotism) for that.

    Kind regards, Louis P.

    • Dear Louis, thank you for an in-depth question!
      According to Rodney Slatford (in my Yorke Edition of Bottesini concerto), the autograph full score is in C minor and titled “Concertino in do min / per Contrabasso / G. Bottesini”. Slatford: “The scoring in this version is for strings only and evidently required the soloist to tune B-flat F C.” and he adds: “For all his virtuoso works Bottesini used a solo scordatura, tuning his silk strings anything from a semitone to a fourth higher than was normal at that time (GDA). Although the scolodatura F# B E A is still widely used, the introduction of steel instead of silk or gut strings removes the necessity for the modern soloist to tune high.”
      So it means that Edicdon Ruiz is doing it at the “original Bottesini way” playing Concerto in C minor 🙂
      However Concerto is required on audition in orchestra tuning, so I will stay with A minor tuning for my practicing and performing! Anyway I think Concerto is beautifull in each version 🙂

      Best regards,
      Monika

      • Louis P.

        Dear Monika, thanks a lot for all the information! As I read in your other post (http://monikakwiatkowska.eu/8tips/) it’s indeed the most important, that we have something to deliver to the public. The historical background or other musicological considerations on the music are from minor importance here :). I also keep rocking the orchestral tuning for the moment 🙂

    • Because of your comment I’ve added more details to Bottesini paragraph 🙂 Thank you!