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full score is in C minor and titled “Concertino in do min / per Contrabasso / G. Bottesini”) in 1845 but it remained unpublished until 1950.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?
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,
Francoise Rabbath, Art of the left hand with Francois Rabbath DVD, (Muncie: Ball State University, 2010).