Chekhov, John Cleese and the Double Bass

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[Estimated reading time: 2 min, 39 sec]

Musicians and their instruments turn out to be a great pretext for expressing feelings, emotions and dilemmas of characters in novels, movies and other forms of art.

We all well know the monologue „The Double Bass” by Patrick Süskind. The bittersweet story of a lonely musician who dreams of love to a young singer. He talks about characteristics of a double bass and it’s role in the orchestra but in the same time reveals his frustrations associated with it. My copy of „The Double Bass” I received years ago from my first double bass teacher, Mr. Leszek Kaufman, at the end of my education in music school in Gdańsk. I like it a lot and for sure will write about it more in the future. But today, let me present you a different story!

Recently I got to know another tale with double bass as a hero. Anton Chekhov’s „Romance with a Double Bass” from 1886 is a short story about the double bassist, Smychkov, who shows up too early at the rehearsal before the betrothal ball in the country house of prince Bibulov. He decides to kill time bathing in the river. While swimming he notes Princess on the shore… As a result of funny accidents they both are left without clothes so Smychkov decided to help Princess hiding her in the double bass case and carring to Bibulov’s house. I encourage you to read the whole original story!

Moreover on YouTube you can find a silent short comedy based od Chekov’s story filmed in Russia in 1911! Directed by Kai Hansen and wrote by Czeslaw Sabinski was the first film adaptation of Chekhov’s writing:

It’s not the only movie based on that story! In 1949 famous Czech puppet animator Jiří Trnka created 15 min. long puppet film „Román s basou” with exceptional music by Václav Trojan:

Different approach to the story we can see in short comedy film with John Cleese and Connie Booth. That 40 minutes long film, with a bit changed plot was released in 1974. John Cleese as a Smychkov is hilarious! Movie is full of funny points, for example:

„I am an artist, sir, not a fishmonger! (pointing at the case) What do you think this is? Groceries?! Brahms’s father played the double bass!”.

Scenes with Smychkov running with case and double bass back and forth and later naked hiding behind an instrument – so funny! Orchestra rehearsal with confused conductor and squeaky shoes – brilliant! The whole movie is also available on YouTube:

In original, story is more reflective. Smychkov, earlier abandoned by his wife, has felt in pessimism and misanthrophy, and in the end he is madly looking for a love, but Princess disappeared.

In 2009 another movie version of the story was realized and screened during the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht. The film „Romance with Double Bass” made by Quirijn van Regteren Altena and director Janica Draisma was presented during the festival with live music performed by an ensemble conducted by Quirijn van Regteren Altena who also played the bassist in the film.

Do you know any novels, movies or other pop culture works with double bass as a background or hero? Let me know! I find it very interesing!