Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dittersdorf - Double Bass Concerto In E Major

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 - 1799) was an Austrian composer and violinist who was an important composer in the classical era. He was a court composer, and as such was quite prolific. He wrote 120 symphonies, 18 violin concertos, as well as many other works. He was an opera composer as well, and wrote 45 of them. His most popular work in his lifetime was the opera Doktor und Apotheker (Doctor and Apothecary) that premiered in Vienna in 1786 and was a tremendous success.  He knew Haydn and Mozart, and played string quartets along with them and his student Vanhal. Dittersdorf played 1st violin, Haydn 2nd violin, Mozart viola and Vanhal cello.

Dittersdorf held various music positions with his longest tenure being 24 years at the court of Johannesberg (which is currently in the Czech Republic.)  To entice him to stay at court, he was given a noble title. His original surname was Ditters; his noble name became Ditters von Dittersdorf.

There was a small (and brief) school of double bass virtuoso playing in Vienna in the late 18th century, with the Italian bass virtuoso Domineco Dragonetti being the most famous of them. Dittersdorf no doubt wrote his two double bass concertos with this school of playing in mind.  The double bass is not usually thought of as a solo instrument because of the problems of balancing solo double bass and orchestra.  

The double bass of von Dittersdorf's time was not the instrument known today. It had three strings and was gradually replaced by the 4-string and five-string double bass. The 3-string bass had bottom E as the lowest note, while the modern bass could reach the C below that, thus increasing the bass range in the orchestra.  But there were instances of the 3-stringed double bass persisting because some thought the tone was better.

The concerto is sometimes transposed to D major, and is scored for 2 flutes, 2 horns, strings, and double bass solo. It is in the traditional three movements:

I. Allegro moderato- The orchestra plays the first theme and plays a section that connects to the entrance of the soloist playing the theme.  A section theme not heard initially enters and is played in flageolet tones, the old term for harmonics, high in the register of the bass. Both themes are developed in a short section of development before the recapitulation begins. Both themes are repeated and lead up to a cadenza where the soloist plays double stops and shows how the double bass can be an agile and expressive instrument in its own right. The movement then comes to an end in the syncopated rhythm in the strings that was heard at the beginning.

II. Adagio - The voice of the bass can seem tubby and thick even in the hands of a good player. It is the nature of the bass’s tone, and it gives a certain kind of charm to the gentle song the bass sings in this slow movement.  The soloist plays quite high in the register without using harmonics in the movement and cadenza, and it comes to a close. 

III. Allegro - The rondo theme is first heard in the orchestra, and the soloist then plays a short bridge to the repeat of the theme. The first episode has again shows the agility of the bass as it plays rapid arpeggios.  Short parts of the theme are heard and followed by the bass playing short episodes in harmonics, arpeggios, even combining the two with arpeggios in harmonics.  The final bars quicken the tempo and a final allegro statement of the theme ends the concerto. 


  1. this was very helpful, thank you

  2. Thank you for this one! Very helpful in my research