Friday, July 31, 2020

Bottesini - Concerto For Double Bass No. 2 In B Minor

Giovanni Bottesini began his life in Crema, Lombardy and his first instruction in music came from his father who was an accomplished clarinettist and composer. Bottesini studied violin and most likely would have stayed with this instrument, but because of a lack of money his father had to try and get him a scholarship to attend the Milan Conservatory. There were but two instrument positions opening, for a bassoon or double bass.  The young Bottesini chose the double bass, and within weeks played it well enough to be admitted to the conservatory.

After 4 years of study, he became a traveling double bass virtuoso. His playing was so masterful, he earned the title of The Paganini Of The Double Bass. He spent time in America, and was a member of an orchestra in Havana. Cuba for a time. He was very popular in London and made many trips there.

He composed and conducted as well as performed on the double bass, with some of his operas having success in Europe. He conducted an opera company in Paris from 1855-1857, and sometimes during intermission he would bring his double bass on stage and play paraphrases and variations on themes from the opera he was conducting  that night. Performing high pitched notes on the double bass requires some major body bending, which led to Bottesini caricatures being published, but it was all part of his popularity as being one of the virtuoso double bass players of the Romantic era.

The 2nd concerto for double bass, along with some of his other works, take double bass technique to dizzying heights.  He also was one of the first double bassists to use the French style, or overhand grip for the bow.

The 2nd concerto for double bass exists in many versions besides the original in B minor for orchestra. There are versions for string orchestra and double bass, versions in C minor, and versions for piano and double bass, with many of the transcriptions done by Bottesini himself.

The Concerto For Double Bass No. 2 In B Minor is in 3 movements:

I. Allegro - The video below is of the version for string orchestra and soloist. The strings play  a short introduction, which I haven't been able to find on any of the versions of the sheet music online. But there are many versions, and in any event it suits the concerto well. When the soloist enters with the main motive, it sounds more like a cello than a double bass. The music stays pretty much in the high register of the instrument with a few dips into the depths of double bass tone for contrast. It takes strong fingers to be able to press down on the much thicker and heavier strings of the double bass, as well as having a strong back to bend over the instrument to reach the higher end of the fingerboard. Every technique from double stops, to harmonics, to rapid runs are used, but all to serve what Bottesini instructs the performer at the very beginning of the piece - expressivo. Bottesini wrote the fiendishly difficult cadenza, but some modern performers have created their own to showcase their virtuosity.

II. Andante -  A subdued accompaniment helps the soloist show how the somewhat ungainly double bass can sing when a musician knows how to coax it.

III. Allegro - The finale rounds out the concerto with more virtuosity for the soloist, with another opportunity for a cadenza if the soloist chooses.

I wanted to include a video performance of the concerto, which is below. The performer is Edgar Mayer, perhaps the leading double bass virtuoso of this era. I wonder, being hunched over so much, if his back is a problem for him?