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Air Populaire Variations on 'Au Clair de la Lune'

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71 publications in this series

The Heritage Series series

The history of the double bass features many player-composers who created a wealth of music for bassists of all abilities. Recital Music publish a wide and eclectic range of music by these important figures from the history of the instrument, particularly from the 19th and early 20th-centuries, and more works are in preparation. Some names are well known today, others almost forgotten, but each made a valuable contribution to the repertoire of the double bass and helped create a unqiue repertoire which deserves to be performed.

Published in the early 20th-century as part of the Franz Simandl Collection by C.F. Schmidt in Germany, this inventive and effective trio has been newly edited by David Heyes.

A score and individual parts makes for ease of performance, and the edition also includes a version a 5th higher for the more adventurous and advanced trio. There are some technical challenges throughout the range of the double bass, great opportunities for ensemble study, from a work of wonderful energy and spirit.

The original Schmidt publication included a score format only, which was useful for seeing all the parts on one system but was impossible to perform because of page turns. The new Recital Music edition includes a score and individual parts to help with this problem. The 'eagle-eyed' bassist will notice that each part is printed over 3 pages and by copying one page (which is acceptable if the music has been purchased and to help with page turns) a 3-page spread is possible meaning there are no page turns in awkward places and the piece can now be performed without stopping after every couple of variations.
Recital Music aims to make our publications as user-friendly as possible but can do nothing about page turns if there are no rests for the players.

The history of the double bass duo dates back to the late 1830s with the 3 Gran Duetti by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), composed during Bottesini's studies at the Milan Conservatoire and dedicated to his teacher, Luigi Rossi. The double bass quartet is almost a century younger and began in 1933 with two works - a Suite by Bernhard Alt (1903-1945) for bassists in the Berlin Philharmonic, and a Prelude & Fugue in E minor by Arcady Dubensky (1890-1966), probably for colleagues in the New York Philharmonic. The double bass trio came into being somewhere between the two and, although its history is longer, the trio has never been as popular as the quartet, although there are some wonderfully imaginative and inventive works in the repertoire but mostly composed during the last sixty years. Similarly the string trio is not as popular as the string quartet and the musical possibilities of four musical lines is obviously more appealing to composers than three, which at its most basic consists of a melody, bass and harmony line. As far as can be ascertained, the very first double bass trio was probably composed in the 1880s or early 1890s by the French double bassist and composer, V.F. Verrimst (1825-1893), who was Bottesini's almost exact contemporary, and is still in print.

Of Belgian descent, Victor Frédéric Verrimst was born in Paris on 29 November 1825 and studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis François Chaft (double bass), Antoine Elwart (harmony) and Simon Leborne (counterpoint). He worked as a double bassist at the Opéra-Comique and later the Paris Opera and at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. Alongside his double bass duties he was also choirmaster of the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas and, from 1860, organist at the Church of St. Bernard.

Verrimst was also Professor of Double Bass at the Paris Conservatoire and composed a number of works for the instrument, including a 'Methode de Contre-basse a quatre cordes' which was dedicated to the memory of M. Chaft, his Professor at the Conservatoire, and was also approved for use there. Completed in 1865 it was written for a four-stringed double bass tuned in fourths (EADG) and the preface comments that at the time the double bass in France was more likely to be a three-stringed instrument tuned in fourths (GDA), or with G as the lowest string. Verrimst was certainly ahead of his time advocating the four-stringed double bass, which wasn't settled in Britain until the early years of the 20th-century. He also produced a 'Solfège du Contre-Bassiste Op.129' in 1885, which featured studies in all positions and keys, with the optional accompaniment of a double bass, and each scale is followed by a study in that key. His solo works for double bass included 'Cinq Morceaux de Concours', with piano accompaniment and were obviously written for his students at the Conservatoire.

Verrimst composed church music and works for piano, voice and violin, although unfortunately nothing seems to have survived in the repertoire to the present day. He was famous enough, however, for a conservatory choir to be named after him around fifteen years ago in the town of Houilles, where he died on 16 January 1893. 'Le chœur d'adultes Victor-Frédéric Verrimst' is led by Dominique Bessett and a web page includes a photograph of Verrimst and the description: "The conservatory adult choir is named after a famous composer in his time. Academician, Professor at the Paris Conservatory and holder of several organ posts in Paris, he was also a musician in the orchestra of Napoleon III." Not bad for a double bassist who died more than a century ago and great credit to the choir for keeping his name alive into the 21st-century.

Verrimst's only work for double bass trio, probably the first to be written, was dedicated to Frantisek [Franz] Simandl (1840-1912) and first published as part of Book 1 of his 'High School for Double Bass' by C.F. Schmidt in Germany. His 'Air Populaire - Au clair de la lune, attributed to Lully' is a theme and seven variations based on the popular melody, which he had also arranged for voice and piano in 'Chansons populaires, chants patriotiques' a book of 43 traditional and popular songs, published in Paris in 1876. The version for double bass trio was published in score format and has an educational dimension and more than likely would have been written for his students in Paris. The variations are inventive and interesting, introducing a number of skills and styles, including pizzicato, harmonics played in the lower positions alongside useful ensemble study, and is still excellent teaching material today. Written for the four-stringed double bass, the variations make effective use of the orchestral register of the instrument and, although based on an existing melody, this is an original work which is still worthy of performance today.

'Air Populaire' is based on a sixteen bar opening introduction (Andante) with the original theme introduced by bass 1 in 1st position and in the home key of G major. Basses 2 and 3 contrast this with a more rhythmic and harmonically interesting accompaniment but in the lower register of the instrument. Each variation follows directly on from the previous one and is always sixteen bars in length. The melody is divided between all three players and each variation has its own distinct character and style, offering opportunities to be the soloist, the bass or a harmony line, and this is a fun piece which is playable by intermediate bassists with few technical or music challenges.

Verrimst successfully captures the bucolic and rumbustious side of the instrument, with nothing to frighten an audience, and this would be a enjoyable and lively addition to any school concert or for bassists of a youth orchestra who are asked to provide some entertainment at short notice. Ideal to develop many playing skills, it still ticks all the boxes and is worthy of still being in print well over a century after it was composed. Why compose for double bass trio? There is no documentation to confirm why Verrimst wrote for trio but, in my own experience, composers tend to write for the instrumental forces at hand and it is likely that his class in Paris included three students at about the same technical level and hence the bass trio was born. As simple as that...

Today's extensive double bass trio repertoire stems from this simple and effective work. Although Verrimst didn't push any musical or technical boundaries it helped composers and players to see this as a viable chamber ensemble. Composers who have taken up the challenge over the past century include Adolf Misek, Jan Rychlik, Stefan Poradowski, William Sydeman, John Walton, Erich Hartmann, Miloslav Gajdos, Tony Osborne, Simon Garcia, Teppo Hauta-aho, John Alexander and many more. 'Mighty oaks from little acorns grow' as they say...

David Heyes [10 July 2015]

"It is good to see this long out-of-print arrangement of Au Clair de la Lune for three solo basses, or three-part bass ensemble, back into print. David Heyes provides two versions of the trio, the original, in G major, which lies in the orchestral range of the bass and is incredibly useful for a youth orchestra section, where it is possible to explore many types of bowings and articulations, balancing parts and, of course, intonation. The second version is a transposition up a 5th into D major. This places the notes in the more solo part of the bass which would probably not suit youth orchestra players but would be welcomed by aspiring soloists.
An unadorned version of the theme is present in each of the seven variations either staring on an open string, an octave higher in thumb position or two octaves higher on harmonics. Variation 1 explores staccato/spiccato quavers, No.2 a more martele stroke and off beats, No.3 triplet passage work, No.4 harmonics and pizzicato, No.5 semiquaver passage work, No.6 tremolo and octaves, No.7 a military style.
I could find no changes to the original version of the arrangement printed in Simandl's method, except the re-writing of the harmonic passages in Variation 4 so they are played at the end of the fingerboard and the provision of individual parts. The first change I welcome, while I am less sure about the second. I have always worked at this piece with students in score format and, while a score is provided, there are page turns in the middle of variations. However, this is a tiny quibble that should not put you off getting this music if you ever work with a youth orchestra bass section." [ESTA News & Views]

Part of Recital Music's ongoing 'Heritage Series'.

Performance Level: 6;7;8

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Cat No. RM216
Price £12.50
ComposerV F Verrimst
EditorDavid Heyes
CategoryDouble Bass Trio
PublisherRecital Music
SeriesHeritage Series
Difficulty level6 - 8
ISMN 979-0-57045-216-3
EAN-13 9790570452163
Weight 204 grams
Published 19th July 2009
Availability 3 in stock