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Passacaglia

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An extended one-movement work for the advanced bassist. There are musical and technical challenges throughout the range of the double bass and this adds to a growing and impressive body of work from American composer, Armand Russell. The style is modern but approachable, offering a mammoth and impressive work for the adventurous and enterprising bassist.


"The passacaglia form, with its underlying ground bass, provides strong harmonic coherence in this kind of work. Here, being unaccompanied, the ground bass is contained within the melodic material in the way of J.S. Bach. Armand Russell's other works tend towards harmonic meanderings but generally in this work his intent is clear. There are 24 variations which follow the softly sustained opening nine-bar phrase, but they build with increasing rhythmic complexity and technical virtuosity, so that the whole 10 minutes of uninterrupted playing represent a substantial endeavour for the advanced player. This could well become a competition set work." [ESTA News & Views]

"Armand Russell's Passacaglia is exactly what one would expect from a passacaglia: it begins with a simple nine-bar bass line which then becomes the harmonic basis from which variations on that theme (and its implied harmony) are constructed, every nine bars. At seven pages long it is a rather lengthy work; however, each nine-bar set is appealingly varied and never tedious. The work's technical difficulties are reminiscent of those found in challenging orchestral excerpts. Staying mostly out of thumb position, the piece emphasises rapid shifting in relatively close positions and many arpeggios across the strings. Stamina in both hands is tested." [Double Bassist]

Performance Level: Advanced


Armand Russell was born in Seattle, Washington in 1932. He received the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Washington, with a major in music composition, and a Doctorate in music composition from the Eastman School of Music. He studied double bass with Leslie Martin, who played in the Seattle Symphony and Boston Symphony Orchestras, and at the Eastman School of Music with Oscar Zimmerman. His composition studies were with John Verrall and George McKay at the University of Washington, and with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson at the Eastman School.

Professionally, Armand Russell played double bass in many orchestras including the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Tour Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic and Civic Orchestras, and Honolulu Symphony. For five years he taught as a visiting Professor at the Eastman School of Music. From 1961 to 1994 he taught at the University of Hawaii Music Department and retired as Professor emeritus in 1994. While at the University of Hawaii he taught music theory, composition and double bass and also served as Chair of the Music Department for seven years.

Armand Russell has composed many works for double bass and also percussion, including solos, chamber music and concertos. Some of his most frequently performed works include Chaconne (Db/Pno), Buffo Set (Db/Pno), Harlequin Concerto (Db/Orch), Pas de Deux (Cl/Perc), Percussion Suite, Theme & Fantasia (Concert Band) and Suite Concertante (Tuba/Wind Quintet). He has also composed several works for choirs in recent years and has continued to write for the double bass alongside a growing body of chamber music and transcriptions.

Armand Russell's compositional style is confident and direct with a clarity of line and texture always to the fore. A modern, yet lyrical and accessible style, has created works which communicate equally to performers and audiences alike and he has made, and continues to make, a unique and valuable contribution to the double bass litereature throughout a long and successful career.

Recital Music is planning a celebration of Armand Russell's music at Bass-Fest in 2012 to celebrate the composers 80th birthday.

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Cat No. RM244
Price £7.50
ComposerArmand Russell
CategoryDouble Bass Solo
PublisherRecital Music
Difficulty levelAdvanced
ISMN 979-0-57045-244-6
EAN-13 9790570452446
Weight 41 grams
Published 1st April 2005
Availability 7 in stock
See also...
RM242  Buffo Set (DOUBLE BASS DUET)
RM286  Two Pieces
RM324  Jazz Sonata
RM347  Simo's Scramble