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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.

Bottesini's Elegia for double bass and piano, or double bass and string orchestra, is one of the mos popular and performed works in the solo repertoire today. This new edition, created in 2015 by David Heyes, is scored for double bass quintet - solo double bass (solo tuning) and double bass quartet (orchestral tuning). The accompaniment has been expertly distributed between the double bass quartet and this edition creates both musical and technical challenges in equal measure, alongside both ensemble and performance opportunities for the enterprising or adventurous intermediate double bass quartet.

The work also exists in an edition which only uses one tuning.

"How he bewildered us by playing all sorts of melodies in flute like harmonics, as though he had a hundred nightingales caged in his double bass... I never wearied of his consummate grace and finish, his fatal precision, his heavenly tone, his fine taste. One sometimes yearned for a touch of human imperfection, but he was like a dead shot; he never missed what he aimed at, and he never aimed at less than perfection." [H.Haweis, 1888]

Bottesini's Elegia for double bass and piano is a staple of our solo repertoire and one of the most popular solo works. It has been recorded more than any other double bass piece, although the Eccles Sonata is probably a close second, and was rumoured to be one of Bottesini's favourite works. I have played it several hundred times with piano, in both solo and orchestral tunings, with string orchestra and string quartet, and have taught it to dozens and dozens of students over the past 30 years. More recently I arranged it for the intermediate bassist, opening up the possibility of playing Bottesini at an earlier age, and offering musical and technical challenges, but a 4th below the original pitch.

Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) spent his entire career in Italian opera and the opera house, as a player, conductor and composer, and he is often at his most successful when adapting the bel canto style for the double bass. Elegia, Mélodie (Romanza patetica), Reverie and Romanza Drammatica demonstrate his wonderful melodic gifts. Although his vocal music lacks the joie de vivre of a Rossini, or the dramatic power and beauty of a Verdi, he was an extremely talented and successful composer in his day but sadly only his double bass music has survived in the repertoire into the 21st-century. His vocal music and orchestral works receive an occasional hearing but his elegant and evocative Andante Sostenuto for string orchestra (or string sextet) ought to find a more permanent place in the repertoire.

The operatic style and beautifully shaped melodic phrases of the Elegia make this popular with players and audiences alike, and Bottesini successfully captures the lyrical, cantabile and sonorous qualities of the double bass. The sinuous and evocative solo line is supported by a simple and slow moving chordal piano accompaniment and its first two chords are as distinctive to bassists as the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is to most audiences or music-lovers.

The Elegia exists as a companion piece to the fast and virtuosic Tarantella, or as a stand-alone work in its own right. Originally composed for a three-string double bass, it uses a three and a half octave range making use of the high harmonics and descending to a C on the A string - almost the lowest note available to Bottesini. The composer uses this low C to begin the second half of the piece when the soloist quickly ascends into treble clef, and ends with a downward arpeggio figure leading to a long, sonorous and sustained C. The majority of the dramatic and passionate music is in the second half of the piece and demonstrates the great versatility of the solo double bass.

The Elegia is tackled by most bassists at some point in their studies and is a useful teaching piece for Grade 8 students to demonstrate the entire range of the double bass and the bel canto style of the 19th-century. It requires both a good technique and musicality for a successful performance, alongside a beautiful sound and excellent bow control. Its 38 bars offer many challenges, primarily musical ones (although many bassists would say the challenges are technical), and the ability to sustain long and lyrical phrases in each register is a must.

It is been recorded more than fifty times, has been published by at least ten publishing companies, including Recital Music (www.recitalmusic.net) - in both solo and orchestral tuning - and is also available with string orchestra (or string quartet) accompaniment. Bottesini included the Elegia in his Method for Double Bass as one of the works to demonstrate the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the double bass, alongside arias by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Bellini.

There are four different manuscripts of the Elegia held at the Parma Conservatoire in Italy and Bottesini performed it many times throughout Europe and beyond including Barcelona, Turin, Madrid, Bologna and Buenos Aires, to name but a few. There is also a version with full orchestra (in D major) in Parma, and Dietrich Schubert made his own arrangement with full orchestra for East German Radio, and later recorded by Frantisek Posta.

My own collection of double bass records and cd's includes about 30 recordings of the Elegia - the earliest dating back to 1976 (Klaus Stoll) and 1978 (Ludwig Streicher / Luigi Milani). The timings range from 3'48 (Irena Olkiewicz)) to 5'59 (Duncan McTier), but most seem to settle happily between 4'30 and 5'00. There are a variety of interpretations and performances, some more successful than others, but some players not really understanding the bel canto style of 19th-century Italian opera. The best players, however, understand the style completely and these are likely to be the recordings which stand the test of time.

Bottesini's Elegia seems almost indestructible and has the ability to communicate to any audience. It successfully demonstrates the solo potential of the double bass, giving bassists the chance to leave half position and play the melody, and is an excellent introduction to the solo repertoire for the adventurous and progressing player. Enjoy!

David Heyes (22 March 2014)

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Cat No. RM767
Supplier Code RM767
Price £12.50
ComposerGiovanni Bottesini
ArrangerDavid Heyes
CategoryDouble Bass Quintet
PublisherRecital Music
SeriesHeritage Series
Difficulty level8, Advanced
ISMN 979-0-57045-767-0
EAN-13 9790570457670
Weight 160 grams
Published 28th January 2016
Availability 7 in stock
See also...
RM323  Double Bass Quartet No.1 'New Beginnings' (DOUBLE BASS QUARTET)
RM768  Adagio Cantabile (DOUBLE BASS & PIANO)