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Thread: The Evolution of the Double Bass and the Orchestra

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Default The Evolution of the Double Bass and the Orchestra

    Indeed the evolution of the double bass cannot be understood without a parallel understanding of the evolution of the orchestra. Being a jazz player of the instrument myself, I have little practical knowledge or understanding of the orchestral use of the bass never mind its history. Although I am classically trained, there is a world of difference between playing jazz and playing classical. In jazz, you play primarily in pizzicato (plucking) and resort to the bow sparingly; in classical, you play primarily arco (with the bow) and resort to pizzicato sparingly. Yes, arco playing is definitely harder than pizzicato playing. In jazz, we improvise a lot and read from charts while in classical they tend to play off the page and use full scores. But jazz utilizes classical techniques of playing such as hand and thumb positions. Scales and arppegiation is the same. Jazz use of the bow is based entirely upon classical technique. Almost all my lesson books are classical.

    The modern double bass is just that—modern. Double basses in ye olde days were much different instruments. This not due to construction but to size and to string technology. The earliest mention of the string bass is by Prospero in 1493, who made mention of seeing “viols” as big as himself.


    Bass viol made in 1563 by Hanns Vogel. Now housed at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremburg. It is tuned G’-C-F-A-d-g, known as the “high 3rd-4th tuning.”

    In construction, the double bass is a violin. Speculation that it descended from the bass viol is not borne by facts. The double bass does have similarities to both but it is a violin—period. Like viols, double basses are tuned in 4ths (EADG) while the violin is GDAE (tuned in 5ths) but that’s because the double bass would be difficult to finger tuned in 5ths (they were tuned in 5ths at one time but it was impractical). Cellos are also tuned in 4ths: ADGC. Many double basses are flatbacked like viols. But the similarities stop there. Viols have six strings while the violin family has four. Viols are fretted (with shrink-fitted gut strips) while violins are not fretted. While many double basses are flatbacked, many have curved backs like other violins. The bass viol has no end-pin to stand on or a very short one. Double basses and cellos have very lengthy end-pins. This matters because the viol is actually descended, believe it or not, from a guitar while the violin family is not and guitars don’t have end-pins other than a little stub for the strap and that’s a recent development in guitar evolution. The viol came from the Spanish vihuela (Spanish for viol), a guitar that some began to bow on but it was hard because the strings were in line and nearly impossible to play isolated so they were raised and separated like on a viol.

    The bass viol was constructed for chamber music. It was meant to play quietly. In fact, its interior was lined with linen to muffle the sound. The double bass is constructed no differently than other members of the violin family. The double bass was invented for volume and power. It was meant to be heard and felt which means it was meant for large orchestras not chamber orchestras.

    The Italians changed European perceptions in music by introducing the double bass. One of the earliest known makers of the double bass was the great Brescian violin-maker Gasparo di Bertolotti (1540-1609) who was born in the Italian town of Salò and so was more famously known as Gasparo da Salò. His first double basses were actually made from the bodies o 16th century 6-string viols. He was, himself, a superb double bassist and commanded high prices for his services.



    The point of the Italian contribution was volume. The Italians wanted their basses loud. Abbé Raguenet of France wrote following his 1698 visit to Rome:

    The first time I heard our band in the opera after my return from Italy, the memory of their volume of sound was so fresh in my ears that I thought our violins were being played with mutes, so feeble was their tone.

    Raguenet also wrote:

    …their bass violins are as large again as ours, and all ours put together don’t sound as loud in our operas as two of those large basses in the Italian operas; assuredly, we miss such an instrument in France, and those hollow basses make, in Italy, an admirable base upon which the whole performance sounds as if underpinned…

    Eventually, the Italian view of the loud bass won out most of Europe and the bass viol fell by the historical wayside. But this also brought in a new set of problems. Basses had to be very large in the 16th and 17th centuries because the strings were made of thick, coarse gut. As a result, string action had to be set high. Because of this, fingering the strings required great strength and stamina. The technique at that time was to use the index finger by itself and the other three in unison. Consequently, young, strong men were hired to play the bass in orchestras because they wore older men out quickly. Even so, it was not uncommon to watch bassists collapse into their chairs to rest while the rest of the section continued to play.


    A 1670 bass made by Nicolò Amati of the great Amati family luthiers.


    Detroit jazz bassist, Al McKibbon, and his 1650 Jakob Steiner bass.

    Consequently, bass lines in these times had to simple and standardized because if a measure represented a certain chord but the notes were written in 16ths then it would be impossible for the bassist to play them all. He might play the first, third, fifth and seventh notes from the measure but what if one of those was a passing note and so was not in the chord? Suppose also that the bassist next to him realizes it is a passing note and decides to play a note from the chord instead? Then they will not be playing the same thing introducing something the composer might not have intended perhaps even a dissonance causing the audience to wince. Berlioz noted that this arbitrary choice of bassists to play only certain notes often destroyed the emotion of the piece—high emotion reduced to dead calm.

    Bassists were regarded with contempt within the orchestra. Their musical lines were impoverished and so stripped down that Berlioz urged that bassists in orchestras be forced to maintain a certain degree of proficiency or be replaced. But, as it was, string action on basses was set so high that bassists had no ability to play D’ or above and so played everything in the lower octave. The bass was called the “instrument that does not inspire trust.” The perceived laziness of the bassists had more to do with conserving energy. The construction of the instrument in those days was simply physically taxing and demanding and bassists needed to cut as many corners as possible to make it all the way through a composition without collapsing in exhaustion part way through.

    The strings were made of thick, coarse, rough gut. They needed to be taut in order to be properly stopped by the fingers. To accomplish this, the action had to be set high. The player’s fingertips were often cut by the rough surface of the string. There were higher quality strings with much smoother surfaces but these were quite expensive and few orchestras could afford them. Consequently, many players wore a leather glove on the left hand to preserve their fingers. Some wore the glove only for parts that required extensive finger pressure for prolonged periods but used the bare hand for shorter passages. Some wore the glove all the time but many musicians complained that the glove produced a muffled tone. The fingering technique consisted of holding the thumb flat against the neck but in parallel which caused the fingers to want to curl at an angle minimizing their effectiveness. The index finger was used by itself and the other three in unison. For some notes, all four fingers were used at once. This system of fingering, high string action and use of the glove was known as fisticuffs.

    But in spite of all this the double bass was here to stay. Thanks to the advent of opera, orchestras were getting larger and more ambitious. Battle scenes, rolling waves, thunderous storms, etc. needed lots of low frequencies to adequately convey the awesome, frightening power and din and bass viols simply could not cut it.

    Another usage for the double arose during the Baroque Era—the continuo. The continuo (or basso continuo) was usually a trio of instruments, generally a mid-range instrument and a bass, providing a continuous thread of foundational chords (recitativo secco) upon which the rest of the orchestra plays. Originally, the continuo might be a lute or harp and a bassoon or theorbo but harpsichord and double bass became popular. Then the cello was added. Not only did the bassist need to be a good sight-reader but, because he had to read off the harpsichordist’s sheet music, he had to have very good eye sight. Another reason why basses were usually played in orchestras by young men.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTGVOvTv0zE
    A wonderfully simple explanation of the basso continuo.

    As the orchestra evolved ever larger and more complex, the basso continuo evolved as well. Other instrumentalists joined it to accompany vocalists for delicate and complex passages, the basso continuo more or less became the concertino (“small choir”). The other musicians, called ripienists, formed the concerto grosso (“great choir”). The roles sort of got reversed. The concertino musicians were soloists while the concerto grosso players played tutti (“blocks of chords”) for the soloists to play over. Because of this, the contrasting lines of early classical music such as motets fell by the wayside. What was needed now was unity rather than individuality. Contrasts shifted over to dynamics—loud and soft passages intermixed.

    There were as yet no conductors for these big orchestras so the principal bassist worked with the concertmaster (principal violinist) to keep the orchestras in time. The bassist did this through loud, short bow strokes that the other musicians used as timing cues. This was no easy task. A great bassist was required to pull this off. The best of them is considered to be the great Domenico Dragonetti.


    Dragonetti
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    The trouble with bassists going into the 19th century was that players were more interested in using their musical judgment to play their parts rather than knowing their techniques. But double bass is an instrument that holds a tremendous number of secrets unknown to any but its most dedicated students. Without using technique to draw out these secrets, the bass was being misused and mis-played and its full potential remained un-utilized in a music where this potential was of the utmost importance both for the future of the music and of the instrument. But the problem was exacerbated by the fact that few students that played bass did so by choice but were often relegated to it. Often musical directors turned their least gifted students into bassists leading to a surplus of mediocre talent on an instrument that requires great proficiency to play effectively enough for orchestral music that was fast evolving into grand pieces of great color and dynamics. These musicians were simply handed a bass and sheet music and then left to their own devices or schooled only in the most basic rudiments. Without adequate bass-playing, the future of orchestral music would be held back as the technical demands of the music required true mastery of the instrument.

    One of the earliest masters, if not the earliest, is the Austrian-born Johannes Matthias Sperger (1750-1812) who began training as a contrabassist in Vienna in 1767. By 1777, he was playing in the Hofkapelle (Court Chapel) of the Archbishop of Pressburg (now called Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia). The following year, he joined the Wiener Tonkünstlersozietät (Society of Musicians) where he performed as a soloist and began writing his own pieces which were featured in the Society’s concerts. He played in other hofkapelle ensembles and was a very prolific composer writing 44 symphonies as well as concertos, sonatas, rondos, cantatas, choral works, airs and such. Eighteen of his concertos were written for contrabass.


    Johannes Matthias Sperger (1750-1812).

    The problem recognized, bass schools were founded in Europe. One was founded in Milan under such theoreticians and composers as Bonifazio Asioli. The Italians were the undisputed masters of European music and the inventors of the violin family and double bass is no exception. There was also a Parisian school of bass. Actually, the Royal School of Music opened in Paris in 1784 but during the Revolution (1789-1799), the school was being utilized to glorify the Revolution and had a decidedly military bent to it as envisioned by Bernard Sarrette who joined the French National Guard (Garde Nationale) who, although not a musician himself, proposed the formation of the Guards’ own orchestra and was put in charge of it. The original orchestra was 45 musicians but then swelled to 78 musicians which the municipality of Paris could not put on its payroll necessitating Sarrette to found a free school in 1792. During much of 1794, Sarrette was in prison although the reasons for it are unclear. That same year, the Royal School of Music was renamed the Institut National de Musique (National Institute of Music). In 1795, the school was reorganized under the title of the Paris Conservatoire with Sarrette being named its director in 1800.


    Bernard Sarrette (1765-1858)

    Unfortunately, double bass was suppressed in Paris from 1798 until 1827. No one remembers why today. So while Paris was the first true school of double bass, it had little influence on the course of the instrument until Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) brought the double bass classes back. Some of the esteemed professors of the instrument to teach at the Paris Conservatoire were Achille Gouffé and Edouard Nanny.


    Professor Nanny (center) with some of his students in Paris.

    Other schools followed: Milan and Naples (1808), Prague (1811), Parme (1820), Vienna (1821), London (1822), Turin (1827), Madrid (1830), Brussels (1832), Geneva (1836), Leipzig (1843), Barcelona (1844), St. Petersburg (1862) and Moscow (1866). Venice founded, closed and refounded a number of bass schools from 1811 to 1876.

    But the bassists of Blatná (Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic) founded the most profound school of bass pedagogy. The Prague Conservatory bass school was founded by a former violin-maestro-turned-bassist named Wenzeslas Hause in 1811 (he is known to posterity mainly as Wenzel Hause and sometimes as Vàclav Hause). Hause held this position until retiring in 1845. He died in 1847. In his day, the bass was tuned in fifths as other members of the violin family but bass sections in orchestras had to slow down passages meant to be played with speed because the instrument was unwieldy. This caused the removal of the lowest string because it was tuned too low to be audible and had a tendency to twist while being bowed on. By removing the string, less tension was put on the belly which enabled it to vibrate more freely which increased the volume. But Hause wanted the bass to be a four-string instrument since bass should have the ability to get low.

    In 1828, Hause’s book, Méthode complète de contra-basse approuvée et adoptée par la direction du Conservatoire de Prague, is considered an invaluable source on bass playing techniques and tunings of that period. Hause laid out the idea of tuning the bass in fourths instead of fifths. The notes were easier to get to which had the effect of speeding up passages and the lowest tuned string could be added back on and tuned to E instead of low C making the string playable and audible. The book’s introduction in France convinced Cherubini in Paris to adopt Hause’s idea of tuning the bass in fourths which completely changed the world’s approach to bass. While the instrument remained a three-stringer for a great many bassists, Hause’s method convinced many more to adopt the four-string models. While the title of Hause’s book states that his methods were adopted by the board of directors at the Prague Conservatory, the directors themselves issued a statement that such was not the case simply because the book had never been reviewed by any of them because Hause had never submitted it to them although they would have approved it if he had so great was their esteem for Hause.


    Hause authored quite a number of bass instruction manuals. I was trained on this set which are printed in Paris.

    One of Hause’s students was Josef Hrabé (1816-1870) who was born five years after Hause founded the Prague bass school. Hrabé took over the post at the Prague Conservatory after Hause retired in 1845. He differed from his master in that he did away with fisticuffs. While Hause was indifferent to the glove many bassists wore on their fingering hand, Hrabé forbade his students to use them.


    I studied from this series. Like the other Bohemian/Czech bass teachers, Hrabé was both a teacher and a composer.
    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Jul-08-2015 at 03:53.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Hrabé had a number of students who went onto great things. These included Josef Rambousek who would become a bass professor at the Moscow Philharmonic Music School, Vendelin Sládek and Josef Emanuel Storch. Two of Sládek’s great students were Vojta Kuchynka who composed over 140 works and Frantisek Cerny who would mentor another great Bohemian bassist and composer, Adolf Lotter (“The Ragtime Bass Player”). Sládek and Cerny also taught Bohemian native Wenzel (or Václav) Bech at the Prague Conservatory and who would go onto play bass in some of the greatest orchestras of Europe. Other Bohemian bassists include Anton Slama, Václav Jiskra (student of both Sládek and Simandl), Oldrich Sorej (student of Cerny) and his student, Frantisek Posta (a huge fan of Kuchynka).


    An IMC manual of exercises developed by Storch and Hrabé.

    Josef Rambousek would go on in Moscow to teach a brilliant teenaged student named Serge Koussevitsky (1874-1951). Koussevitsky was the son of professional musicians who taught him violin, cello, piano and trumpet and was born outside Moscow. Since his family was Jewish, they were not allowed to live within Moscow. Koussevitsky qualified for a bass scholarship at the Musico-Dramatico Institute of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. In order to enter the city, Koussevitsky had to be baptized a Christian.

    Koussevitsky showed such prowess at the bass that he was the assistant principal to Rambousek in the Bolshoi Theatre at age 20 and succeeded Rambousek as the orchestra’s principal bassist in 1901. He began giving recitals which were met with critical acclaim. His concerto for double bass premiered in Moscow in 1905. That year, Koussevitsky divorced his first wife and married the daughter of a tea merchant known to be fabulously wealthy. They moved to Berlin where Koussevitsky studied conducting under Arthur Nikisch. He made his debut as a conductor in 1908 with the Berlin Philharmonic.

    He and his wife then returned to Russia where he started his own orchestra and founded a publishing concern, Éditions Russes de Musique. He published works by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Stravinsky and others. With his orchestra, he toured Russia and Europe playing new works by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Ravel. After the Revolution in 1917, Koussevitsky was appointed as conductor of the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd for the next three years.

    In 1920, Koussevitsky left the Soviet Union and went to Berlin and then to Paris organizing concerts to showcase the new works of the Russian composers and Ravel. After this, Koussevitsky came to the United States to take over for Pierre Monteux as conductor of the Boston Symphony. From 1929 to 1949, Koussevitsky conducted the Boston Symphony to world prominence. In 1941, Koussevitsky and his wife became American citizens. Among his many protégés was a tenor named Alfred Cocozza who would come to fame and fortune under the stage name Mario Lanza.

    Koussevitsky is also responsible for turning Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition from an 1874 piano suite into a full symphonic production when he commissioned Ravel to write it in 1922. It debuted that year to great acclaim. So famous is the orchestrated versioned that the piano version is rarely heard and many people don’t realize the orchestration was a later addition. Koussevitsky held the rights to the orchestrated version for years. Today, the most famous version is probably Leonard Bernstein’s which is fitting being that Bernstein was yet another protégé of Koussevitsky. Of course, Tomita’s and ELP’s versions are also very popular but it was only possible due to the musical vision of Serge Koussevitsky who died in Boston in 1951.



    Another great student of Hrabé’s was a native Bohemian named Frantisek Simandl (1840-1912) but would better known to posterity as Franz Simandl. Young Simandl was taught voice and violin by Josef Martinovsky who trained the boy so well that he easily grabbed a seat at the Prague Conservatory. At some point, Simandl, like Hause before him, decided to take up the bass. He studied under Professor Hrabé and graduated from the conservatory in 1860 with his specialty in military kapelle playing. He played in the kapelle of the 11th Infantry for eight years.


    Franz Simandl (1840-1912).

    Simandl lent his musical services wherever he could get paid and this included playing trombone for a theatre group. Starting in 1869, he played in the Vienna Imperial Opera and Vienna Philharmonic. That same year, he was hired as professor of bass at the Vienna Conservatory. His gig in the Opera lasted 35 years. In 1876, Simandl began playing in the Wagner Festivals in Bayreuth. He also played in a number of chamber orchestras. Simandl was also a composer of chorals, masses and military marches.

    But Simandl’s biggest contribution to posterity were his bass instruction manuals. His first volume of New Method of the Double Bass (first printed in 1874, the first year he became conductor of the Slovanská Beseda or Cultural Society in Vienna) is considered by many bassists—me included—to be the bassist’s bible—a pedagogical masterpiece. I’ve studied under two teachers who, independently of one another, assigned me the book. There are some schools of bass-playing that do not use Simandl but I would guess that they are few and far between. Most bassists I have met in person or online have studied from it.


    The book has alternate Japanese text on every page of the Carl Fischer editions and every Japanese bassist I’ve seen appears to have studied Simandl.

    Another popular method is called the Rabbath method named for the superb bassist, Francois Rabbath. Many bassists swear by the Rabbath method and avoid Simandl because it can be bewildering in its complexity. There is also the Suzuki method. George Vance and Annette Costanzi have synthesized the Rabbath and Suzuki methods into what they call “Progressive Repertoire.” Some teachers believe Suzuki and Vance are better for children and beginners but once they reach a certain level of ability, they should learn Simandl. I started off with Simandl and while I did use some of the exercises from the Progressive Repertoire, Simandl remained my main lessons. Rabbath has some useful theory such as dividing the fingerboard into six regions based on the major harmonics but much of Rabbath technique is frankly unsound. While you may encounter good and bad players who learned either Simandl or Rabbath, you will never encounter a bad bassist who has mastered Simandl. Once he or she masters it, they will inevitably be good because the techniques are sound. Rabbath, on the other hand, can be mastered by a student who still sounds bad.

    Simandl divides the fingerboard into seven primary positions that move progressively up the fingerboard. As you learn each position, you learn what notes you have available and how to use them and listen to them. In these lower positions, you use the baby finger and the third finger together. This is partly for strength and partly because the note positions work out beautifully. As you get up the fingerboard beyond where the neck joins the body, you switch to using the third finger by itself as the baby finger at that angle becomes impossible to position except out of the way.

    When you get into the second volume, you move high up the fingerboard using thumb positions—highly important to know for any bassist to even be considered decent on the instrument. Then there is a third volume after that of mostly repertoire.


    Jazz great Scott LaFaro using thumb position.

    Simandl techniques are good, solid classical techniques. Simandl teaches the student to read exactly the way composers write. A lot of the exercises in Simandl seem pointless and boring but they actually teach your ear to pick up what you are playing by hearing the scales and keys and they teach you how to anticipate key changes and read the accidentals as you will encounter them in orchestral sheet music. Constant drilling with Simandl’s exercises teaches the student where the notes are on the fingerboard (they differ from bass to bass). Simandl hands you the skills you’ll need to play in ensembles. Yes, of course you have to work your tail off to be any good at it but once you are good at it, you are good enough for most orchestras at least at a ripienist level.

    This is not to say that other superb bassists didn’t come out of other schools. One of the finest bassists ever, Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), came out of the Milan Conservatory. He was a great, young violinist. Bottesini’s father wanted to get him into Milan which was very prestigious. The conservatory was willing to accept Bottesini but the tuition was so expensive that his father could not afford it and asked about a scholarship. The school said they only had two available: double bass and bassoon. Young Bottesini said he would take the double bass scholarship and studied under Luigi Rossi. In only four years, Bottesini left the conservatory with prize money he won for solo performance on bass. He used it to buy a new instrument and then set about consolidating his career as “the Paganini of the Double Bass.”
    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Jul-08-2015 at 03:50.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Bottestini journeyed to the U.S. and then to Havana where he became principal bassist in the Italian opera in that city and then went onto become its director. He wrote his first opera in Havana—Cristoforo Columbo. He would write seven operas in all over the years. In 1838, Bottesini purchased a new bass—a 1716 Carlo Giuseppe Testore—for 900 lire (Testore died that year). He began appearing as a solo artist in 1849 in England. Afterwards, Bottesini began to conduct orchestras and was so good that Verdi chose him to conduct his 1871 production of Aida in Cairo. Bottesini wrote oratorios, string quartets and quintets as well as a number of pieces for solo double bass and double bass duets.


    Giovanni Bottesini posing with his Testore bass. It was originally a 4-string but converted to a 3-string then back to 4-string. A Japanese collector now owns it. Testore learned his craft from another great luthier, Giovanni Grancino.

    Although Bottesini was considered to be as good as Paganini, pianist and composer, Bretislav Lvovský, wrote of both Bottesini and Simandl thus:

    Some concert-goers preferred Bottesini because he used a so-called salon double bass with thin strings, whereas Simandl employed a traditionally built instrument (from 1893, on a majestic Maggini double bass) with normal strings. Specialists who have had the chance to hear both virtuosi in the same pieces give the edge to Simandl for strength and quality of tone as well as for his superb technique.

    The Venice bass schools produced perhaps the greatest master of the contrabass—Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846). His father was an amateur musician who apparently played the tympani. Some sources say that Dragonetti mastered guitar and bass on his own and that these were his father’s instruments while other sources say a shoemaker in the area encouraged Dragonetti to learn the violin. Whatever the case, he was so good that he was noticed by a violinist/composer named Doretti (I have not been able to find out anything else about this man) who took Dragonetti to public performances.

    By age 12, Dragonetti was put under the instruction of Michele Berini of the Ducal Chapel of San Marco, considered the best contrabassist in all of Venice. After only 11 lessons, Berini said there was nothing more to teach the boy. The following year, Dragonetti joined the Opera Buffa in Venice. At 14, he was appointed the principal bassist of the Grand Opera Seria at San Benedetto Theatre. By 18, he was playing in a quartet and tried out for the Chapel of San Marco but was not accepted for another three years (1787).

    While playing in Vincenza, he discovered a double bass made by Gasparo da Salo in the Convent of San Pietro for Benedictine nuns. Other sources say the bass was in a monastery. He purchased the bass from the nuns or monks and took it with him to Padua. While staying at the St. Giustina Monastery, he tested out the bass, which stood nine feet tall, by imitating rolling thunder which brought the monks out of their cells. This bass became known as “the Giant.”

    In the 1790s, Dragonetti met both Haydn and Beethoven who were both impressed with his abilities on the bass. Beethoven began writing more complex bass sections in his compositions so inspired was he by Dragonetti’s talents.

    Over the next few years, Dragonetti would distinguish himself as both a bassist and a composer and had so many appointments offered to him, some very prestigious, that he had to turn them down in favor of moving to England in 1794 to play in the Italian Opera at the King’s Theatre. By now, anywhere Dragonetti played, he was obliged to provide a solo piece. He impressed the violinist, Giovanni Battista Viotti, by playing complex violin pieces on his Giant.

    In 1809, Dragonetti played before Napoleon. In 1831, Paganini played with the King’s Theatre orchestra and invited Dragonetti to play a violin duet with him on the double bass. Dragonetti replied that not only would he be delighted to do so but that Paganini may write any piece as complex as he chose and Dragonetti would be delighted to play that. Paganini obliged and so did Dragonetti.

    By the time Dragonetti was in his 80s, Berlioz was commenting on the man’s amazing playing. In the days before conductors were a norm, the principal bassist used short, loud strokes whenever he noticed the orchestra falling into disunity. Some musicians disapproved of Dragonetti’s time-keeping but it was impeccable. Cipriani Potter wrote in the May 1837 issue of the Musical World:

    Although he has been accused of leading the orchestra, or in the estimation of some leaders, of mis-leading (for no man in that situation approves of public correction), it must be acknowledged that he has upon various occasions, by his promptitude and decision, brought back a whole band who ‘like sheep had gone astray.’


    Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846)

    Getting back to the Bohemians, Simandl had many students and among them was Hungarian lad named Ludwig Manoly who came to the Vienna Conservatory as a choral singer, possessing a very fine soprano voice. Unfortunately, he was passing through puberty and was unable to audition as a singer with his voice cracking. The school told him he could enroll under a double bass scholarship so Manoly accepted the scholarship and was enrolled.


    Ludwig Emanuel Manoly (1855-1932).

    When Manoly graduated from the conservatory in 1876, he was a star pupil who knew many of the great composers of that era—Brahms, the Strausses, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bruckner (under whom he studied harmony, counterpoint and composition at the conservatory), Verdi, Liszt, Saint-Saëns and others. One version of the story goes that Manoly was complaining to Dvorak that there were no seats for bassists in the European orchestras and that Dvorak recommended that he go to the United States. Dvorak himself did not go the U.S. until 1892.

    Upon arriving in the U.S., Manoly secured a spot in the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. Since Thomas skirted back and forth between Chicago and New York so I do not where Manoly lived at that time. Manoly then secured a gig with the Mendelssohn Quintette Club out of Boston. Felix Mendelssohn had nothing to do with the group, they simply liked his music. He also played in the Boston Symphony.


    Ludwig Manoly as a member of the Mendelssohn Quintette Club probably late 1870s.

    In 1880, Manoly landed a chair in the Philharmonic Society of New York, later to become the New York Philharmonic. In 1892, Manoly became the orchestra’s principal bassist. Manoly was a composer but I do not know if the orchestra played any of his pieces. That same year, Dvorak came to New York to head the National Conservatory of philanthropist Jeannette Myers Thurber. Dvorak hired Manoly as the conservatory’s bass professor. When the school experienced financial hardships, Dvorak’s salary was cut and he left the United States in 1895. Manoly took a teaching position at one of the National Conservatory’s rivals, the Institute of Musical Art which formed in 1905 and later became Juilliard in 1924. The National Conservatory ceased to function by 1930. Manoly became a bassist for the Metropolitan Opera after leaving the Philharmonic. He would, in fact, spend the rest of his life in New York and died there in 1932.

    Manoly’s contribution to the American school of bass was the introduction of the German bow. Not that the German or under-handed bow wasn’t already in use. This type of bow was popularized by Dragonetti. Other schools of bass used the over-handed or French bow. Simandl, as with many virtuosos, was adept at using both types. Manoly, however, did away with the French bow in the Bohemian-American school of bass.

    One of Manoly’s star pupils was Herman Reinshagen. I have not been able to learn much about this man. I don’t know where Manoly taught him—whether at the National Conservatory or at Juilliard. I don’t know when or where he was born or when or where he died nor how old he was. I have found no photographs of him.

    Reinshagen was very good though because he became the assistant principal bassist to Manoly in the New York Philharmonic and then became the principal bassist after Manoly left to join the Metropolitan Opera. During this time, it seems that Reinshagen taught at Julliard. Reinshagen retired from the orchestra in 1934 and took a position at the University of Southern California as head of the bass department. His students include Gary Karr (who founded the International Society of Bassists or ISB in 1967), Fred Zimmerman, Charles Mingus and Al McKibbon. In fact, at one point, the entire 10-piece bass section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic were students of Reinshagen. McKibbon wrote in his biography that he moved to California in 1958 and studied under Reinshagen (for how long I don’t know) so we know that he was alive to at least that year.

    I do have some photos of Mr. Reinshagen’s bass which was being offered for sale not long ago for $96,000:

    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Jul-08-2015 at 04:11.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Herman Reinshagen’s most important student, though, was Fred Zimmerman. Born in New York in 1906, Zimmerman would become known as the father of bass pedagogy in the U.S. Many of the bass lesson books used in the U.S. have been updated by Mr. Zimmerman including Simandl’s book.


    The Sturm book is essential to all double bass students. The original exercises were written by Wilhelm Sturm but look closely and see Fred Zimmerman’s name. He revised the exercises for modern double bass playing. In fact, if you look that the Storch-Hrabé book I showed earlier, you’ll see Mr. Zimmerman’s name on that as well.


    Fred Zimmerman’s own book on bowing technique. My copy is published by Universal Music Publishing Group.


    An excerpt from Fred Zimmerman’s book with bow-stroke diagrams for the musical phrases that appear above them. His bowing technique was exquisite. One of Mr. Zimmerman’s many students was jazz great Eddie Gomez who played for Bill Evans. In an interview, Gomez recalled that Mr. Zimmerman wanted Eddie to learn the German bow (which is held underhanded). Eddie said that it did not feel natural in his hand and that he liked the French bow better (which is held overhanded). Gomez said that Mr. Zimmerman tried to convince him to go with the German but ultimately gave into Eddie’s desire to learn the French bow and so taught him that one instead. It takes many years to master each bow and so one can see how well-trained Mr. Zimmerman was to be able to teach either one.


    Fred Zimmerman demonstrating the correct bowing stance. This photo is taken from the Simandl instruction book.


    Fred Zimmerman, third one down, appearing in an ensemble. Notice that he appears to be the only player using a German bow.

    A recording of Mr. Zimmerman playing a bit of “Allegro deciso” by Francesco Durante:



    Also among Mr. Zimmerman’s students are jazz greats Henry Grimes and Red Mitchell. Other students include Stuart Sankey, Alvin Brehm and Robert Gladstone. Mr. Gladstone was the principal bassist of the Detroit Symphony for 36 years. He played on one of the most influential double bass compositions ever recorded: Schuller's “Quartet for Double Basses” written in 1947 but recorded in 1959. This is considered the first classical work written strictly for the bass and is considered to this day quite a challenge to master. The quartet was composed of Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Zimmerman, Mr. Alvin Brehm and Ms. Orin O’Brien—another student of Mr. Zimmerman.

    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Jul-08-2015 at 04:22.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Robert Gladstone playing jazz with Leonard Bernstein in 1959, the same year that Schuller’s Quartet was recorded.

    Mr. Gladstone, who died in 2002, was my instructor’s instructor.

    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Excuse me Sir, have you heard of Joel Quarrington? This quote is from his book:

    Like many people, I was first taught the bass in the so-called ‘Simandl style’. I doubt very much this really helped me at all; I suffered a lot of pain and hated how I sounded but my love for the music and playing the bass kept me coming back for more. I know some people argue that Simandl is the best for laying the foundation of technique, but now I completely disagree; for many years I was the bass instructor for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. I used to observe that the students (mostly from Quebec) being brought up in the Rabbath school played much easier and better and progressed much faster than anyone from the more traditional methods. Typically, a Rabbath school student was in the NYO after only three years of study compared to the six years of study it took the others. I would most definitely teach a beginner to be loose and free, to use pivots and rotate and be balanced right from the start.”*

    Quarrington J. (2015).

    I trust Mr. Quarrington's opinion.
    Stop spreading untruths

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    .//////////////////////
    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Apr-26-2017 at 02:17.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    In the interests of keeping the peace I will conclude by saying everybody is different and don't all like the same thing. Some people like Rabbath, some people like Simandl, some people use both, some say there is no real difference. Some people use German bows, some prefer French bows, some use both, some switch deciding they like the other better. Some like straight endpins, some like bent endpins, some can do either. Some like to stand some like to sit, some like to do both. I'm sure the Rabbath methods have produced many excellent bass players who liked it better than Simandl. So I will retract my earlier criticism of the Rabbath method. I was out of line to criticize it and if I offended anyone, I am sorry. I will consider what I said to be an untruth and I will refrain from doing it again. My words went against my own belief of doing what you think suits you best and I never want to turn a student away from Rabbath if he or she was really enjoying it and getting something out of it. Simandl IS confusing to some students although I think it's up to the teacher to guide the student through it. Pick what you like or learn both methods and synthesize them--whatever gets the music out of you and into the ears of others.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with Rabbath or Simandl and I was wrong to suggest there was. I don't want to discourage anyone from learning by trashing a system that may have been a better fit for them than the one I used. The point is to explore and find out what works best for you.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Quenoil86 View Post
    Excuse me Sir, have you heard of Joel Quarrington? This quote is from his book:

    Like many people, I was first taught the bass in the so-called ‘Simandl style’. I doubt very much this really helped me at all; I suffered a lot of pain and hated how I sounded but my love for the music and playing the bass kept me coming back for more. I know some people argue that Simandl is the best for laying the foundation of technique, but now I completely disagree; for many years I was the bass instructor for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. I used to observe that the students (mostly from Quebec) being brought up in the Rabbath school played much easier and better and progressed much faster than anyone from the more traditional methods. Typically, a Rabbath school student was in the NYO after only three years of study compared to the six years of study it took the others. I would most definitely teach a beginner to be loose and free, to use pivots and rotate and be balanced right from the start.”*

    Quarrington J. (2015).

    I trust Mr. Quarrington's opinion.
    Stop spreading untruths
    I am surprised someone making an account just for one article.
    Are we getting more from you?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pugg View Post
    I am surprised someone making an account just for one article.
    Are we getting more from you?
    This article interests me and touches on research I am doing. I merely wish to contribute clarity to the subject.

    In the author's own words, "I was out of line to criticize it and if I offended anyone, I am sorry. I will consider what I said to be an untruth and I will refrain from doing it again".
    Further, "So I will retract my earlier criticism of the Rabbath method".
    I am still waiting for that. We shall see if the author is interested in presenting an unbiased view of the subject.

    As for my contribution to the Forum, I will gladly submit something when I have something to say of value and relevance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Quenoil86 View Post
    I am still waiting for that. We shall see if the author is interested in presenting an unbiased view of the subject.
    You're still waiting for what? I took back what I said and vowed not to do it again and flat out wrote, "I am sorry." Should I now jump in front of a moving train? The reason I took it back is because I ran across a post from a big name classical bassist who also teaches and he stated that he taught Simandl and Rabbath and noticed his students that took Rabbath uniformly reached the orchestral level 3 to 4 times faster than with Simandl. Now, he's a very experienced player and teacher and even holds the title of a professor at a big university and all that but do I believe him? No. The statement is ridiculous on its face. If Simandl was that bad no one would use it. And I realized i was acting no better than this idiot by trashing Rabbath when plenty of people like it and I have never used it myself but was simply going off others' criticisms which is frankly stupid. I had no business doing that and I regularly trash idiots who do and yet here I was doing it. That is why I issued my retraction and why I won't be reversing myself on this issue again. Use the methods you like. I pretty much repeated myself from my previous post but that's I have to say about it. I don't know know what you mean by you're still waiting.

    As for my contribution to the Forum, I will gladly submit something when I have something to say of value and relevance.
    That's not stopping anybody else.
    Last edited by Victor Redseal; Apr-30-2017 at 16:53.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Of course, one of the great conductors of the past was a double bass virtuoso, Serge Koussevitsky, who was the brilliant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1924-1949.
    Last edited by hpowders; Apr-30-2017 at 17:43.

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    A terrific, informative post, Victor Redseal!!!

    Thank you!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor Redseal View Post
    You're still waiting for what? I took back what I said and vowed not to do it again and flat out wrote, "I am sorry." Should I now jump in front of a moving train? The reason I took it back is because I ran across a post from a big name classical bassist who also teaches and he stated that he taught Simandl and Rabbath and noticed his students that took Rabbath uniformly reached the orchestral level 3 to 4 times faster than with Simandl. Now, he's a very experienced player and teacher and even holds the title of a professor at a big university and all that but do I believe him? No. The statement is ridiculous on its face. If Simandl was that bad no one would use it. And I realized i was acting no better than this idiot by trashing Rabbath when plenty of people like it and I have never used it myself but was simply going off others' criticisms which is frankly stupid. I had no business doing that and I regularly trash idiots who do and yet here I was doing it. That is why I issued my retraction and why I won't be reversing myself on this issue again. Use the methods you like. I pretty much repeated myself from my previous post but that's I have to say about it. I don't know know what you mean by you're still waiting.



    That's not stopping anybody else.

    I only add: touché .

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