by David Heyes

Who was Lorenziti and what do we know about him? The answer is hardly anything at all. There is very little documentation about his life and music and only two works seem to have 'survived' - the eponymous Gavotte and a Sinfonia Concertante for viola d'amore, double bass and orchestra, held in the Torello Collection at the Curtis Institute of Music. In this day and age of instant communication, how many composers are as unknown and unrecorded as Lorenziti? Very few, I would suggest.

When and where was he born? Where did he work? Why are there so few existing compositions by him? Many questions but so few answers.

Lorenziti's Gavotte for double bas and piano is a fun and lively piece which has been popularised by the American virtuoso, Gary Karr. Gary added the story of 'The Fly and the Elephant' to the music and played it extensively for children's concerts. His unique personality and sense of fun made it a great hit with audiences of all ages. It was first published by Alphonse Leduc in the 1920s and edited by Edouard Nanny (1872-1942), who at the time was Professor of Double Bass at the Paris Conservatoire. It fits the double bass well, making effective use of an instrument tuned in 4ths, with easy and enjoyable harmonics successfully adding to the mix. There are scale passages, arpeggios, double stops, harmonics - everything that the bass does well but without being too challenging or virtuosic, and certainly not taking itself too seriously.

As I tried to find more information about this elusive composer and hit the proverbial brick wall, my suspicions began to surface about the true authorship of the piece. Who could have written it?

Supposedly Lorenziti's Gavotte is from the 18th-century, when the double bass was a popular solo instrument, and many of the leading composers of the day wrote concertos, concert works or chamber music featuring the instrument. Composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal, Dittersdorf, Pichl, Sperger, Kozeluch, Zimmermann, Kohaut and many others wrote for the solo double bass but almost always in Viennese tuning (A,F#,D,A,F) rather than for a 3 or 4 string double bass tuned in 4ths. How many other works from the 18th-century fit the 20th or 21st-century so well and with so few adjustments to be made? I cannot think of any, although many of my esteemed colleagues around the world may know more.

Is Lorenziti's Gavotte a 'modern' work but in an 'olden' style? The harmonic structure is not sophisticated or advanced, the solo line sits well on the modern double bass and little by little I came to the conclusion that I knew who had written the piece.

Violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) had fooled the critics for many years with his newly 'discovered' miniatures by long-forgotten composers, so there is certainly precendent in musical history for this type of thing. Even in the bass world everyone is gradually realising that the Dragonetti Concerto in A major is by Edouard Nanny and not the Venetian virtuoso. Search through Dragonetti's manuscripts in the British Library in London and there is no manuscript copy of this work and nor is it typical of Dragonetti's compositional style or other works, but the Concerto is not a million miles away from Nanny's Concerto in E minor, nor his 10 Caprice-Etudes for unaccompanied double bass.

The Gavotte is a very effective and useful teaching piece and introduces a number of techniques which are found and developed in more advanced repertoire. My own students have enjoyed studying and performing the piece and it is a nice and gentle introduction into more advanced repertoire.

Having found little or no information about Lorenziti I used my 'little grey cells' and eventually came to the conclusion that it is really by Edouard Nanny. The technical aspects of the piece can be found throughout Nanny's Method and teaching material, which is also the case for the 'Dragonetti' Concerto. It works so well on a modern 4 string double bass tuned in 4th that it must have been written by a bassist. Nanny was the first to 'edit' the piece for publication and having seen and taught much of Nanny's music for double bass I am almost one hundred per cent sure that he is Lorenziti. 

Does it matter that Nanny has fooled bassists for almost a century? Not at all! The Gavotte is a nice little piece which is popular with young players and audiences alike. Will it stop bassists playing the piece? I don't think so, but it adds a nice bit of mystery and intrigue to a most charming, elegant and fun piece in our repertoire.


by David Heyes

Domenico Dragonetti died on 16 April 1846, surrounded by his many friends, and the following short article from The Music World, probably written in May or June, gives a unique insight into the fame and popularity of one of the most famous musicians of his day.

DRAGONETTI - Dragonetti had a great horror of mice, and the following laughable incident occurred to him on the occasion of his being engaged at one of the great musical festivals: - Dragonetti arrived late in the evening. Previously to the announcement of the festival the inns were crowded with guests, and great was Il Drago's consternation on being informed that a mattrass on the "floor" of an attic was the only accommodation that could be afforded him. On retiring to his dormitory, his double bass, of which he never lost sight, was his first care. Taking it from its case, he ascertained that it had suffered no damage in the transit. He then addressed himself to repose. Just as he was thinking of going to sleep he heard the scampering of his tiny tormentors in every direction. Up started Il Drago from his pallet, reflecting that there were no friendly bed-posts to raise him above the arena of his foes, seizing a portion of his dress not nameable to ears polite- whisk-whisk, right and left, round and about he wielded his weapon; away scampered his enemies, and down sank our friend, exhausted with the effort. On the eve of dozing off he was again assailed with the war-cries and tramp of his foes, and the same scene was repeated again and again. No sooner did Il Drago disperse the invaders, and seek repose after his victory, than they threw out their light skirmishers again. At last infuriated by their attacks, hopeless of rest, worn out and nearly vanquished, in the madness of despair he sprung from his mattress and seized his double-bass. In a moment a torrent of unearthly sounds echoed through the house, his object was effected, for his enemies fled, and at the same time every bell was in motion, and night-capped heads appeared from every door. Our friend exhausted by his exertions, had retired to his pallet and made no sign, the commotion subsided, and Il Drago slept in peace. The morning came, and the usual inquiry was made if he had rested comfortably; the landlord wondering that he had not been disturbed by the unearthly noises which had frightened all the inmates from their propriety, and banished sleep from their eyelids. Dragonetti said nothing until his return to town, when the details of his adventures with the mice, in his own patois, caused many a hearty laugh. The property left by Dragonetti sunk from the first report of £30,000 or £40,000 to about £5,000. His sister, who was in this country some years ago, is dead; Dragonetti allowed her, while she lived, £50 a year. Among those to whom he bequeathed legacies is the celebrated John Cramer, £150, (in Portuguese bonds, we believe,) who arrived in London on Saturday from Boulogne, where he resides, and is employing his time in adapting the quartetts and quintetts of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven for the pianoforte. A contemporary gives us extracts from Signor Dragonetti's will, some of the bequests in which are worth citing:- The celebrated double bass (not the Amati one, as it has been erroneously stated) has been left to the Cathedral of St. Mark's, at Venice, Sivori, Anfossi, Casolani, &c., receive instruments. Prints and furniture are bequested to the Duke of Leinster, his pupil. His vocal music, scores of sacred music, and his own compositions are given to Mr. Vincent Novello. To Mrs. Novello, Mrs. Serle, and the Countess Gigliucci (formerly Miss Clara Novello) legacies have also been bequested. His instrumental music is left to Mr. George Pigott; the score of modern operas to the library of the Opera House; many of his framed engravings to Signor Costa, and his best paintings to Count Pepoli.

by David Heyes

The Prague School of Double Bass dates back to the early years of the 19th-century and its influence has reached to every corner of the globe. Founded in 1811 by Wenzel Hause (1763-1847), there have been many significant Czech bassists who have made an important contribution throughout its 200 year history, but possibly none more so than Franz Simandl, whose influence and impact is still felt almost a century after his death.

Frantisek [Franz] Simandl was born in Blatná (Bohemia) on 1 August 1840, the son of a folk musician. At the age of eleven he had the good fortune to be taken under the wing of Josef Martinovský, a patriotic teacher of exceptional musical experience who joined the staff of the local music school in 1851. Martinovský taught Simandl to sing and play the violin and it was also thanks to his teaching skills that the young Simandl managed to secure a place at the Prague Conservatoire. When he left there in July 1860 he had not only a graduation certificate signed by Professor Josef Hrabe, but also examination results for military Kapelle playing. He went on to spend eight years playing under Stastný, and the elder Komzák, in the Kapelle of the 11th Infantry Regiment stationed successively in Písek, Vincenza, Padua, Trieste and Lina, where he also did freelance double bass work and even played trombone in the theatre orchestra.

In 1869 Simandl won the position of Solo Double Bass of Vienna's Imperial Opera, playing with them for thirty-five seasons. He was simultaneously a member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Hofkapelle and, from 1876, played Principal Bass in Bayreuth's famous Wagner Festivals. From time to time he also played in chamber music, including performances with the Hellmesberger, Kretschmann and Lidový quartets and frequently played the double bass part in the Piano Quintet in E minor Op.3 by Josef Labor (1842-1924) - a work dedicated to Simandl by the composer. [Labor's quintet is available to download free of charge at www.imslp.org

Simandl composed many songs, his favourite genre, choral works, a Pastoral Mass, made arrangements for military band and wrote many works for double bass, but is chiefly remembered today for his educational and instructional music for double bass, which remains in print to this day. His Method for Double Bass was written for the Vienna Conservatoire, where he was Professor of Double Bass, and was first published in Vienna in 1874/5 and has remained in print ever since - now available in a number of editions and various languages.

As a player, Simandl was renowned for his outstanding technique, using a new approach to the thumb position, and producing a sound which was both powerful and lyrical. He was regarded as a brilliant orchestral player and a music admired soloist and chamber musician in Vienna, and was one of the finest double bassists of his generation, also responsible for a whole generation of bassists who exported his style of playing and teaching to almost every corner of the world. As a soloist Simandl was most active in the Austrian capital and surrounding countries, often accompanied by the pianist-composer Bretislav Lvovský, who composed a number of works for double bass.

Lvovský made an interesting comparison between Simandl and Bottesini:

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.

To the large number of Czech's living in Vienna 'our Professor' was equally regarded as a double bassist, conductor, choirmaster, singer and ever-willing organiser of cultural events. He belonged to the Vienna branch of the Slovanská Beseda (Cultural Society) from 1874, conducting their concerts for over 25 years and in 1891 was appointed President and Artistic Director of the society. Though forever abroad he remained a loyal Czech and for many years was in charge of the Vienna Philharmonic, being largely responsible for the promotion of Czech music with the orchestra, including symphonic works by Smetana, Dvorák and Fibich.

Franz Simandl died in Vienna on 13 December 1912, after and long and protracted illness, and shortly afterwards the violin teacher, Jan Hrímalý wrote a letter to his friend's home town:

I trust that with your kind help Blatná will not, in times to come, forget its most widely known son
whose teaching manuals and compositions have marked a new epoch in their field!

Frantisek Simandl was one of the key figures of the Prague School of Double Bass and his Method and books of studies marked a turning point in double bass teaching. He standardised much of the basic technique and helped to increase the solo repertoire as a composer, transcriber and editor. The third part of his Method [Part 3: Advanced Course for the Double-Bass], first published in Germany in 1903, consists of 50 recital works divided into nine volumes. 49 pieces are for double bass and piano (7 transcriptions and 42 original works) and one is for double bass trio - Verrimst's Au Clair de la Lune. 14 works were composed by Simandl and the others were collected by him from many leading player-composers active in Europe at the end of the 19th-century.

Although nowadays often regarded as old -fashioned and stuffy, Simandl's teaching music is still good useful basic technique and can be the foundation for a long and successful career. Things have moved on so quickly in the 20th-century that much that has gone before can be overlooked and forgotten, but we should remember that Frantisek Simandl was a pioneer of his time. He pushed the boundaries forward at the end of the 19th-century and his place in double bass history is definitely secure.

by David Heyes

The number of original British works for double bass written during the first half of the 20th-century can probably be counted on the fingers of two hands. Britain has always had a strong orchestral tradition, producing many fine players and teachers, but there was no solo tradition until the final twenty years of the century. There were, however, a handful of enthusiasts who combined their orchestral duties with some solo performances and these players helped to enrich the meagre repertoire by commissioning a few new works. Were it not for their dedication and commitment to the solo double bass, even these would not exist. Most of these works still remain in manuscript.

My research in 2005/6 led to the 'discovery' of ten new works which have lain dormant for decades, more than doubling the number of known pieces from this period. Two are known in name only and may have been lost in the intervening years, but eight works have survived and this may be the time to give them 'the kiss of life'. Four names are prominent in the creation of this small repertoire and each was a respected and prominent performer and teacher of their day.


Czech-born Adolf Lotter (1871-1942) studied at the Prague Conservatoire with Frantisek Cerny (double bass) and Antonin Dvorak (composition), and lived in London from 1894 until his death. He became Principal Bass of the Queens Hall Orchestra, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, performed with the leading conductors and orchestras of the day, and also worked as a composer and editor for Hawkes & Co. Although a fairly prolific composer, he only wrote two works for double bass during his time in London. The Ragtime Bass Player was composed in 1913, at the height of the ragtime craze, and he was paid £10.10.0 (ten pounds and ten shillings) for the piece. Written as a solo for bass section accompanied by orchestra, or for double bass and piano, it is rhythmic, lively and fun making few demands of the players. Darby & Joan is similar in style, typical of the salon music of the day, and is scored for violin, double bass and piano (or string orchestra). Subtitled a 'novelty intermezzo' it is charming and stylish, making effective use of the orchestral register of the double bass, and was probably composed in the 1920s or 30s and originally published by Melodeon, the composer's own imprint.


Victor Watson (1886-1963) was known as 'the Master' in the music profession and was a regular soloist during the early years of his career. He commissioned and performed a number of solos and his recital at London's Wigmore Hall on 15 April 1926 featured no less than four premieres of British works. Have Pity, Grief I Cannot Pay (words by Peter Hausted) by Dutch composer Bernard Van Dieren (1884-1936) is simply titled Work for Tenor Voice, Viola & DoubleBass in the concert programme. [Van Dieren and Lotter lived in Britain for most of their lives and have been treated as honorary British composers for the purpose of this article.] Van Dieren was known as 'a composer's composer', feted by many other musicians and composers, but largely ignored by the concert-going public. His chromatic contrapuntal style was ahead of its time and the music is only becoming better known today, almost 75 years after his death. The song received its premiere at the 1926 concert and the bass writing is advanced and confident, making few concessions for the limitations of the instrument, producing an interesting and arresting addition to the chamber music repertoire.

One work which has yet to be rediscovered is the Caprice for viola and double bass by the violinist and composer, Charles Woodhouse (1879-1939). Watson would have worked with Woodhouse in many London orchestras, notably the Queen's Hall Orchestra, alongside Principal Bass Adolf Lotter, and this also received its premiere on 15 April 1926.

Herbert Hughes (1882-1937) was a composer, collector of Irish folksongs and music critic of The Daily Telegraph. His Old Irish Air for double bass and piano is based on The Boatman of Kinsale, and the manuscript was unearthed in November 2005. It is written in the solo register of the double bass, with a lyrical and gently moving accompaniment, and was completed in Chelsea on 12 April 1926 and premiered three days later!

Norman O'Neill
(1875-1934) was the leading theatre music composer of his day and, although largely forgotten now, was a prolific, popular and much repsected composer during the 1920s and 30s. He studied composition in Frankfurt, as the same time as Balfour Gardiner, Cyril Scott, Percy Grainger and Roger Quilter, and his Soliloquy for double bass and piano was composed in early 1926. The programme called it 'New Work' - obviously untitled when the concert programme was printed. Written for a 3-string double bass, it makes much use of the solo and cantabile qualities of the instrument, and has a wonderfully lyrical and wistful character which ought to endear it to bassists in the 21st-century. The accompaniment is both independent and supportive and the work was unpublished until recently.

Julius Harrison (1885-1963) composed his Romanza for double bass and piano in the early 1920s and this was the final work in Victor Watson's unique recital of 1926. The location of the music is unknown at present, but Harrison destroyed many early works and Romanza may have suffered this fate. Watson also commissioned Alfred Reynolds (1884-1969) to write a Hornpipe for double bass and piano which was performed at Julius Harrison's Hastings Festival in 1927. Reynolds was a successful theatre and light music composer and the Hornpipe is lively and spirited, written for a 3-string bass, and making much use of the entire range of the instrument.


The bass playing dynasty continued when Victor's son, Roy (1923-2009) became a professional bassist. He was a Principal Bass in London, Manchester and Liverpool, also giving many solo recitals and broadcasts throughout his long career. He composed at least four original works for double bass in the 1940s and 50s and commissioned two works from Leonard Salzedo (1921-2000). Salzedo composed his Concerto for Double Bass & Small Orchestra Op.18 in 1947 and a Rhapsody for double bass and piano Op.20 a year later. Both works are dedicated to Roy Watson and were performed a number of times by him. They are modern, approachable and inventive, exploring much of the solo range and its possibilities, and two impressive works which are worthy of revival in the 21st-century. [Rhapsody received its Russian premiere in April 2005.]

Roy Watson's existing works for double bass - four original and one transcription - all remain in manuscript and portray a composer who knew the instrument well. The characteristic style of each displays various aspects and qualities of the double bass, from the works for unaccompanied double bass (Caprice / Suite) to the pieces with piano accompaniment (Tzigane / The Bass Player of Venice). The gipsy inspired Tzigane was composed in 1946, revised in 1963, and was dedicated to the composer's father. His arrangement of The Carnival of Venice Variations for 6 double basses and percussion was written for the double bassists of the RLPO and there are plans for a performance in 2010.


Victor Watson and Eugene Cruft (1887-1976) were the leading orchestral bassists of their day and there was a certain degree of friendly rivalry between the two. Both taught at London's Royal College of Music and Cruft proved to be an inspiring and influential teacher there. Although probably not written for him, Cruft gave a number of performances and several BBC broadcasts of String Quartet No.4 by Bernard Van Dieren, scored for the unusual combination of 2 violins, viola and double bass. Van Dieren wrote a challenging work, making use of a wide range of the double bass, which is certainly treated as an equal and important member of the quartet. The style is modern and uncompromising, certainly for the 1920s but less so nowadays, and offers a unique opportunity for the double bass bass to take part in 'legitimate' chamber music.

Cruft commissioned Four Improvisations for unaccompanied double bass from Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) in 1954. Originally entitled Four Solos, there are two existing manuscript copies - the original and a revised copy - and this is probably the first significant work for double bass by a British composer of international repute. Maconchy is unjustly neglected today and this is an improtant addition to our unaccompanied repertoire. The four movements explore much of the range of the instrument in a strong and confident style, and the centenary of the composer's birth in 2007 helped to increase interest in her music. Four Improvisations is a rare and exceptional work for double bass.

One final work, not linked to any famous player, was mentioned in an internet article and subsequently 'rediscovered'. Walter Thomas Gaze Cooper (1895-1981) lived and worked in and around Nottingham for most of his life and was a prolific composer, conductor and teacher. Entitled Slavonic Fantasie Rhapsodie Op.48 (Concertstück for Solo Contrabasso and Orchestra), this is his only work for double bass, composed in the late 1930s, and was probably written for a local player. It is based on Slavonic tunes, as were other works by the composer, and is in one extended movement. It also exists in a version for cello and double bass soli, although the solo line is simply divided between the two soloists with little ensemble or duo writing. Using a four octave range, the writing is tonal and traditional with some virtuosic flourishes, and explores the higher reaches of the instrument. It is a rare and unique British work dating from the late 1930s and may only have had one performance!

Although the first fifty years of the 20th-century only produced a handful of works for double bass by British composers, the latter part of the century has certainly made up for it. As the standard of playing and teaching have improved, so the interest in new repertoire. Bassists are now more ambitious and willing to perform and commission new music, ensuring a lasting legacy of British works into the 21st-century, but I wonder how many others are still to be found and are hidden away in dusty libraries or private collections. The detective work continues...


Bernard Van Dieren - Have Pity, Grief I Cannot Pay for Tenor, Viola & Double Bass
Bernard Van Dieren - String Quartet No.4 for 2 Violins, Viola & Double Bass
Adolf Lotter - The Ragtime Bass Player for Double Bass(es) & Orchestra/Piano
Adolf Lotter - Darby & Joan for Violin, Double Bass & String Orchestra/Piano
Alfred Reynolds - Hornpipe for Double Bass & Piano
Leonard Salzedo - Concerto Op.18 for Double Bass & Chamber Orchestra
Leonard Salzedo - Rhapsody Op.20 for Double Bass (or Cello) & Piano


Gaze Cooper - Slavonic Fantasie Rhapsodie Op.48 for Double Bass & Orchestra
Herbert Hughes - The Boatman of Kinsale for Double Bass & Piano
Elizabeth Maconchy - Four Improvisations for Unaccompanied Double Bass
Roy Watson - Caprice for Unaccompanied Double Bass
Roy Watson - Suite for Unaccompanied Double Bass
Roy Watson - The Bass Player of Venice for Double Bass & Piano
Roy Watson - Tzigane for Double Bass & Piano


Julius Harrison -
Romanza for Double Bass & Piano
Charles Woodhouse - Caprice for Viola & Double Bass



by David Heyes

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.

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 the piece 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 the 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 almost fifty times, has been published by at least ten publishing companies - 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 Buenas 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 23 recordings of the Elegia - the earliest dating back to 1976 (Klaus Stoll) and 1978 (Ludwig Streicher / Luigi Milani). The timings range from 4'05 (Ovidiu Badila) 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!