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An engaging arrangement for double bass

Engraving of Domenico Dragonetti, who may have played Beethoven's Opus 17 on double bass
by Francesco Bartolozzi, from Wikipedia (public domain)

At the beginning of last month, I used my national site to write about a recent “complete” collection of music for cello and piano composed by Ludwig van Beethoven and performed by the Fischer Duo of cellist Norman Fischer and pianist Jeanne Kierman. In this four-CD collection “complete” included Beethoven’s arrangements for cello and piano of both his Opus 3 string trio in E-flat major and his Opus 17 horn sonata in F major. Last night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in a Duo Recital featuring members of the accompanying classes of Timothy Bach, I encountered a performance of the concluding Rondo from Opus 17 preceded by the brief Poco Adagio, quasi Andante movement. The student being accompanied played these movements on double bass.

It is not unusual to encounter a bass recitalist performing music from the cello repertoire. Nevertheless, it was interesting to consider that this particular music for cello had been composed for horn. In some respects the bass made for a more appropriate transcription than the cello. For one thing it has a more extended pitch range. It is also capable of a more aggressive sound. I do not know whether last night’s student was deliberately applying his bowing technique in search of “brassier” sonorities; but the effect was definitely there, all rendered with the good-natured rhetoric often encountered in early Beethoven. (Opus 17 was composed in 1800.)

This music was also some of the most appropriate for last night’s occasion. Beethoven was not the sort to let the piano be the “accompanying” instrument in a duo performance. This was more a dialog between bass and piano than a piano supporting solo work by the bass. Here, again, the breadth of the bass’ pitch range emerged as a better match for the piano work than that of the cello or even the more limited range of pitches comfortably afforded by the horns of the late eighteenth century. One was left with the impression that Beethoven could easily have intended Opus 17 to be played by bass and piano (perhaps for his friend and bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti); and the thoroughly engaging performance last night certainly reinforced that impression.

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