Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra

John Downey

Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Since the work was commissioned by Gary Karr, it was natural that I try to exploit the most salient feature of his virtuosity?his lyricism. I was always fascinated with bell sounds. Right at the outset (Moderato e poco rubato) a very important bell0like chord initiates the work. It is an extremely important sonority, as it recurs giving structural unity to the piece?A number of other bell-like chordal sections occur during the work? Those sounds that are more controversial, or more avant garde are relegated to the orchestra. For example, a kind of portamento half-glissando sound emanating from the string section creates the impression of unstable ground afoot, or even suggests the impression that we may be standing on quicksand. These portamentos later take on a yet more significant structural function when they become outright overlapping glissandos.

This double bass concerto has one of the largest ranges yet used for this instrument ? an instrument so rich in harmonic coloration. At one point in the first movement I have the soloist and the orchestra?s principal cellist engage in a duet. The exceptional thing here is that the double bass is consistently pitched higher than the cello. After an orchestral tutti, the double bass has a cadenza which is followed by a kind of ?soft shoe? dance marked ?Jazz-like? in the score. Some more bell0sounding chords occur?this precipitates a recapitulation of the overlapping string glissandos. Just before the end of the movement, the opening chord of the piece reappears at the point where the movement subsides imperceptibly into the second movement.

The Larghetto is characterized by a rather straightforward melody intended to be disarming in its openness and directness. Low, dark timbres of the orchestra are called upon to accompany the lyrical bass. A long tutti in the orchestra brings the movement to a rather dramatic high point. A Slavic lyrical outpouring by the solo bass then leads to a new statement of the movement?s opening theme; now the soloist plays an octave higher, accompanied by five solo celli, while the orchestral double basses secure the sonority with a low double pedal point. Another rather dramatic orchestral tutti occurs, followed by a new melodic line introduced by the soloist. An idea recalling the opening and closing of the first movement is sounded here by muted brass, marked Lontano. The opening melody of the movement is presented again by the soloist; this time, all in high harmonics.

Two French horns announce the beginning of the third movement (Allegretto), where the double bass plays exclusively in pizzicato.

The final (Allegro) is begun by the soloist?s quintuple figures ? the composition gets into high gear! A persistent rhythmic quintuplet figure in the lower register of the orchestra animates the movement. It is continuously juxtaposed by groups of fours and threes and their subdivisions in various parts of the orchestra. This finale features much dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Alternations of virtuoso passages for the soloist, both lyrical and fast over the unifying quintuplet ostinato figure, typify the accumulating forward thrust of the finale. An extended lyrical passage, marked Cantabile, features the burnished bronze color of a tuba and French horn playing in octaves, while the soloist plays the same melodic line yet an octave higher. This leads to a kind of cadenza for the soloist which in turn precipitates a huge orchestral coda to the entire composition.

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Additional Information

Commission Gary Karr
Composition Date 1987
Duration 00:28:00
Orchestration Solo Cb.; 3 3 3 3 - 4 2 3 1; Timp. Perc. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere September, 1987. Gary Karr/Double Bass, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Simon, Sydney Opera House, Australia.


I Moderato e poco rubato
II Larghetto
III Allegretto
IV Finale

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