Baroque Inspirations for Solo Double Bass
Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787)
Sonata in C for solo double bass, transcribed for double bass by Klaus Stoll
Hans Fryba (1899-1986)
Suite in The Olden Style (1954) for solo double bass
Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No. 3, BWV 1009 for solo double bass, transcribed from the original suite for solo cello
Carl Friedrich Abel was born on December 22, 1723, in Köthen, Germany. His father, Christian Ferdinand Abel, was the famed cellist and gambist in the court orchestra in Köthen, under the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach, and was likely the performer for whom Bach composed his six suites for solo cello (BWV 1007-1012), and the three sonatas for viola da gamba and cembalo (BWV 1027-1029). Upon Bach’s departure to Leipzig, Christian Ferdinand took over the position of orchestra director. His son, Carl Friedrich, became a student of Bach’s at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, where Bach was serving as the director, a position he held until his death in 1750.
Abel, the son, went on to spend fifteen years in the court orchestra in Dresden before moving to London to serve as chamber musician to Queen Charlotte. His collaboration with Bach’s son, Johann Christian Bach, led to a life-long friendship and the establishment of the influential Bach-Abel concert series.
Abel premiered a number of works in London in 1759 written for a 5-string cello known as a pentachord. The pentachord was created in the mid-18th century by John Joseph Merlin, but soon fell into general disuse. There is some evidence that Abel’s Sonata in C was written for this instrument, or possibly the viola da gamba.
Hans Fryba was born in 1899 in Marienthal, south of Vienna. He studied double bass at the State Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna with famed double bassist Eduard Madenski. Madenski was well known for his deep commitment to the orchestral works of Richard Strauss, which had been largely been deemed “unplayable” until the beginning of the 20th century.
Fryba became a member of the Vienna Philharmonic around 1922, where he stayed for three years before taking a position as principal bassist in the orchestra of the Mégaron Mousikis in Athens, Greece, as well as a professorship at the Royal Conservatory there. In 1929 accepted the position of first double bass with the Orchester de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, where he spent nearly four decades, working with the world’s most renowned conductors and composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Wilhelm Furtwangler, and Thomas Beecham. Beecham wrote in 1947, “I can truthfully say that Hans Fryba is one of the most remarkable players on his instrument that I have known.” After returning to Austria, Fryba died in 1986.
Fryba had only three compositions published during his lifetime. All of his works are written using the so-called “solo tuning” (F sharp-B-E-A), a whole tone higher than the usual orchestra tuning. (In this recording of the Suite the bass is tuned in the orchestral tuning, with a high “C.”)
Suite in the Olden Style for double bass solo, written in 1954 is a six-movement work written in the style of the baroque suite, modeled after the typical six-movement dance suites by Bach for solo cello. (The first double bass player to attempt to perform the Bach suites was the Frenchman Édouard Nanny, inspiring many other players to do continue transcribing and performing the suites.) The focal point of the Suite in the Olden Style is the Sarabande movement, considered particularly difficult to perform because of its polyphonic writing.
The Suite has the same six-movement construction as the C Major Bach Suite, except the bourrées are replaced by gavottes.
J. S. Bach (1685-1750) Suite No. 3 in C Major for solo double bass, BWV 1009, originally written for solo cello.
Most of Bach’s instrumental works were written during a particularly prolific period in his life when he was Capellmeister of the court orchestra of Köthen from 1717-1723. Amongst these compositions are the six suites for solo violoncello (BWV 1007-1012). The suites were very possibly written for the court cellist and gambist, Christian Ferdinand Abel. Each suite has six movements that begin with a prélude, followed by allemande, courante, sarabande, a set of two minuets/bourées/gavottes, and ending with a gigue. The first four suites are very close in style. The fifth and sixth suites however, seem to be harbingers of a newer and more complex style. The fifth suite begins with a French overture (a slow, improvisatory prélude followed by a fugue) and includes a true French gigue (the other suites have Italian gigas), and the suite utilizes a scordatura where the top A-string is tuned down a whole tone to G. This tuning was not unusual and had been used in other compositions for cello during the period. The sixth suite has a giga-like prélude in compound meter and was written for a small 5-string cello called the piccolo cello, which had an added top string tuned to E. Not much is known about the piccolo cello; it may have been used as a training instrument for younger cellists. Bach used the instrument a few other times as an obbligato instrument in his cantatas.
The third suite in C Major is one of the two suites that have two bourées. The prélude develops two thematic motifs: a descending C major scale and a C arpeggio figure. The effect of the suite is bright and optimistic like the key of C major, and – on the cello - lets the four open strings in the key ring and make the possible extensive arpeggio figures and bariolage.
I would like to dedicate this recording to Louis Di Leone and his family.
I met Lou when I first came to the United States. He was one of a kind and a great friend. Over the years, I learned so much from him. Everybody remembers him for his generosity and kindness. We all miss him dearly. Thank you for everything, Lou!