Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Probably of Interest to Bassists Only

(the first draft of this post had some unfortunate typos in the examples, hopefully corrected now)

Mozart, Don Giovanni Overture and Symphony no. 40 provided opportunities to trot out a few crusty old fingerings and, thanks to some slow-ish tempos, roll out a few things that had been on the drawing board for years but never battle tested.

Following a somber presage of the Don's ultimate fate, the hastily composed overture (apparently penned after a Kavanaugh-esque night of drinking on the eve of the premiere) moves along at sprightly clip, Allegro Molto it says in the part. Low strings and bassoons join the action with the following passage.

Unlike a lot of things, this is actually quite pleasant to play on the double bass, with open 'A' and 'D' strings to call upon. When the passage returns, a fifth higher, not so much. The problem is really the 'c-sharp' to 'e-natural' – it's either across 3 strings, or a shift (the interval of a sixth is a long way on an instrument tuned in fourths). I came up with the following solution back in college.

'N' stands for thumbnail, or end of the thumb, a nifty way to play fourths. Another way to deal with fourths is to finger them 3-2, which leads to a handy way to take on chords in the first inversion, which you can see in the 5th and 6th bars of the excerpt.

I like this solution so much, I actually used it the first instance of this passage. 

Mozart 40 is one of those pieces that ends up on almost every double bass audition. Over the years, I've come across countless ways to finger the passages in the last movement. At m.49, I use what was once upon a time an innovative approach, but now I think is fairly standard. The little wrinkle at the 5th measure was one of those things I had been working on for a while but never had a chance to try. Beyond flashiness for its own sake, I thought it might be nice to handle the 1st and 5th measures with the same string crossings while avoiding an ungodly open 'G' string. My stand partner gave me a bit of side-eye during this passage, but I'm choosing to take that as a sign of approval. Also, lastly, the traditional 'on one string' approach to this measure looks kind of embarrassing to me when you see a whole section doing it together. Nothing more to say about that.  

Initially, I thought I needed to arrive at the 5th measure like this.

Eventually I found that I didn't need to 'prepare' the thumb position and settled on what is shown in the full example.

Either the tempo was a bit slower by the time we reached m.229, or else I was finally warming up. Anyhow, I felt confident enough to try out the following.

The first measure is a variant I've used off and on (instead of using a fingering similar to m.49). I've added some brackets to show the 'positions' and hopefully make it look slightly less insane. Playing across the strings at mm.3 and 5 was a concerted effort to try and find a way to play these passages more leggero, which is often a thankless, losing battle. Finally, the odd looking half-step, fingered 3-1 (mm.5-6), is for relaxation of the hand, and also to create a larger interval, with the 'F-sharp' sounding (to my ear at least) better on the low side.