Volume 3, January 2012
Franco Petracchi and the Divertimento Concertante Per Contrabbasso E Orchestra by Nino Rota: A Successful Collaboration Between Composer And Performer

by Alexandre Ritter

Chapter 1 — Introduction

1.1 — Introduction

Between 1967 and 1971, Nino Rota (1911 - 1979) composed the Divertimento Concertante per Contrabbasso e Orchestra1 in honor of the legendary double bass soloist, pedagogue and conductor Franco Petracchi (b. 1937).  This Divertimento is a four-movement work with the movement titles, I-Allegro, II-Marcia, III-Aria and IV-Finale.  The entire piece is approximately twenty-four minutes in length and it holds an important position in the 20th-century solo repertoire for double bass.

The Divertimento is a significant example of effective collaboration between composer and performer.   From 1950 to 1977 Rota was the director of the Bari Conservatory in Italy.2 Within that same period, Petracchi also worked at the conservatory as the primary double bass professor.  The Marcia was the first movement to be composed; Rota began it during the 1967 academic year.   Petracchi recalls the circumstances:  "First, he [Rota] wrote the Marcia thinking of it as a piece by itself for double bass and piano.  It was dedicated to the double bass class; in fact the piece had some elements of the instrument's technique (scales, exercises, etc)."3 Over the next four years (from 1967 to 1971), the composer decided to add three additional movements.

During these same years, Petracchi was developing the technical concepts and exercises that were essential to his pedagogy for the double bass.  Some years later, in 1982, the results of the work were published as a book, entitled Simplified Higher Technique.4 In a later section of this document, it will be shown how Petracchi's pedagogy for the bass (which was developed long before the book was published) became an important specific influence on the composition of the Divertimento.

The next movement composed after the Marcia was the Aria, which was completed in 1968.5 In this movement, Rota gives the performer the opportunity to explore all the lyrical phrasing possibilities that the instrument offers.  The next movement to be composed was the Finale, an Allegro marcato (1969),6 in which Rota explores virtuosity for the double bass, showcasing Petracchi's particular technical abilities throughout.  Last of all, a first-movement Allegro was composed in 1971.  According to Petracchi, Rota did not give the development of the first movement to him until two days before the Divertimento's first performance with orchestra.  The performer recalls:  "In 1971 there was the premiere in Napoli with the Orchestra Scarlatti of the Rai, conducted by P.L. Urbini, and, as it was common, the Maestro gave me the development of the first movement two days before the concert."7 Thereafter, in 1973, the Divertimento was published by Carisch (now owned by Ricordi) as a four-movement work for double bass and orchestra, together with a reduction for piano.

1.2 — The Purpose of the Study

The unique circumstances of the collaboration between Petracchi and Rota deserve special study.  For this research project, I have investigated the successful collaboration between composer and performer, giving particular attention to how this collaboration affected the compositional history, the style, and the specific technical challenges that are found in the Divertimento.  Two aspects of the collaboration warrant particular attention.  First, it has been useful to investigate how the technical demands of the piece compare with the concepts and exercises found in Petracchi's method for the double bass, Higher Technique.  Secondly, it has been essential to investigate a further collaboration between the composer and performer after the publication of the Divertimento in1973, which resulted in a significantly different second version of the Divertimento.  To date, this second version has not been published but it remains the preferred version for Petracchi.8 A detailed commentary on how the two versions compare has also been included in the document.

In sum, the main research questions are these:

  1. When, and in what circumstances did Rota write the Divertimento?

  2. What are Petracchi's musical and technical characteristics that might have influenced Rota's Divertimento?

  3. What aspects of the book Higher Technique might have influenced Rota's Divertimento?

  4. What are the changes made to the Divertimento after the publication in 1973, and in what circumstances were they made?

1.3 — Delimitations

Since my focus is on the composition of the Divertimento and the collaboration between Rota and Petracchi, I have only provided brief biographies of the composer and the performer.  No attempt has been made to provide a thorough history of virtuosic music for double bass and orchestra.  My analysis of the work has been limited to general aspects of its forms and themes, so as to provide a context for commentaries on specific compositional influences and the changes that resulted in a second version.

1.4 — Methodology

The discussion of the Divertimento has been based on the following scores and book, all of which are in the possession of the writer:

  1. Rota, Nino.  Divertimento Concertante. Solo part with piano reduction. Milano: Edizione Carish, 1973.

  2. Rota, Nino.  Divertimento Concertante. Solo part with handwritten revisions by Franco Petracchi.

  3. Rota, Nino.  Divertimento Concertante. Unpublished computer-generated revision of solo part with further handwritten revisions by Franco Petracchi.

  4. Petracchi, Franco.  Simplified Higher Technique.  Foreword by Wolfgang Sawallisch.  Introduction by Rodney Slatford.  London:  Yorke Edition, 1982.

The commentary on compositional history, influences, style, and versions of the work is based on my comparative analysis of the scores listed above.  My own work with the scores is supplemented by a series of interviews between myself and the performer.  The first of these took place in October 2006 at the University of British Columbia;9 the second, in February 2008 at the University of Georgia.10 More information is gained from a non-commercial video recording entitled "Franco Petracchi and André Loss:  Recital in Brazil 2001," produced by Alexandre Ritter and Walter Schinke.  In this video recording, Petracchi explains to an audience how the Divertimento was conceived, giving important details on original circumstances and the nature of the collaboration.

The comparative analysis of Higher Technique and the Divertimento starts with a careful exploration of the categories of exercises developed in the method.  For example, in Chapter 2, we can see the emphasis that Petracchi gives to chromatic material.11 In Chapter 9, Petracchi uses Selmi's exercise to develop the use of the thumb for precise intonation to play double stops in thirds and fifths. 12 For further development of the use of the thumb to play fourths he composed Chapter 19.13 In his method, Petracchi provides exercises and a general approach for scales, arpeggios, and harmonics.  In Chapter 5, parts A and B, there are examples of scales with Petracchi's system of fingering using the thumb in several unorthodox positions in order to facilitate agility.14 Chapter 18 contains yet more examples of scales and arpeggios.15 All these categories of exercises are directly compared to the passagework in the Divertimento to determine to what degree the similarities between both works are a result of collaboration (Petracchi's influence) or a mere coincidence.

Subsequently, I have compared the Divertimento's published edition and Petracchi's latest version to find all the revisions made to the piece.  I have cited the revisions in order as they appear in the piece, based on one or more of the following categories:

  1. Tempo markings (including fermatas, rallentandos, etc.):  certain tempo markings have been altered, as, for example 2 mm. after RN 5 (Allegro), where a Lento has been added.16

  2. Note alterations, additions and deletions:  certain notes have been deleted or added, e.g., 1 m. before RN 8 (Allegro).17

  3. Rhythmic alterations

  4. Register alterations:  many short passages have been displaced, usually one octave higher such as at 1 m. before RN 8 (Allegro).18

  5. Revisions of articulation and dynamic markings:  many articulation and dynamic markings have either been added, deleted, or altered.

  6. Revisions of terms, titles, and special markings (e.g., repeat markings, etc.):  a title name (for the first movement) as well as other special markings like repeat signs and an Arco sign have been altered.

1.5 — Literature Review

Secondary sources used for this study include articles and books related to double bass virtuosity, to Nino Rota's biographical and musical aspects, as well as to the specifics of Petracchi's playing technique.  The following articles were especially helpful:  "The Master of Bel Canto" by Luigi Borsatti (February 1993);19 "Left Hand High (Exercises from Petracchi's Simplified Higher Technique to Strengthen Left Hand Positions)," written by Peter Buckoke (Autumn 2003);20 "From Grandfather to Godfather:  A Biographical Profile of Nino Rota" (July 1997),21 and "Nino Rota Compositore del Nostro Tempo" (1987).22

The background reading on double bass virtuosity comes mainly from works such as Paul Brun's A New History of the Double Bass (2000),23 Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso (1997),24 Bottesini:  Tradizione e Innovazione nell'Ottocento Musicale Italiano (1992),25 and Giovanni Bottesini, Concertista e Compositore:  Esecuzione, Ricezione e Definizione del Testo Musicale (1999).26

1.6 — Organization of Chapters

Chapter Two is divided into four different sections, the first contains brief biographies of composer and performer, and secondly, I have included remarks on the historical background on the Divertimento and on Higher Technique.  In addition, I have included a closer examination on Petracchi's Higher Technique, focusing on its structure and content.   The chapter concludes with a closer exploration of the Higher Technique and its possible influence on the Divertimento.

Chapter Three presents a detailed comparison of both versions of the Divertimento.  After an introductory discussion of the circumstances behind the revision, the chapter proceeds with a comparative analysis of both the published edition and Petracchi's last revised version of the Divertimento.  Extensive musical examples are presented in parallel, as documented evidence of the significant changes that were made to the original.  A concluding comment on the revisions brings the chapter to an end.

A short conclusion to the document summarizes the main findings.  Two appendices have been added to provide supplementary information.  Appendix A contains a transcription and translation of an interview that I had the opportunity to conduct with Franco Petracchi in February 2008 at the University of Georgia.  The transcription as well as the translation were completed by Dr. Michael Faucette.  Appendix B contains a short listing of minor revisions, not covered in Chapter Three.  These include minor changes to dynamics and the addition or deletion of articulations.

1.7 — Further Explanatory Notes

Throughout the text the reader will notice that I have referred to Mr. Petracchi as Franco Petracchi, except when references are made to his method, Higher Technique, where I employ the name Francesco Petracchi.  Maestro Petracchi has asked to be referred to as Franco Petracchi in this document.  However, in the Higher Technique he is identified as Francesco Petracchi.

All reproduction of the musical examples from the Divertimento presented in Chapter 2.4 of this document are reproduced from the 1973 published edition27 with one exception as pointed out in that chapter.  The excerpts transcribed in Chapter 3.2 are taken from the following two sources:

Rota, Nino.  Divertimento Concertante. Solo part with piano reduction.  Milano: Edizione Carish, 1973.

Rota, Nino.  Divertimento Concertante. Unpublished computer-generated revision of solo part with further handwritten revisions by Franco Petracchi.

I have not discussed the piano part since no critical revisions have been made to it after the 1973 edition.  No discussion of the orchestration has been given in this document.  Possible effects on balance and blend could be explored, whenever a critical edition is prepared.  Where the register is at issue, I have employed the pitch designation system whereby middle C is called c1, one octave above it is c2, and so forth.28 Where register is not at issue, I adhere to the standard capital letter convention for pitch names.

In the revision chart comments found in Chapter 3, the term detaché  (in Petracchi's usage) refers to a single dash put on top or bottom of a single unslurred or untied note.  In practice, this articulation marking means to stress the note for the realization of its full length (tenuto).