Volume 6, August 2015
Examination of mid-nineteenth century double bass playing based on A. Müller and F.C. Franke's debate in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1848 - 1851.

by Shanti Nachtergaele

1. Introduction: Franke and Müller's debate

August Müller and Friedrich Christoph Franke were two German double bassists in the mid-nineteenth century who were concerned about the state of double bass playing in their time.i While it seems that they never met each other, they did correspond with one another, in a manner of speaking, through articles published in the NZfM.ii These articles appeared in the period from 1848 - 1851 and deal with various subjects related to double bass playing. Franke and Müller's discussion in these articles provides a great deal of insight, not only about nineteenth-century double bass technique, but also about the construction and set-up of instruments, how double bassists were trained, and orchestral performance practices.

August Müller, born in 1808, was a double bassist for the court orchestra at Darmstadt from 1825 until his death in 1867 and eventually rose to the position of its principal double bassist. Müller made his solo debut in Darmstadt in 1836 and soon gained renown performing in London and Paris.iii Between 1847 - 1864 Müller wrote a number of articles for the NZfM, including the extended series, "On the double bass and its use, with regard to the symphonies of Beethoven," which appeared in eight installments between June 1848 and March 1849.iv In his first installment, Müller listed all the existing method books he knew, and this list was essentially responsible for initiating the written debate between himself and Franke.v

Friedrich Christoph Franke was born in 1804 in the town of Sangerhausen and joined the Prussian military in 1821 as a musician in the Alexander-Regiment of Berlin. In 1824, he gained employment as a double bassist in the orchestra of the Königsstädtisches Theater in Berlin, where he performed a self-composed concertino with variations in 1830. Franke became the principal double bassist of the Duke of Anhalt's court orchestra in Dessau in 1834, and later joined the court orchestra in Strelitz.vi His contributions to the NZfM indicate that he stayed in Dessau until at least 1851.vii Franke's method book, Instructions for Playing the Double Bass, was first published in 1845, and later reprinted in 1874.viii

An anonymous letter appeared in the NZfM in October 1848 that inquired why Müller had neglected to include Franke's method book in his list of existing double bass tutors, and invited him to include a discussion of the method in a later article.ix Müller obliged, though his review of Franke's method did not appear until after his series on playing the double bass in Beethoven's Symphonies was completed. Meanwhile, Franke wrote an article in December 1848 that again called attention to the omission of his method, while also highlighting the points in Müller's articles with which he disagreed. After Müller wrote a critical review of the method in June 1849, Franke provided one last rebuttal in January 1851, and this concluded the exchange as far as it was documented in the NZfM.

Franke and Müller's unique dialogue reveals a great deal about the state of double bass playing circa 1850: information that is valuable today to those in the field of historically informed performance, as well as to bassists playing any style of music who are looking to explore non-standard playing techniques as a way of enhancing their performances. While the diversity in historical technique already becomes obvious from looking at various sources that discuss double bass playing from the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, their differences can now only be discussed and evaluated from a modern point of view.x Reading Franke's and Müller's opinions of each other's instructions however, offers a contemporaneous critical review of each author's works. Their discourse yields detailed explanations and justifications, allowing modern players to more deeply understand the two bassists' ideas about playing.

This examination of Franke's and Müller's playing methods will focus primarily on the points about which the two authors disagree and on practices that deviate from modern trends in double bass performance practices. The following subjects will be discussed in roughly the same order in which they appear in Franke's and Müller's own publications: the role of the double bass, the state of double bass playing, characteristics of the instrument, playing stance, left hand technique, bow technique, the components of a practice regimen, and suggestions for performing Beethoven's symphonies. These instructions will be explored in relation to their relevance to modern double bass playing in the contexts of both general playing technique and historically informed performance.