Volume 7, December 2015
Beethoven, the Viennese Violone, and the Problem of Lower Compass

by Stephen G. Buckley


1 H.C. Robbins Landon, The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn, (London: Universal Edition, 1955). 121; Alfred Planyavsky, Geschichte des Kontrabasses (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1970), 178; Bathia Churgin and Joachim Braun, A Report Concerning the Authentic Performance of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, op. 60 (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 1977), 50-1.

2 James Webster, "Violoncello and Double Bass in the Chamber Music of Haydn and his Viennese Contemporaries, 1750-1780," Journal of the American Musicological Society 29 (1976): 421; Adam Carse, The Orchestra From Beethoven to Berlioz, (Cambridge: Heffer and Sons, 1948), 395; David Levy, "The Contrabass Recitative in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Revisited," Historical Performance 5 (Spring 1992), 11.

3 For a more comprehensive treatment of the subject, including analysis of the bulk of Beethoven's orchestral music, see the present author's "Beethoven's Double Bass Parts: The Viennese Violone and the Problem of Lower Compass" (DMA Thesis, Rice University, 2013).

4 The bass player most frequently mentioned in connection with Beethoven's music is certainly Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846). This is somewhat misleading. A great deal has been made of the famous virtuoso's visit to Vienna in 1799, and the allegedly deep impression made on the composer by his reading of one of the op. 5 cello sonatas. Legend has it that Dragonetti's extraordinary capabilities emboldened Beethoven to write as he did for the instrument in his orchestral music, and even that the recitatives in the Ninth Symphony were written for Dragonetti to play by himself. Evidence from Beethoven's conversation notebooks, however, indicates that this was in no way the composer's intention. In fact Dragonetti was not a part of Viennese musical culture in any way, and his own practices cannot be said to reflect those of musicians in Vienna in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. See Fiona Palmer, Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 177-84; Levy, "Contrabass Recitative," 11-12.

5 The correspondent for Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reports on October 15, 1800, that "He [Beethoven] played a new concerto of his own composition [...]" Taken from Elliot Forbes, ed., Thayer's Life of Beethoven (Princeton: University Press, 1964), 255. According to the New Grove, the first concerto had already been performed in 1795.

6 Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 3, no. 3 (October 15, 1800), col. 49. Taken from Forbes, Thayer's Beethoven, 255.

7 Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 3/3 (October 15, 1800): col. 42. "Bey den Violons wäre zu wünschen, dass nicht alle 5, fünfsaitig, und die Herren etwas weniger wären. Bey grossem Forte hört man mehr drein reissen und Rumpeln, als deutlichen, durchdringenden Basston, der das Ganze erheben könnte." My translation.

8 British Library, Add. MS 41774, f. 26'. Taken from Palmer, Domenico Dragonetti, 75.

9 Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, Die Kaiserliche Hof-Musikkapelle in Wien von 1543-1867 (Vienna, 1869; repr., New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1976), 94.

10 Josef Focht, Der Wiener Kontrabass: Spieltechnik und Aufführungspraxis, Musik und Instrumente (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1999), 35-36., 177.

11 Mary Sue Morrow, Concert Life in Haydn's Vienna: Aspects of a Developing Musical and Social Institution (Stuyvesant: Pendragon, 1989), 304.

12 Focht, Wiener Kontrabass, 177.

13 Ibid., 35-36.

14 Adolf Meier, "The Vienna Double Bass and its Technique During the Era of the Viennese Classic," Journal of the International Society of Bassists 8, no. 3 (Spring 1987), 14.

15 Theodor Albrecht, "Anton Grams, Beethoven's Preferred Double Bassist," International Society of Bassists Journal 26, no. 2 (2002): 20.

16 Adam Carse, The Orchestra in the XVIIIth Century (Cambridge, UK: Heffer and Sons, 1940), 122.

17 Sara Edgerton, "The Bass Part in Haydn's Early Symphonies: A Documentary and Analytical Study" (DMA Thesis, Cornell University, 1989), "Bass Part," chs. 5 and 6.

18 Ibid., 139-40.

19 Webster, "Violoncello and Double Bass," 425-6.

20 See Edgerton, "Bass Part," 163-168; and Appendix

21 Carse, XVIIIth Century, 124.

22 Ibid.

23 John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw, The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815 (Oxford: University Press, 2004), 311.

24 Edgerton, "Bass Part," 168.

25 Ibid., 172.

26 Ibid., 177-78.

27 See H. C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, vol. 1, Haydn: The Early Years, 1732-1765 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), 356.

28 Daniel Koury, Orchestral Performance Practices in the Nineteenth Century: Size, Proportions, and Seating (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986), 85.

29 James Webster, "Traditional Elements in Beethoven's Middle-Period String Quartets," in Beethoven, Performers, and Critics (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980), 99.

30 Parke, Musical Memoirs (1784-1830) (London: 1830), vol. 1, 42. Taken from Lyndesay G. Langwill, The Bassoon and Contrabassoon (London: Ernest Benn, 1965), 116.

31 The preceding summarizes Langwill, Bassoon and Contrabassoon, 112-116.

32 Ibid., 118.

33 Adam Carse, The Orchestra (New York: Chanticleer, 1949), 26.

34 Langwill,  Bassoon and Contrabassoon,119.

35 Ibid. Handel did not write a work called "Timotheus;" perhaps Kastner refers to Alexander's Feast, in which the musician Timotheus plays a role. Alexander's Feast, in any case, does not call for contrabassoon in its score.

36 Ibid., 120.

37 Elliot Forbes, ed., Thayer's Life of Beethoven (Princeton: University Press, 1964), 576.

38 Koury, Orchestral Performance Practices, 117.

39 Taken from A. Peter Brown, The Symphonic Repertoire, vol. 2: The First Golden Age of the Viennese Symphony: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 10.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid., 16-17.

42 Bathia Churgin, "A New Edition of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony: Editorial Report." Isreali Studies in Musicology I (1978), 13-14.

43 Ernst Schlader, personal communication, 31 January 2013.

44 Focht, Wiener Kontrabass, 189. "Joseph Melzer war als Kontrabassist in der Hofoper mit der Nebenverpflichtung zum Kontrafagott angestellt."

45 Köchel, Kaiserliche Hof-Musikkapelle,94-95.

46 Interestingly, Stuart Sankey proposes altering this measure so that only the c on the second eighth-note of the passage is played in the upper octave, in order to "achieve maximum weight" for the passage. This is a most natural suggestion if one assumes a lower compass of E, but not if F is the assumed boundary, which may well have been Beethoven's reflex, even as he began to write E for double bass from op. 55 and onward. See Sankey, "On the Question of Minor Alterations in the Double Bass Parts of Beethoven," International Society of Bassists Journal 1, no. 4 (1975), 95.

47 See for example Koury, Orchestral Performance Practices, ch. 8; Brown Golden Age, ch, 1; Dexter Edge, "Mozart's Viennese Orchestras," Early Music 20, 1 (February 1992), 63-88.

48 Koury, Orchestral Performance Practices, 118.

49 Adam Carse, "The Sources of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony," Music and Letters 29, no. 3 (1948), 250-251.

50 Webster, "Violoncello and Double Bass," 434.

51 Jonathan Del Mar, "Editing Beethoven," Musical Opinion 133, no. 1472 (Sept/Oct 2009), 10-12.

52 According to Adam Carse, "Beethoven definitely authorized the publication of the parts of the Symphony in 1809 and of the score in 1826, but it cannot be taken for granted that he carefully checked the proofs of either before they were published and made sure that the music was exactly as he intended it to be. Even if there was no evidence that his proofreading was desultory, one might almost safely conclude that a man with his temperament–erratic, impatient, and impulsive–who was also careless and untidy in his habits, would never take kindly to the trying and tedious process of examining and collating every note, rest, slur, and sign on 121 pages of parts and 182 pages of full score. In fact it is as good as certain that he did no such thing." Carse, "Beethoven's Fifth," 253.

53 See Morrow, Concert Life; Clive Brown, "The Orchestra in Beethoven's Vienna," Early Music 16/1 (Feb 1988), 4-20; Otto Biba, "Concert Life in Beethoven's Vienna," in Beethoven, Performers, and Critics, 77-93; David Pickett, "A Comparative Survey of Rescorings in Beethoven's Symphonies," in Performing Beethoven (Cambridge: University Press, 1994), 205-6.

54 Focht, Wiener Kontrabass, 35-6.

55 Johann Hindle, Der Contrabass Lehrer, Ein theoretisch-praktisches Lehrbuch (Vienna: 1854), 7. Taken from Paul Brun, A New History of the Double Bass (Villeneuve d'Ascq: Paul Brun Productions, 2000),119.