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

11. Conclusion

Müller and Franke's written discourse about the double bass, which appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik between 1849 - 1851, provides a uniquely in-depth source on the values and circumstances that influenced double bass playing in the mid-nineteenth century. Modern 'HIP' performers can use these articles to explore how historical techniques can be used to enhance historically informed performance, especially in regard to the practice of simplifying double bass parts in orchestral music. These and other early sources also highlight the wide variety of fingering systems that existed before Simandl technique became the predominant standard as it remains today. Modern performers of all styles should question why fingering technique did not keep evolving alongside string technology, and are encouraged to explore the advantages and disadvantages of Franke's 4-finger system in conjunction with other fingering techniques. Additionally, while Franke's ideas have been briefly referenced in modern artistic research, newly rediscovered information about his career grants him a rightful place on the list of important historical double bassists.

Although Müller and Franke discuss their own performance values and playing methods in great detail, they are just two of many perspectives of historical double bass performance practices. Although I chose to focus on how their ideas compared to each other, there is even more to be learned from examining their methods relative to sources from other regions and periods. As primarily orchestral double bassists, Müller and Franke do not delve into the subject of melodic or solo playing, and thus omit topics that would be hard to avoid in a method for solo playing, but that are perhaps less essential to the double bass's orchestral role: topics including thumb position, alternative tunings, and stylistic elements such as vibrato, portamento, and rubato are not discussed by either author, and therefore need to be explored through other sources. The practice of modifying double bass parts also warrants further examination, as the process certainly evolved throughout history as scoring became more specific. Double bassists performing baroque basso continuo parts, those performing Classical symphonies with a single part for the cellos and double basses, and those performing an independent double bass part in Romantic or later works, all faced different expectations from composers, conductors and performing colleagues regarding their degree of faithfulness in executing their parts as written.

One of the unexpected results of this research is an increased awareness of individual performers' personalities and their role in the development of double bass performance practices throughout music history. Müller's and Franke's writings are an ideal reference for this topic not only because they demonstrate pronounced differences in opinion between two musicians who were active in the same period and working in reasonable proximity to one another, but also because they happened to be some of the last sources published prior to the ever popular Simandl method, which in a way marks the beginning of modern double bass playing. Motivated by a century of developing albeit insufficient methods, yet still free from the influence of widely standardized technique, Müller and Franke represent a critical point in the double bass's pedagogical history.