Friday, March 20, 2009

tilting at bass mutes

This weekend the CPO performs Don Quixote, the Strauss tone poem that is really more like a tone-novel. It's hard to think of another piece of symphonic music that ties together so many stories, characters, and conversations -- all while maintaining a fairly straightforward theme and variations structure, though with some odd twists.

Among the odd things in the bass part of Don Quixote is the indication on page 1 that the section should put on mutes. The mutes remain on through two pages of loud, melodic bass lines, covering a wide register. You would think he made a mistake, as we're asked to play fff (basically as loud as humanly possible), but he repeats the instruction, two more times: mit dampfer, meaning keep the mutes on!

Unlike brass mutes, bass mutes often won't cut the sound a great deal. What they do is to alter and impede the vibrations of the bridge, and so they have a greater effect on the color of the instrument. When played softly, as they most commonly are, mutes give the bass a somewhat subdued, veiled tone. When a bass is played loudly with a mute, however, there's an almost comical quality of struggle and tension, like a duck squawking madly. During loud playing, the vibration of the bridge may actually dislodge a wood mute and send it flying off the instrument. More often, we use rubber mutes which stay on the bridge a little better, but won't change the sound as much.

I think that Strauss was looking for that quality of hapless squawking, the orchestrational equivalent of tilting at windmills -- and so I'm a bit disappointed when we ignore the mute indication and just play it normally. Sure, it's a strange and senseless think to demand, and only the most perceptive and informed listeners will notice the difference -- and yet it's a brilliant way of depicting a strange, senseless person who makes a habit of struggling against inanimate objects. (Which would be a fairly accurate description of bass players in general...)

The concert tonight features a fantastic soloist, our own principal cellist Phil Hansen. Tickets may still be available, check out the CPO website for more information!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

recital this Sunday

I'm performing a recital this coming Sunday, which happens to also be International Women's Day and daylight savings time day. So if you decide to come, set your watches forward first, and try to bring some women with you!

Here's my poster:

and the program will be:

Duo no. 1 in G major, trans. for viola and double bass / Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • I. Allegro
  • II. Adagio
  • III. Rondo: Allegro
Megan Singer, viola; Matt Heller, double bass

Papageno Variations, for bass and piano after W.A. Mozart / Milton Barnes

Matt Heller, double bass; Cody Obst, piano

Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (Trout Quintet) / Franz Schubert
  • I. Allegro vivace
  • II. Andante
  • III. Scherzo: Presto
  • IV. Theme and variations: Andantino, Allegretto
  • V. Allegro giusto
Adriana Lebedovich, violin; Megan Singer, viola; Ingunn Benediktsson, cello; Matt Heller, double bass; Cody Obst, piano