Hans Werner Henze died…. hommage

Our composer of  Serenade and San Biagio… for solo double bass died the 10-27-2012 in Dresden.


Hans Werner Henze Henze’s output was prolific

One of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, Hans Werner Henze was noted for his many operas, symphonies and ballets and for a commitment to political art which informs much of his work.

Born on 1 July 1926 in Guetersloh, Germany, the son of a schoolteacher, Hans Werner Henze was initially educated at schools with a socialist outlook. But, following the Nazi Party’s ascent to power in 1933, he lived a dual life.

While dutifully studying the official curriculum at school, he played chamber music at a partly Jewish family house and there steeped himself in proscribed literature, including Mann, Wedekind and Brecht.

He developed his greatest love, music, through listening to Bach and Mozart and playing the cello.

In 1942, Henze entered the Brunswick State Music School, where he studied piano, percussion and musical theory.

Even so, the modern repertoire hardly ever intruded into a wartime milieu dominated by German Romanticism.

Henze’s father was killed on the Eastern Front and Hans was conscripted into the army in 1944, ending the war in a British prisoner-of-war camp. His experiences left Henze with a lifelong hatred of fascism which informed much of his work.

As he later told the BBC: « Everything that the fascists persecute and hate is beautiful to me. »

Street scene 10th Nuremburg rally Henze’s life was coloured by his hatred of Nazism

It was only after the war, studying in Heidelberg, that Henze first heard composers like Bartok, Berg and, most importantly, Stravinsky. He also composed his first work, the 1946 baroque-style Kammerkonzert, which won him a publishing contract.

The following year came the first of Henze’s 10 symphonies, a neo-classical work featuring a viola solo.

Commissions soon mounted, most notably for stage music. Henze composed ballets – including Jack Pudding and Georges Dandin – and operatic works, like Boulevard Solitude.

In 1953, seemingly overloaded with work, and jaded with intolerant attitudes towards his homosexuality, Henze moved from Germany to the Italian island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. That year he completed Ode an den Westwind, a cello concerto based on Shelley’s iconic series of sonnets.

Increasingly political

He enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, most notably with Prinz von Homburg (1958), an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s powerful psychological play.

Henze also enjoyed great success with the opera Elegy for Young Lovers, penned by WH Auden and Chester Kallmann.

Henze, Auden & Kallman in a BBC studio Collaborating with Auden & Kallmann on Elegy for Young Lovers

In April 1964, Henze received the accolade of having all of his first five symphonies performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, together with the premiere of his opera Being Beauteous.

From the mid-1960s onwards, Henze’s work took on an explicitly political tone. The oratorio, Judische Chronik, was followed by a fugue, In memoriam: Die Weisse Rose (the White Rose), dedicated to the young anti-Nazi martyrs Hans and Sophie Scholl.

After students hung a red flag from the conductor’s podium, both the orchestra and choir refused to perform. The ensuing riot, while perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times, did nothing to enhance Henze’s reputation.

Shrugging off criticism that he was an armchair revolutionary, Henze premiered his Sixth Symphony in Havana, Cuba. In 1973, his avowedly political Voices features 22 revolutionary poems and drew comparisons with Kurt Weill.

Hans Werner Henze with baton in 1970 The piece Voices featured 22 revolutionary poems

In recent years, Henze’s works took on a more reflective mood. His Requiem (1990-92) was a moving, wordless, meditation of life, death and war. Classical themes also came to the fore, for instance in the theatrical Venus and Adonis (1993-5).

Hans Werner Henze mixed neo-Classical themes with a decidedly modernist approach. But underlying all his many works – symphonies, operas, concertos, oratorios and ballets – was a refreshing subversiveness born of his hatred of Nazism.

In this way, Henze was as important as a chronicler of the darkness of the 20th century as he was as a musician.

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Conference Cello-Bass ESTA

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A Master class comment…

Yesterday, I received a nice letter after a recent master class… I am very happy because it describes an aspect of my pedagogy. Sorry for publishing it…

« Dear Thierry,
I want to thank you once again for taking the time to come for the
masterclass.  I have since talked to all  students and the everyone was
overwhelmingly enthusiastic. 

I, personally, was very impressed by the thoroughness and analytical manner in which you approached the technical aspects of the instrument.
Definitely food for thought for the students.
Aside from the lessons, I very much enjoyed your recital.  You have a lovely, warm, round sound.  That, combined with the beautiful lyrical approach to the instrument is a joy experience.
One thing in particular that you mentioned is something I will keep with me.  You told the students to practice something for ten minutes every day and then go on.  That is not new, but the notion that your body and mind will eventually gravitate to what is right and good is a nice way of putting it.  Students tend to want to force things to happen, but trusting that your mind, body and musicality will learn towards it naturally is a good piece of wisdom.
Thank you for pointing that out. »

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French bow question

Today, I was asked this question:

Hi Monsieur Barbé!

I’m a 20 year old doublebass student in …. and hope to someday study in Paris. I’ve looked at many bass players bow technique (…) but since adopting your technique it has really done wonders for my playing. Since I’m on the subject you spoke of putting finger 2&3 under the frog.  However do you still « pull » the bow with the first finger (down bow) and forth finger(up bow).
Thank you so much for replying and giving me free advice!
All the best and hope to see more videos soon!

This is my answer

Very honored, …, thanks and I am happy to count for you, near all those fabulous french bow players who are all my great friends.
For your question: I see what you mean. Well, I don’t feel exactly that way for explanations.

  • I rather consider to grip up the group thumb, 2, 3 against the 1( index). For me the 1 is the non-moving part of the lever. The lever’s action is to conduct the bow toward the string as soon as we exceed the frog in order to keep the power of the sound, its density, to play crescendo or any color we need. The lever action varies from 5% to 100% after the frog.
  • To explain fully, the lever system is actionned by the pronation of the forearm, (rotation cubitus-radius toward the string). At the  finger contact points , this pronation is transmitted and even increased by the thumb and the last phalanx of the 2, 3 which are catching upward the frog against the 1.
  • Generaly in the bass world, the big hands often don’t consider to use the 2, 3 griping upward by the last phalanx positionned under the frog, but I do.
  • For very little hands, I advise a very little frog or if not possible, to place the fingers 2,3 4( yes, even the pinky) not under the frog but under the stick and in the frog’s hole. I use myself this position very often to have a nice clean and warm sound with easy attack of the string, specialy in the low register. This position is also able to play spiccato notes ( balsato), but not for a long time. I use the first grip in that case ( switch in one second).
  • When we play at the frog, or balsato (spiccato), the grip is a simple prehension, without pronation. The pinky becomes important. I like a comfortable ruber for the thumb and the index finger.
  • Here are some photos. I use all of those grips, it depens the situation, the color that I need, ….  in one word, there is not one french grip, it depens which hands you have, and which color you want…

I think the explanations where clear, the result was:

Hello again Monsieur Barbé!

I apologize for not writing this mail earlier. But it so happens that I have been on tour with my orchestra, and have had a great many opportunity’s to try out my new bow technique!

I just wanted to say thank you for your elaborate answer it really helped a lot! And I hope that I can ask some more questions regarding bass playing in the future. There are probably more people with the same type of questions on their mind as me.

Merci beaucoup!



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Catalin Rotaru

My good friend Catalin is an amazing musician. He belongs to the « singing double bass  » familly, as I think I do. His Kreisler transcription is not easy and he performs it with a nice sound like the violin. This type of transcription played on a modern double bass, easy regulation, solo tuning, bright and warm sound, brings to the musical community the sound of a « cello-alto » as the viola does for the violin. I like it!

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David Folland ideas about tailpiece


How Tailpiece Can Affect Sound and Playability

This article was published in the May 2010 issue of All Things Strings.

A modern tailpiece is a marvel of engineering,” fittings-maker Eric Meyer says, “and it is very difficult to make both technically effective and aesthetically pleasing.”

In other words, there’s more to a tailpiece than meets the eye. While the primary function of the tailpiece is to connect the strings to the end of your stringed instrument, tailpiece can have a significant effect on the sound and playability of your instrument. The right tailpiece, installed in its proper position, can make an instrument more responsive and easier to play, accentuate the harmonics and overtones, and make the instrument more resonant. This added resonance can result in a fuller and more colorful tone. Conversely, if an instrument has some undesirable vibration, such as a bad wolf note, a change of tailpiece and its position can help reduce it.

While more empirical research is needed on this subject, it is doubtful there will ever be a “one size fits all” solution, and experimentation will be needed to achieve the optimal tailpiece for a particular instrument and playing style. To make matters more complex, there is also significant disagreement among violinmakers and adjusters about the effect different tailpieces and tailpiece materials will have on sound. That said, there are some useful areas of comparison.

Let’s look at factors that can make a difference.

Tonewoods and tonal qualities

The most commonly used woods for tailpieces are ebony, boxwood, and rosewood. Recently, pernambuco has begun to be used as well. These woods all look different but they also differ in their structure and density, which changes the effect they have on sound. These differences can be very subtle and are often open to dispute, but there may be a few general areas of agreement among a number of makers. Pernambuco tends to help and overly dark and muddy instrument become brighter and more focused. Conversely, and instrument that is too intense and hard-edged sounding can be warmed up and deepened by a dense ebony tailpiece. When a light tailpiece is desired, less-dense woods such as boxwood and rosewood may lend themselves more readily to the situation. Ebony and pernambuco can be made very thin to achieve a light weight, but doing so can make them prone to cracking.

Variations in weight

Perhaps more important than the wood a tailpiece is made from is the requirement that a tailpiece be the proper weight. The common impression is that a lighter weight is always better may not always be true when it comes to tailpieces.

Doubtless, there are instruments on which a light tailpiece is desirably and can improve its sound. However, on many instruments, a tailpiece that is too light can interact negatively with the instrument’s patterns of vibration and contribute to wolf notes. A tailpiece that is matched with the instrument (usually one whose pitch does not interfere with the pitch of the body of the instrument) can give more warmth, body, and color to the sound and will help dampen wolf notes.

In practice, this can often mean using a heavier tailpiece. In any case, a violinmaker may try a number of tailpieces of different densities to find the one that works best for a particular instrument.

Use of alternative materials

When it comes to tailpieces constructed from aluminum, plastic, and graphite composite, the same weight criterion applies, but there are many other factors to consider as well.

There are sure to be instruments on which a metal or synthetic tailpiece works well. Sometimes the improvement thought to be from the tailpiece material, whether metal or synthetic, may actually be due to the thin wire used for a hanger on these non-wood tailpieces. When a properly fitted wooden tailpiece is used on conjunction with a wire or Kevlar tailcord, the wood tailpiece may give an instrument more warmth, body, and tonal color than a metal or synthetic tailpiece.

The impact of shape and size

Most tailpieces come in one of the three common models: the “Hill” or “English,” which has a peaked, roof-like shape; the “french,” which has an elegant rounded shape; and the “tulip,” which has a wineglass or tulip shape. The differences between the different tailpiece models don’t have a significant effect on the sound.

What really matters when it comes to tone is the tailpiece length, the position of its string slots, and tailcord holes, and the arch of the tailpiece.

The length of the tailpiece must correspond to the length of the instrument — instruments that are longer from the bridge to the bottom of the instrument need longer tailpieces, and vice versa. Altering tailpiece length is also another wolf-suppression technique.

The string holes and slots should not be too close together. Looking directly down at the top of the instrument, the strings should not angle inward too much from the bridge to the tailpiece.

Many violinmakers prefer that the tailpiece arch conform to the arc of the bridge so that, looking at the instrument from the side, all four strings will have the same angle from bridge to tailpiece.

Finally, the tailcord holes at the bottom of the tailpiece need to be level and the proper distance apart. A narrower distance may help to accentuate the middle strings, a wider distance the outer strings.

Proper placement is important

The proper distance between bridge and tailpiece (the after length) can enhance harmonics and the response of an instrument. The distance is determined by tuning the after length of one strong to a specific pitch by adjusting the position of the tailpiece. For example, on violin, the after length of the D string can be tuned to an A; for cello, the G string after length should be a C.

Using post-style string adjusters on a tailpiece can interfere with this after-length distance, as well as add a lot of weight close to the bridge where it can dampen sound. In practice, using one post-style string adjuster on the top string of a violin or viola doesn’t have much noticeable effect, but using them on all four strings can be detrimental to sound, especially on cellos. A great, threefold advantage of tailpieces with built-in tuners is that they maintain proper after length, reduce weight at the bridge end of the tailpiece, and are less likely to cause buzzing.

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Dave Fink and Jazzcapacitor

Really nice initiative!, nice free pdf transcriptions from monuments double bass players, thanks Dave!

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Beethoven’s final 9th

This the famous Beethoven 9th final mouvement,… for our bass students!

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Tips on how to memorise your piece

Playing from memory could be essential while performing in concert, festival or competition or even in exam.Knowing your piece by heart demonstrates that the composition has been studied in depth.
There are few ways to memorize music:How to begin?Listen recorded version of your piece first, so that you’ll have music in your ‘ear ‘already.Most of the people, not necessary musicians are able to remember songs and melodies quite easily by just listening it a couple of times. The same with pianists, they can memorize piece quite quickly by playing it through a few times. It is called aural memory, when musician knows how the music sounds in his head and when he is able to sing the piece through internally including dynamics and phrasing.The easiest way to memorize piece is repeat the same phrase over and over again, until its stays in your ear, then shift it to the succeeding phrase.Aural memory is one of the strongest and most reliable memory motivators.
The other step is to understand piece you are about to memorize intellectually.First pianist should know the main key and all upcoming modulating keys in the composition.Pupil should analyze the overall structure and know the cadential parts. Recognize repeating phrases and compare them with new material introduced in the piece. The whole process requires conscious control.This type of method is called intellectual or analytic memory.

The whole memorizing process requires lots of repetition, it involves constant finger action. Eventually fingers memorising patterns, this process is called kinaesthetic memory. Without aural and intellectual memory support finger memory wouldn’t be very reliable on its own.
The last method to memorise the music is visualy by remembering how the music looks on the page.
All the four: aural, analytic, kinaesthetic and visual methods should be maintained and combined simultaneously for effective memorizing process.

source: http://www.maestrolist.com/article/tips-on-how-to-memorise-your-piece.html

And also:   http://musiced.about.com/od/adviceformusicians/a/memoryplaying.htm

Phil Tompkins:    http://rmmpiano.tripod.com/memory.FAQ.html

in french: http://www.musicrea-jmc.fr/spip/Comment-travailler-une-oeuvre

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James Ham luthier

I met James Ham in Oklahoma City in 2007, he built many basses with Gary Karr, and lives near Vancouver, Ca.  Interesting researchs: he makes the ribs as sandwich of Balsa between maple veneers.

The bass is so light!   http://hamstringsmusic.com

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