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20th and 21st Century Chamber Music

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Reginald Corbie, May 5, 2019.

  1. Reginald Corbie

    Reginald Corbie

    May 5, 2019
    Hey Everyone,

    I'm working on my comps and I'm having trouble looking for primary sources for my question which I'll list below:

    "Trace the history of significant twentieth and twenty-first century chamber music repertoire for the bass, starting with Stravinsky's "L'histoire du soldat", noting key notational or technical innovations"


    I was wondering which pieces should I include in my research? So far I've included Crumb's Madgicals and Prokofiev G minor Quinet? I would love to here some suggestions.

    Hope to hear back soon,
    Thank you so much
  2. Dive deep into the repertoire written for and by Bertram Turetzky, Fernando Grillo, and Stefano Scodanibbio. That would be solid start in regards to the New Music scene. If you're school has a copy of the Contemporary Contrabass in the library, get ahold of it.

    Also can one of the Mods move this to an appropriate forum?
    oliebrice, Reginald Corbie and Co. like this.
  3. Co.


    Sep 10, 2006
    I can't say much about the significance of the pieces, but you might have a look at these:

    John Cage - Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1950/1951)
    John Cage - Ryoanji (1983-85)
    Beat Furrer - Lotófagos I (2006)
    Gérard Grisey - Périodes pour sept musiciens (1974)
    György Kurtág - Bagatellek (Bagatellen) op. 14/d
    Erwin Schulhoff - Concertino (1925) Concertino (Schulhoff, Erwin) - IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music

    Crumb's Madrigals definately also.
    And definately have a look a Turetzky's Contemporary Contrabass and Jean Pierre Robert's Modes Of Playing The Double-Bass
    vilshofen likes this.
  4. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    I'm a college prof teaching music history among other things, and I honestly don't think you could study 20th century bass without talking about the most significant innovation: jazz bass.
  5. GretschWretch

    GretschWretch Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2013
    East Central Alabama
    But does jazz bass fall under the rubric of "chamber music"?
  6. Turetzky talks about the importance of jazz bassists in the intro to the Contemporary Contrabass and how it was a catalyst for him to develop his language. Both are connected in someway.
  7. Reginald Corbie

    Reginald Corbie

    May 5, 2019
    I agree with you ,but the main focus cant be specifically on the jazz bass it has to be a evolutionary process through the focus of chamber music.
  8. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, the question of whether it would help the OP is one question, that I'm not qualified to answer, but listen to the Ahmad Jamal Trio with Vernell Fournier and Israel Crosby, or of course the MJQ, and tell me that's not a form of chamber music.
    Winoman, lurk and tonequixote like this.
  9. Maybe it doesn't fall under the category, but at least in my opinion when you get to the 50s and 60s both the so called "jazz" and "classical" community start drawing a lot of influence from each other. You starting seeing people and groups such as Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, the MJQ, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman (to an extent), the members of the AACM, and many many more really listening and studying classical music and then eventually writing music with longer forms that may or may not be linear and what not. Then on the classical/new music side of things some composers started to reintroduce improvisation into their compositions and employ so called "chance" compositional procedures into their work. George Lewis wrote a fantastic essay called "Improvised Music After 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives" that dives more into this. I think a lot of people would benefit from reading it.

    In regards to bass, as much as your paper is supposed to be out chamber music it's really hard to not mention the importance of jazz bassists in pushing the bass forward in chamber music. I don't know how much chamber and solo literature exists for the bass in the first half of the 20th century, but jazz bassists were really the ones pushing much of the technical abilities of the bass forward during that era. Tie that in with the invention and eventual acceptance of metal strings and starting in the 60s you begin to see a lot of virtuoso bassists and composers writing solo pieces for the bass in the classical community.
    lurk likes this.
  10. I think with the emphasis on repertoire, adding in jazz and creative music is a tough sell. There is plenty of great playing, however, most of the actual written material specifically for the instrument is horrendous - one of the things that made me focus on free improvisation. There is plenty to talk about in "New Music". @PaulCannon could give some really up to date answers.
    I'd say this is a good place to look:

    This is an important one:
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
    Sean Riddle and Reginald Corbie like this.
  11. vilshofen


    Dec 27, 2007
    Reg, these might be worth a stop-look-and-listen. Though Agon wasn't written for the bass, as you state, the bass part does feature harmonics, and the work itself is brilliant and has unique and controversial aspects to it. Good luck!

    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  12. PaulCannon


    Jan 24, 2002
    Frankfurt, Germany
    NS Design Endorsing Artist
    Since this is for an academic project, I think it's important for you to narrow your focus as much as possible. I would flip the question around. The real question is about "key notational or technical innovations". I would focus on identifying a number of "significant" innovations particular to the double bass, and then demonstrating their use and function within particular representative works of chamber music.

    Jazz is certainly an interesting direction and influence on a number of players and composers, but its significance seems largely overstated in the context of this prompt. Improvisation, by itself, is certainly not unique to the double bass. Certain pizzicato techniques would be, and the development of virtuosic pizzicato writing and notation could easily be an entire dissertation by itself.

    Harmonics, and their notation, would be anther significant topic. Extended techniques as well, although I would struggle to connect all the dots on that one.

    Functionality is one of the more interesting questions for me; i.e. how the bass is used within an ensemble context. Pay close attention to how far away we've come from Stravinsky's conventional use of the instrument as bassline-player.

    The Turetzky book is an excellent resource, although it's out of print and difficult to find. You should have a look at these websites:

    Reginald Corbie and damonsmith like this.
  13. PaulCannon


    Jan 24, 2002
    Frankfurt, Germany
    NS Design Endorsing Artist
    Regarding repertoire:

    There are certainly a handful of early 20th Century pieces which could be called “standard”, but it takes a long time for new repertoire to gain that label. It’s impossible to know what will be remembered in 50 or 100 years. Therefore, you should first consider what techniques/notation you want to discuss and then choose the appropriate repertoire. I’m happy to make some recommendations.

    I would also say there is a fuzzy line between chamber music and ensemble repertoire. There are a large number of pieces for 5-10 players which can be performed with or without conductor. That would include the Stravinsky.

    Early 20th Century Classics

    • Stravinsky, Soldier’s Tale
    • Prokofiev, Quintet
    • Schulhoff, Concertino
    • Frank Martin, Rhapsodie
    • Varese, Octandre

    Mid-to-late 20th Century Classics

    • Kurtag, Bagatelles
    • Henze, Quattro Fantasie
    • Xenakis, Anaktoria
    • Donatoni, Alamari
    • Grisey, Periodes
    • Benjamin, Octet
    • Dutilleux, Les Citations

    After that, we’ll have to be more specific. If you’re looking for anything in particular, just ask and I’ll try to name a few things in that direction.

    Edit: one interesting direction/thesis you could take this prompt would be expansion. Our parts have become so much more diverse, complex, and challenging since Soldier’s Tale was first published. That’s quantifiable. Just compare the range in pitch, dynamics, rhythmic complexity, and variety of techniques between Stravinsky and something more recent.
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  14. emm


    Dec 28, 2020
    Thanks @PaulCannon for summarizing some of the key aspects! Tracing a history of an instrument across one century is a huge topic, and especially regarding developments across the 20th to 21st century, there would be so much to say about so many possible different approaches. To add some aspects, I would suggest to open up the view a bit and look at:

    a) the changing role of the bass in musical forms, traced from late-19th century symphonic repertoire into 20th century chamber music.
    This includes the questioning of established genres such as symphonies and large orchestral forms, and the search for new forms and genres. Especially in European post-WWII-music, composers rejected known forms. In general, across 20th century music we can observe a tendency towards smaller chamber ensemble repertoire. If you look around, the small-to-mid-sized chamber ensemble piece has almost become a standard format. One could start from Schoenberg's chamber pieces and melodrams, such as Pierrot Lunaire, and trace how the bass has been embedded to fit into that chamber-music sound. (I would suppose, the expanding of playing techniques, the demand for more virtuosity, more high registers and the preference for harmonics is partly indebted to the endeavour of integrating the bass into that new sound.)

    b) the influence of new technologies on the sound and composition of 20th to 21st century music. across the history, there have been always instruments that functioned like "labs" for composers - for example, the piano was such a paradigmatic experimental instrument in the 19th century, with the piano sonata leading to lots of new musical developments. The bass, due to its size, also offers the possibility to study harmonics and acoustics in depth. Very often in contemporary chamber pieces, I find the role of the double bass to be more of a synthesizer - it is an experimental ground, taking up different roles and fulfilling very different soundworlds, while the other instruments very often still are grouped in sections, registers or acting with one dominant sound character. This brings us back again to ancient music - the bass, for long, was not an instrument proper, it was a musical function (the "lowest voice" in an ensemble). I find that tendency still plays out in contemporary music - yet the bass takes up several, different functions there. For example, in Grisey's Periodes or much of Georg Friedrich Haas' music, the bass does not only present the fundamentals of the spectral series, but also brings in high partials.
    marcox likes this.
  15. emm


    Dec 28, 2020
    ...aha! By the way, I didn't know someone posted that video of Okanagon in YouTube - this was me playing back in 2012.... :laugh:
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