• John Harbison
  • Concerto for Bass Viol (2005)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 2(pic,afl).2(ca).2(bcl).2(cbn)/ (max
  • Doublebass
  • 20 min

Programme Note

  • The concerto is available in two keys — C or D — in accordance with the soloist's tuning. Piano reductions in both keys are included in publication. Please specify the key when renting orchestra parts.
Composer's note:

This concerto was commissioned by the International Society of Bassists. It is in three movements and lasts roughly twenty minutes.

The first movement, Lamento, begins with an Introduction which reminds the listener that the bass viol is the oldest instrument in the modern orchestra, grand survivor from the medieval viol family. Near the end of the introduction, the latter two movements are foreshadowed. The Lament begins under emotional duress, gradually moving to a more elegiac tone which may mask a more dangerous state of mind. A closing section mimes sonic images of farewell.

The second movement is a Cavatina, which my Italian dictionary defines as "a sustained Air." Having played in various chamber music pieces bearing this title, I believe Cavatina has come to mean a song led throughout by a principal player, which eventually arrives at an unpredicted dramatic destination.

Rondo: return. In the classical tradition it refers to the return of themes. In this piece I am playing with the return of a very short motto, which becomes increasingly rough and forthright.

My main experience of the bass viol is traceable to conducting over fifty Bach cantatas and playing in many jazz groups. In both situations my colleague played two roles: ensemble catalyst, and soloist. I've drawn on these associations often, not just in this piece.

— John Harbison



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