Tag Archives: Marcin Oles

The Three String Double Bass

Usually when I think of bass as a solo instrument what pop up will be the modern Jazz bassist, especially Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke, there are also a few very good solo bassist rooted in rock, my favorite clearly Tony Levin.

And there are even entire albums dedicated only to the Bass, as an example Marcin Oles – Ornette On Bass from 2003. Marcin Oles is a Polish bass player, composer and record producer born in 1973. He has released several albums since 1999 sometimes solo, sometimes with others, often involving his brother Bartłomiej “Brat” Oleś.

Well that was a long introduction to something quite different.

As the main object of all this talk lead back almost 200 hundred years, back to 1835 and the day when Pietro Bottesini got a scholarship for his son Giovanni. Pietro was himself a skilled Clarinet player and Romantic Era Composer, some of his works is if not famous, then at least recognized and recorded.

I was wondering of again ! back to Giovanni.

Giovanni had received some education in violin but the scholarship in Milan there was only bassoon or double bass vacant, Giovanni decided to go for the Bass.

Form here the stone was rolling he soon got an offer to join the opera house in Havana, touring the united states sometimes with appearances as a soloist. 1849 was his debut in London to great success and form here his fame lead him to every corner of Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Buenos Aires, Mexico etc, he met Giuseppe Verdi in Venice, and they became lifelong friends

At this point (1849) Bottesini had completed quite a large number of compositions, many of his famous compositions for the double bass were if not finished then written in “first” version.

Bottesini was in favour of Three Strings of pure gut, at the time some places used mostly four and even five strings, such as Germany. France had just accepted the four strings as standard. Italy, England and Spain, etc. were still using three strings, England was one of the last places to change, as three strings were rather common until the first world war.

Bottesini bought his bass in 1839, an instrument made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore in Milan, the eldest son of Carlo Giuseppe. According to Thomas Martin (see note) it was originally a four string instrument transformed to three strings.

It is so sad to know that we will never the able to enjoy Bottesini’s performances, he must have been no less than fabulous, nicknames “the Paganini of the double bass” without doubt evolving the bass technique and reform the use of double bass as a solo instrument.

Never the less Bottesini saw himself mainly as a composer, who also played bass or conducted. His style of composing was not ground breaking although he was successful with his operas, but it is his solo works for the double bass that stands out, still standard repertoire for the double bassists.

This is played on an original three stringed period instrument

Note: I usually won’t mention my sources, as that would often be a boring journey, but in this case I would like to mention that I have read and truly enjoyed reading this article by Thomas Martin of Thomas and George Martin Violin Makers.