Saturday September 26, 2020
Silvio Dalla Torre
Chameleon Double Bass Double Bass as Solo Instrument? Tunings Playing Techniques I - Standing or Sitting? - Two, Three or Four Fingers? - Bow Hold - Bow Properties Playing Techniques II New Dutch School

Standing or Sitting?

Paolo Veronese: The marriage at Cana (1562)
The obvious assumption that, historically, the sitting position has been preferred more for the smaller double bass instruments is refuted by
one of the earliest pictorial representations: Paolo Veronese´s painting "The Marriage at Cana" (1562) shows a double bass player in the sitting position playing an instrument the size of a man. Conversely, there are also depictions of smaller instruments being played in the standing position. From reports, it seems that the double bass has always been played both ways, regardless of the size of the instrument (not counting Vuillaume´s monstrous Octobasse). This applies both to chamber music and to orchestral playing. Corrette describes standing "Basso al Cembalo" players, while double bass players who shared a desk with cellists (which was normal practice in the Baroque orchestra) presumably played sitting down. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that double bass players, who were by then constituted into groups, switched more and more to the sitting position, as illustrated by pictures from this period (e.g. of the orchestra of the Covent Garden Opera House in 1846). On the other hand, the double bassists of the Kassel State Orchestra obstinately continued to play standing up until as late as the 1980s.

from: Charles Labro - Méthode de contrebasse (Paris, 1860)
Solo playing is another matter. First the prominent exception: Dragonetti according to the latest opinion of research, played sitting down, as can be seen in a photograph from 1843 which shows the 80-year old virtuoso with the two cellists Robert Lindley and Charles Lucas. In the 19th century all double bass soloists exclusively played standing up. In the 20th century, this practice survived into the 70´s before a gradual counter-movement took hold. All early double bass schools also taught only the standing position – again with one exception: Charles Labro mentioned both possibilities in his Méthode, published in 1860, but wrote that he preferred the sitting position.

With the modern easily-transportable double bass stools, the number of sitting players has significantly increased. Present-day bass stools are much more comfortable and ergonomic than the old wooden “high stools”, the appearance of which was evocative of a torture device – an appear-
ance which those who had to sit on them for hours at a time discovered was not deceptive!