Tuesday August 04, 2020
Silvio Dalla Torre
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The Five-string Double Bass

by Carl Otho (Leipzig)

from: "Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau" (No. 01, 1880), made available by Birgit Heise, Curator of the Museum of Musical Instruments at the University of Leipzig.

D. R. Patent No. 12065. Communicated by Otto Sack, Civil Engineer and Patent Attorney.

The double bass illustrated in the associated diagram has, in contrast to the instruments of this type which have until now been usual, various new features. First, it is equipped with five strings, of which the fifth string makes possible the "low C". This string has been very specially constituted solely for this purpose. *)

The Otho double bass is additionally equipped with an adjustable support, which allows the height of the instrument to be adjusted up or down, according to the height of the player. The construction of the instrument as a whole is in general broader and more powerful, although the arrangement for tensioning the strings is that usual on double basses.

The arrangement for adjusting the height of the double bass upwards and downwards consists of an iron sleeve let into a wooden shaft. An iron rod with a sharp tip is inserted into the sleeve. The rod can be moved easily within the sleeve, and can be fixed in place in the required position, according to need, with a screw. A lug is attached in order that it is impossible for the whole length of the column to slide into the sleeve when the screw is released.

Expert assessors such as the conductors of the Leipzig Opera, Messrs. Erdmannsdörfer, Nikisch and Seidl have expressed their opinions on the fitness for the purpose and the need for an extension downwards of the sonic tone-colour, acknowledging the results of the Otho bass. Dr. Hans von Bülow has written to the inventor:

Dear Sir!

With your invention of the five-string double bass C,E,A,D,G, you have become in my eyes a benefactor of musical humanity, or at least of those conductors whose intention it is to reproduce above all the symphonies of Beethoven in complete faithfulness to the spirit (and thus against its perceptible sign, the letter) of their creator. The excellent instrument that you have supplied to me has won undivided praise with its unusually fine sound and with the fullness of its tone, as well as which its construction has proven to be so practical that the Chamber Musician Mr. Ebert is already in a position after some weeks of practice to play it with security in public. Every orchestra which makes a claim to artistic respectability should in my opinion give consideration to profiting as far as possible from your ingenious invention. With joyous wishes for the same, I add the expression of my wholehearted estimation,

Dr. Hans v. Bülow, Director of the Ducal Saxon Court Orchestra, Royal Bavarian Court Music Master ret´d.

Mr. Carl Otho, instrument builder of Leipzig, has constructed a double bass with five strings (G,D,A,E,C), which has proved itself quite extraordinarily well in the orchestra. While it is a great benefit alone to have available the four notes E flat, D, D flat and C, the advantage of the Otho bass is all the more increased in that he has succeeded in giving his instrument a rare fullness of tone, and that the introduction of his newly constructed double bass in our great orchestras is therefore in my opinion most warmly to be recommended.

Leipzig, 20 June 1881, Arthur Nikisch, Director of Music.

With your new invention, the five-stringed double bass, and the completion with the four low notes C, C sharp, D and D sharp, the lack of which has so often been so unfortunate, you have done the orchestra a great service. That your instrument also leaves nothing to be desired in the beauty of its tone I am happy to add, as also that I intend to promote the introduction of your instrument in accordance with my conviction.

Leipzig, 17 June 1881, Max Erdmannsdörfer, Court Music Director, ret´d

I consider the five-stringed double bass constructed by Mr. Otho, a member of the Leipzig Theatre and Gewandhaus Orchestra, an enormous benefit to our orchestra, since with the magnificent and ample tone of the same, many important passages can now for the first time be performed which it was quite impossible to attain with the usual instruments to be found in use in our orchestras. Following the example of the Leipzig Theatre Orchestra, I recommend to all good orchestras the acquisition of this excellent instrument.

June 1881, Anton Seidl, Director of Music of the City Theatre of Leipzig.

*) The C string has a diameter of 10 mm. A core of steel wire, which is about 2 mm thick, is covered for its whole length with silk threads. Simple iron wire is then wound around the layer of silk. This layer of iron wire is in its turn covered for its whole length with silk threads. On top of these, simple iron wire is once more tightly wound. This in its turn is tightly covered with a layer of silk, and, as the final wrapping material, copper wire covered with silver or nickel is wound over this.