Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/161

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BASS.
149
BASS CLARINET.

principal characters on the operatic stage, though frequent only since the latter part of the last century, dates from a much earlier epoch. Instances of it may be found in the operas of Lully and his imitators, native and foreign. Its subsequently increased frequency may still be attributed to the French, with whom dramatic propriety, in opera, has always taken precedence of musical effect. Gluck and his contemporary Piccinni, whose laurels were chiefly gathered on the French stage, both employ this class of voice largely; but it first assumed its still greater importance in the operas of Mozart, who would seem to have been the first composer to recognise the fact that the baryton or higher bass is the average and therefore typical, voice of man. To the prominence given both to the bass and the baryton voice in his later operas he was doubtless urged by a variety of causes, not the least being a paucity of competent tenors in the companies for which he had to write. To this however must be added the decline, in number, excellence, and popularity, of the class of vocalists of which Farinelli may be regarded as the type; and (closely connected with this) to an increased craving for dramatic effect, only attainable by the employment of basses and barytons, among whom as a rule—liable however to splendid exceptions—singing actors have always been found in the greatest excellence and number. This change in the once established order of things has not been brought about without protest. A distinguished amateur, the Earl of Mount-Edgecumbe, whose 'Musical Reminiscences' embody an account of the Italian Opera in England from 1773 to 1834, says, in reference to it:—'The generality of voices are (now) basses, which, for want of better, are thrust up into serious operas where they used only to occupy the last place, to the manifest injury of melody, and total subversion of harmony, in which the lowest part is their peculiar province. These new singers are called by the novel appellation of basso cantante (which by-the-bye is a kind of apology, and an acknowledgment that they ought not to sing), and take the lead in operas with as much propriety as if the double-bass were to do so in the orchestra, and play the part of the first fiddle. A bass voice is too unbending and deficient in sweetness for single songs, and fit only for those of inferior character, or of the buffo style. In duettos it does not coalesce so well with a female voice, on account of the too great distance between them, and in fuller pieces the ear cannot be satisfied without some good intermediate voices to fill up the interval, and complete the harmony.' And he adds in a note, 'It has always surprised me that the principal characters in two of Mozart's operas should have been written for basses, namely, Count Almaviva and Don Giovanni, both of which seem particularly to want the more lively tones of a tenor; and I can account for it in no other wise than by supposing they were written for some particular singer who had a bass voice, for he has done so in no other instance.' In making this last assertion the venerable writer forgot or ignored Mozart's 'Cosi fan tutte,' 'Die Zauberflöte,' and 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail,' in all of which basses are employed for principal characters. His argument, however, though ingenious, is based on an assumption unjustified and unjustifiable by either theory or practice that melody inevitably occupies, or is only effective in, an upper part. The example of Mozart, which he so severely denounces, has been followed largely by Rossini and all the operatic composers of later times. In the majority of their operas bassi cantanti appear in large numbers, without any 'kind of apology,' and persons who 'ought not to sing' do so, greatly to the enhancement of dramatic effect and the pleasure of their hearers. [ Baryton .]

[ J. H. ]

BASS-BAR, an oblong piece of wood, fixed lengthwise inside the belly of the various instruments belonging to the violin-tribe, running in the same direction with the strings, below the G string, and acting as a beam or girder to strengthen the belly against the pressure of the left foot of the bridge, as the sound-post does against that of the right foot. It is the only essential part of the instrument which, owing to the gradual elevation of the pitch, has had to undergo an alteration since Stradivari's time. Tartini states, in the year 1734, that the tension of the strings on a violin was equal to a weight of 63 lbs., while now-a-days it is calculated at more than 80 lbs. This enormous increase of pressure requires for the belly a proportionate addition of bearing-power, and this could only be given by strengthening the bass-bar, which has been done by giving it a slight additional depth at the centre, and adding considerably to its length. In consequence of this we hardly ever find in an old instrument the original bass-bar of the maker, just as rarely as the original sound-post or bridge, all of which, however, can be made as well by any experienced living violin-maker as by the original Stradivari or Amati.

[ P. D. ]

BASS CLARINET, an instrument of the same construction as the ordinary clarinet, but speaking an octave lower. The one most generally used is that in B♭, but Wagner writes for one in A, and a third in C has been employed. They are all slow-speaking hollow-toned instruments, rather wanting in power. The clarinet quality is less marked than in the acuter forms of the instrument, insomuch that they more resemble an organ pipe of bourdon tone. Meyerbeer, from his friendship with Sax, who paid particular attention to this instrument, has introduced it in his operas and other works. In the fifth act of 'The Huguenots' there is a fine declamatory passage for it in B♭, exhibiting its extreme lower compass:—