Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/470
458 DOUBLE BASSOON.
richness of tone which is claimed for the three-stringed instrument.
If the violin is the leader of the orchestra, the double bass is its foundation. To it is given the lowest part, on which both harmony and melody rest. The English term 'double bass' has probably been applied to the instrument because it often doubles in the lower octave the bass of the harmony, given to the bass voice, the violoncello, the bassoon, or some other instrument. In a similar way the 32-feet stop of the organ is termed double diapason because it doubles a 16-feet diapason in the lower octave.
This doubling of the bass part was for a long time, with rare exceptions, the sole function of the double bass, and it is only since the beginning of the 19th century that we meet, in the scores of Haydn, and more frequently in those of Beethoven, with independent double-bass passages. The double bass from its very nature—its tone, when heard alone, being somewhat rough, and its treatment, owing to its large dimensions, very difficult—is essentially an orchestral rather than a solo instrument, and as such it is with the violin the most important and indispensable one. The solo performances of Bottesini and a few other celebrated double bass players, are exceptions which prove the rule for any one who has heard them. In fact these virtuosi do not play on full-sized double basses, but use the basso di camera, an instrument of considerably smaller dimensions.As double bass-players Dragonetti, Müller, and Bottesini, have the greatest reputation. Most of the great Italian violin-makers, from Gaspar da Salo downwards, have made double basses of various sizes, a fair number of which are still extant.
[ P. D. ]
DOUBLE BASSOON (It. Contrafagotto; Fr. Contrebasson; Ger. Contrafagott, Doppelfagott). The contrafagotto or double bassoon, in pitch an octave below the ordinary bassoon, is not by any means a new instrument; but the older instruments were of feeble rattling tone, rendered unwieldy by unsuccessful attempts to obtain the B♭ of the 32-foot octave. It has been considerably improved by Herr Haseneier of Coblenz, and subsequently by the writer, who has introduced it into English orchestras.
The double bassoon as made on the writer's design by Haseneier consists of a tube 16 feet 4 inches long, truly conical in its bore, enlarging from ¼ inch diameter at the reed to 4 inches at the bell. It is curved four times on itself for convenience of manipulation, so that the length of the instrument is about equal to that of the ordinary bassoon. Its extreme compass is three octaves, from CCC upwards to middle C—see example (a). Its ordinary range, however, should be limited to the tenor G, the notes above this being rather difficult to produce.
It possesses every semitone of the diatonic scale throughout its compass, and is therefore able to play in any key with moderate facility. The scale is founded on the octave harmonic, and continued by means of the twelfth. From CCC to FF (b), only a single sound is obtained by each key. Between the latter note and its double octave (c), the same fingering produces two sounds of an octave, simply by change of embouchure and greater pressure of wind. With the four-foot F♯ a new harmonic sound begins, using the fingering of the eight-foot B♮, and again increasing the wind-pressure. Seven semitones thus procured carry the tone up to the C above (d), which is the fourth C inclusive from the foundation note. It must be remembered, however, that the orchestral part for this instrument, like that of the double bass, is always written an octave higher than the real sound, to avoid ledger lines.
The holes from which the sound issues are of graduated size, increasing downwards with the size of the bore. They are placed as a rule in their correct positions, so as to cut off the proper portion of tube corresponding to the elevation of the note. Mechanism is adapted to them, to bring them within reach of the fingers. To enable the player to distinguish what are called 'open' from closed holes, a different shape is given to the terminations of the levers. The first three fingers of each hand, which have to keep closed the six open notes of the ordinary bassoon, fall into saddle-shaped recesses worked in the brass of the key; whereas the two little fingers and the thumbs touch the cushion-shaped surface of keys similar to those used on other wind instruments. It is, in consequence, very easy for any person accustomed to the ordinary bassoon to adapt his playing to this. The saddle-shape of the key also serves to support the upper joints of the finger, and to throw the labour of closing the hole more on the powerful muscles of the forearm than on the weaker fabric of the hand itself.Although this instrument was formerly used in military bands, and was played at the first Handel commemoration in Westminster Abbey, it had gone completely out of use until the Handel Festival of 1871. It is however abun-