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David Heyes

Albert Roussel: Duo for bassoon (or violoncello) & double bass

Albert Roussel: Duo for bassoon (or violoncello) & double bass

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About the Composition

Duo for bassoon and double bass was composed in 1925, as a gift of congratulation for Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), the revered conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who had recently become a Knight of the Legion of Honour in France. Although Koussevitsky had, on the whole, stopped playing the double bass at this point it was fitting that the piece featured the double bass in a solo capacity and is part of a small group of works written for and dedicated to Koussevitsky. 

In one movement and lasting about four minutes, Roussel's Duo is an accessible work of neo-classical energy and charm, full of rhythmic music, humour and invention and is often described as a 'musical joke'. 

The piece is episodic and the frequent change of pace and tempo maintains the interest, and offers many interpretative and musical possibilities. Solo tuning helps to produce a bright and ringing tone, to complement the sound and colour of the bassoon, and the use of high harmonics allows the bassoon to successfully descend into the lower registers, but on the whole both instruments play in their middle registers for much of the time. 

There is a sprightly feel and momentum, nicely characterising the true image of both instruments and allowing them to emerge from the depths of the orchestral repertoire, for a few minutes at least. The wealth of colours in the double bass part helps to contrast the more percussive and staccato attack of the bassoon. 

Originally in orchestral tuning, Koussevitsky preferred to play it in solo tuning and the bassoon part was therefore transposed one tone higher. This edition includes bassoon parts for both solo and orchestral tuning, but the double bass plays the same part. 

Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Kohn for his help with preparing this new edition and for his excellent research into the many pieces arranged for double bass by Serge Koussevitsky, and works composed for him. 

About the Composer

Albert Roussel (5 April 1869 - 23 August 1937) initially embarked on a Naval career, but later changed direction in 1896 after meeting Vincent D'Indy and became one of the first pupils at the newly formed Schola Cantorum. 

He was a prolific composer, writing in many genres, and gradually became one of the leading figures in modern music during the early decades of the 20th-century, both in France and abroad. His early works were partly influenced by Debussy and D'Indy but his own distinctive and individual voice gradually emerged enabling him to create works of melodic impetus with a free sense of modality and rhythmic drive. Polyphony became an increasingly important aspect of his music and, although completely overshadowed by the music of Maurice Ravel, was a significant and inventive composer worthy of revival today. 

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