Sonata for Double bass and piano
Frantisek Hertl’s Sonata for double bass and piano was composed in 1946, a time of great upheaval and change for central Europe, after the horrors and devastation of the Second World War. In three contrasting movements, the sonata successfully exploits the double bass as a serious and viable solo instrument and points the way forward for the image of the double bass in the second half of the 20th-century. There are musical and technical challenges for both instruments and pianist Kathron Sturrock comments that the sonata demonstrates “that Hertl was not only a superb bass player but also an excellent pianist.” It was first published in 1956 in Prague by Statni nakladatelstvi krasne literatury, hudby a umeni and is in solo tuning, including many fingerings by the composer. The Sonata has been recorded a number of times and its first recording was by Pavel Horak, a member of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra. Horak was a student of Hertl and the composer also supervised the recording.
The first movement (Allegro moderato) is the longest of the three, and begins haltingly by both performers before the main theme is stated confidently by the double bass, quickly climbing into the higher register. Hertl successfully partners the two instruments, often emphasising the lyrical and cantabile qualities of the double bass in all registers. The accompaniment is always interesting and supportive, creating a commentary or music of a declamatory nature and the range of the piano part is carefully constructed to allow the double bass to be heard at all times. the second theme is particularly beautiful and evocative and a romantic-style accompaniment encourages the bassist to sing before the mood changes and a much more urgent statement of the opening theme builds to a fast, energetic and dramatic conclusion.
The lyricism of the double bass is evident from the first note of the slow movement (Andantino) which is particularly effective as the mood quickly changes to one of more urgency and uncertainty. The double bass climbs to its highest register and gradually falling away to a recapitulation with a much more contrapuntal accompaniment. The opening theme is restated from the lowest register to the highest, now in harmonics, and a peaceful ending paves the way for the final movement, a Rondo.
Marked ‘Alla polka, moderato’ the third movement has a driving and urgent feel, creating a polka but within a modern style and idiom. The middle section reverts to the lyricism of the double bass in a period of reflection before building to a development of the opening theme and music gradually gains momentum and drive and a final Allegro molto pushes the music forward, with energy and rhythmic vitality ending suddenly and with great drama and finality.
Frantisek Hertl’s Sonata for double bass and piano, in my opinion, is the greatest of our double bass sonatas although ones by Hindemith, Proto, Reiner and Misek would also be in my top ten. The solo part is challenging, both musically and technically, but offers much for both performers and audiences alike. Hertl writes in a modernish idiom, but always with a backward glance to his Czech forebears, and even the most traditional and conservative of audiences wouldn’t find much to complain about. For years it was difficult to obtain copies of the work, it probably still is, but this is well worth searching out if you are looking for a serious and confident work which certainly deserves its place in the solo repertoire.
Play Dan Styffe and Ingrid Andsnes. Recorded between June 19, 2014 and June 20, 2014. 17:21
- Allegro moderato 07:19
- Andantino 04:42
- Rondo: Alla Polka, moderato 05:20