Book Reviews

From study guides to bass bibles

A New History of the Double Bass

Paul Brun


After his works Histoire des Contrebasses à cordes (1982) and A History of the Double Bass (1989), we bid a hearty welcome to Paul Brun's A New History of the Double Bass. Just out this year, it is the culmination of over 25 years of painstaking research. The French bassist and historian uses his original publication as a basis, but takes it much further along the historical line. Following on from bass historians Warnecke, Billè, Elgar, Planyavsky, the Russian compendium Kontrabass, Historia-Metodica (1974), as well as Dragonetti and Bottesini specialists Palmer, Nello-Vetro and Inzaghi, Brun has produced a substantial volume which must take its place as one of the most important and comprehensive works on the subject. The work was written in English, of which Brun is more than a master.
The book begins by presenting us with an explanation of the instrument and how it is constructed, which is followed by a chapter on what the instrument has been called in various countries and periods. We then launch into the historical development of the instrument, from which Brun draws on an enormous number of sources. I found the sections on the surging demand for the double bass and the composition and positioning of basses in historic orchestras most interesting. One of my nagging personal questions was answered as well (to do with the low positioning of the bridges on the double bass viols depicted in historic paintings).
Brun then traces the requirements and playing standards through the centuries, giving insight into the various historical schools of playing. The Viennese Classic school with its many virtuosos, so often eclipsed by Dragonetti and Bottesini, receives a most welcome chapter. The ongoing feuds on 'how many strings and how to tune them' and 'what bow and how to hold it' are discussed in great detail, and the work concludes with biographies of 17 bassists. As in Brun's previous works, I found the choices perhaps arbitrary. Nonetheless, the sketches are most informative and particularly comprehensive on Bottesini and Dragonetti.
The entire work is very well documented, clearly organised, well presented and easy to read, and is a must for the library of every serious bassist. The picture material is informative, though I would have wished for a few more photos. The author chooses his topical targets and hits most of them with great accuracy. However, it must be said that some rather large ones are missed out and I hope Brun will redress this in a future volume.


Thomas Martin,   Double Bassist,   Number 13, Summer 2000, pp.80-81.