Friday April 28, 2017
Silvio Dalla Torre
The Bassetto in History - The Bassetto in Baroque Music - The Bassetto in Folk Music - Cellone and Sous-Basse My Bassetto Bassetto Practice

Cellone and Sous-Basse

Cellone, side view
The bowed string instruments with which we are familiar today, the violin, viola, violoncello and double bass, do not correspond to the original development. As early as 1619, Michael Prae-
described seven different "fiddles" in his "Syntagma musicum". The instrument makers briefly described here recalled this as they at-
tempted to cover a greater compass with new instruments.

Dr. Alfred Stelzner (1852-1906) was not only an instrument maker but also a mathematician and a physicist. With the so-called violotta he tried to close the gap between the viola and the violoncello. For the pitch range between the violoncello and the double bass, he invented the cellone. This was described in the catalogue of the "Musikhistorisches Museum von Wilhelm Heyer in Cöln" in 1910:

"The "cellone" invented in 1892 by Alfred Stelzner which is one octave lower than the "violotta" and two octaves lower than the violin, constitutes the bass of the so-called "G-fiddles", which are contrasted with the two older "C-fiddles" (viola and violoncello). The name "cellone", by the way, is a
Cellone - Dresden 1893
linguistic nonsense, since the word is composed from the simple combination of a diminutive syllable and an augmentative syllable."

Although the instrument was not much larger
than a large violoncello, it must be termed a "Halbbass", because of the G-D-A-E tuning.

Some thirty years later, the French violin maker Léo Sir, like Stelzner, re-thought the ensemble of the bowed string instruments, including in it two double bass instruments. One of these was positioned between the deep bass and the violoncello and was given the name Sous-Basse. With a scale of 85 cm and a total length of
150 cm, this instrument was also tuned in
fifths G-D-A-E (two octaves below the violin):
Eugène Hyard wrote of its sound (Instrumentation et orchestration, Paris 1922): "The instrument sounds in the register of the double bass, but it is not the deep and cavernous voice of the true double bass. It is an intermediate voice, clear and pure, slightly coppery in the lower range, and full and round in the middle."

In 1921, Arthur Honegger wrote the "Hymne pour dixtuor à cordes" for ten "new" instruments, including the Sous-Basse, on a commission from Léo Sir. In February 1932, Honegger composed a soloistic work for that interesting instrument which has regrettably lapsed into oblivion. It bears the title "Prélude pour la Sous-Basse et Piano".

In the 1960s, renewed attempts were made to create a new order for the bowed string instru-
ments. The leading American violin maker Carleen Hutchins created the well-known
violin octet on the acoustical basis of the violin resonances. The ensemble includes an instru-
ment she named the Small Bass Violin, which resembles the Sous-Basse and was likewise intended to be tuned G-D-A-E. However, since double bass players were not at that time at home with the fifths tuning, Hutchins decided on the high fourths
tuning A-D-G-C.