Masterclass: Hoffmeister’s Violone Concerto no.1 in E flat major

Edicson Ruiz 1

Double bassist Edicson Ruiz provides help on Hoffmeister’s concerto with Viennese tuning

Franz Anton Hoffmeister’s Violone Concerto no.1 belongs in a group of works written for a string bass tuned in 3rds and 4ths, as opposed to the tuning in 4ths (E,–A,–D–G) in use for today’s double bass. The so-called Viennese tuning was current in Austria–Hungary and Bohemia in the mid-to-late 18th century, and it was for this tuning that composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Dittersdorf, Vanhal, Sperger and Zimmermann wrote their violone music. For convenience’s sake, the music was always notated in D major, assuming an instrument tuned to A,–D–F sharp–A. However, this basic tuning was transposed to suit the key of the piece. In Hoffmeister’s Concerto in E flat major, written around 1785, the violone is tuned to B flat,–E flat–G–B flat. This rise of a semitone gives additional brilliance to a tuning that, being based on the tonic chord, already has a built-in resonance. The Viennese tuning also allows for passagework, chords and arpeggios that are unplayable with today’s tuning. Modern editions of this repertoire have introduced numerous changes to the solo part to make it playable on a double bass tuned in 4ths, but in any case I prefer to play from the original sources.

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