Masterclass: Dittersdorf Double Bass Concerto, K172
Berlin Philharmonic bassist Edicson Ruiz advocates Viennese tuning and a period bow to bring out the best in this sonorous Classical work
I have a confession: when I was 13 years old and I heard this piece for the first time, played by some of the advanced students in my class in Venezuela, I thought it was horrible. It sounded low, heavy, difficult and not charming at all!
In my opinion, it is probably the most famous and worst played audition piece for double bass, because it has been so largely modified to make it playable with the instruments that we use today. Nowadays this concerto is not even close to what it should be – it has become a completely different piece. On a modern bass, you have to be a genius to make it sound good, and so I always refused to learn it.
I started to experiment with Viennese tuning back in 2005, in my second year at the Berlin Philharmonic, so that I could play the Mozart, Vanhal and Hoffmeister concertos in the correct tuning. It was only in 2009, when I was 24 years old, that I finally decided to learn the Dittersdorf. I wanted to give the piece a chance and I was curious to see how bad it really was. In fact, I discovered that it is an amazing piece! Now I play it all over the place, and I used it to open my concert at Wigmore Hall in London last July. I really believe in it very strongly, when it is played in the period way.
Viennese tuning is becoming more and more known, but it is very tiring for young people to practise and learn when they are first studying the double bass. This is because the fingerings are completely different and it’s almost like learning a new instrument.