This is a guest post by double bassist Jean-Yves Bénichou. Benjy is bi-national, being a citizen of both the United States and France. He has lived in France for the past 30 years and has been a member of the Strasbourg Philharmonic since 1985. He studied double bass at Temple University with Edward Arian and at Yale University with Homer Mensch, as well as additional studies with Roger Scott and François Rabbath.
Click here to read Benjy’s excellent post on how to polish ebony fingerboards.
I really appreciate the opportunity to post this excellent and informative article. Feel free to leave your thoughts and questions for Benjy in the comments to this post.
Allow me to take you all back to the golden era of the Paris conservatory. Those were the days when Gabriel Fauré was director and head of the composition dept. and taught students such as Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel.
The picture shows the “roaring” 1922 bass class headed by Edouard Nanny who is sitting in the middle holding a cigarette, and somewhat resembles Gustave Mahler. As you can see, the students liked their hair well slicked and were very concerned about the dress code.
Nanny developed a method book which was revolutionary at the time and which was internationally known and studied, even for François Rabbath. More on this here:
I should like to pay tribute to the student on the left, Mr. Jean Cros, who died 2 years ago at the age of 104 and 4 months. He was most probably Nanny’s oldest living student. He was an original member of the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra, composed of 11 strings and founded in 1953 by Louis Auriacombe. Jean Cros retired in 1976 and I took over his job after leaving the states. During my 6 year stay with them, Mr. Cros and I were very often together, talking about bass, and his past experiences with the group. He said that Nanny considered him his best student and friend. I don’t think that he would have ever wanted to lie to me in saying this.
Jean Cros was a very gentle and polite man who never raised his voice to anyone, and who spoke eloquent French. He was full of passion for his instrument and had recorded the Dittersdorf concerto at the age of 75, a year before he retired. I would often go to house to play duets with him. His age was no barrier to me and he was in fact younger at heart than my other bass colleagues who played in the local symphony orchestra.
One day he told me that he wished to perform a recital for his 80th birthday. And so he did. We worked together on a program that consisted of a piece for violin and bass by Mortari, a work for viola and bass by Sperger, the first movement of the 2nd “Grandi Duetti” by Bottesini, and the Alt bass quartet. I was always amazed in his presence to see that he was capable of keeping up such endurance and wondered if I would ever do the same and live so long. He continued to keep in touch with me, even though we were 1000 kms apart, up until the age of 102.
Jean Cros was also a horn player at the beginning and obtained a “Gold Medal” from the Conservatory at the age of 30. He unfortunately suffered a face paralysis on his left side and could no longer blow into the instrument due to the relaxation of the muscles. His eye was always watery as a result and he would very often wipe the tears away with a handkerchief. This of course, did not stop him from playing bass, although he always preferred to show his right profile in pictures.
For a man who was born in 1901, and had lived through a century that has given us the greatest inventions that have changed our lives such as the telephone, television, airplanes, automobiles, and more, his 80th birthday recital was but yet another milestone in his career. I’m sure that Nanny would have been extremely proud of his favourite pupil.