As a subscriber to many different email lists, I receive news and commentary on many subjects, and occasionally come across several worth sharing. Jonathon Dunford wrote about an experience while working in the Paris museum. This is the same museum where the Octobass resides. The octobass was a large bass constructed in 1850 in Paris by the French luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875).
Here is an excerpt of Jonathon Dunford’s octobass story from the viola da gamba mailing list, an email list I subscribe to. It tells of a rare instance where a viola da gamba and octobass join forces. Please note – This excerpt is printed with Mr. Dunford’s permission:
“I’ve worked at the Paris museum since it opened about 10 years ago playing and explaining the viol to the unwary tourist.
The museum houses a monstrous “octobass” built for Berlioz’s orchestra. It’s about twice or three times larger than a normal double bass and the fingerboard is played with a special mechanism as it is so huge!
Well to my great surprise one great day an Italian specialist showed up with his own octobass and set up shop in the museum’s entrance hall.
The guy came to me and was a REALLY GOOD viol player. So we decided to play an octobass + viol duo!
Many people walked through the hall to hear this very odd combo. I explained that according to the latest research Marais’ bass lines were indeed at 32′ pitch!
It sounded more like the soundtrack to “Alien” than baroque music.”
Many thanks to Mr. Dunford for allowing us to publish his story. Jonathon Dunford can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contextual side notes –
I. 32′ Range – for those who are not familiar with 32′ (32-foot) range. When instrument ranges are described the term 8′ range (violoncello or bass viola da gamba), 16′ range (modern double bass or violone) and 32′ range are use. This term refers to the length of organ pipes needed in order to produce sound in these registers. Nothing like an octobass to make us modern double bassists feel tiny!
II. Marin Marais – Famous French Baroque composer for the viola da gamba (also referred to as viol, or viole in French music). His life was made famous by Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde (1991) starring Jean-Pierre Marielle, Gérard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Guillaume Depardieu, Carole Richert et al.