Cimador: Concerto for Double Bass

Allegro – Larghetto – Allegro

The double bass is different from other stringed instruments in the orchestra. Unlike the violin, viola and cello, it is tuned in fourths rather than fifths, the same as the viol. And some basses have five strings or a mechanism that allows the lowest string to be played at a lower pitch. For these reasons, some have suggested it has different origins from the other strings.

Some early double basses had three strings. This concerto was written for such an instrument.
Very little is known about Giovanni Battista Cimador, who composed this work. There is little agreement even on the correct spelling of his name. He appears to have been born in Venice and lived in the city until moving in 1791 to London, which was then a refuge from the uncertainties afflicting the continent in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the late eighteenth century, the double bass enjoyed something of a heyday as a solo instrument. Its deep sounds are often hard to penetrate larger orchestras, which became more normal in the nineteenth century. However, more delicate classical string ensembles were more suited to accompany the bass notes.

Aside from this work, several other double bass concerti are known from this era. Many of these pieces were written for Cimador’s Venetian contemporary Domenico Dragonetti, born only two years after Cimador in 1763. Dragonetti, who himself wrote his own concerti, followed his friend to London, where it is likely this piece was written for him to play in the late 1790s, on his three-stringed instrument.
The manuscript of the concerto is in the British Library. It is typical of its era. A short three-movement work, scored for strings with optional oboes and horns, it is dominated by a lengthy first movement. The double bass enters after a joyful series of arpeggios as an introduction. The delightful slow movement is only 50 bars long and is immediately followed by a lively allegro to conclude, which has an interesting G minor interlude.

Cimador was something of an entrepreneur, also setting up a publishing company in London, which produced adaptations of Mozart symphonies amongst other works. He later moved to Bath, where he died in February 1805.

After Cimador and Dragonetti, aside from Giovanni Bottesini, known as the Paganini of the double bass, the instrument became less popular as a solo instrument. However, more recently in the last half century it has recovered in popularity, partly because modern steel strings make it a more reliable and versatile instrument.

Christopher Spink, 1st Violin