2022 is the 150th birthday of the French bassist-composer Édouard Nanny (1872 – 1942). He was the leading French bassist of his generation, taught at the Paris Conservatoire for 20 years, and is recognised as the founder of the modern French double bass school. Nanny composed and transcribed many works for double bass, most are still in print, and his Complete Method for the Double Bass is as relevant today as when it was first published almost a century ago.
In 1901, under the chairmanship of Camille Saint-Saëns, the Société des Anciens Instruments (Society for Historical Instruments) was founded by the violist Henri Casadesus (1879 – 1947). The ensemble included Henri Casadesus (viola d’amore), Marius Casadesus (Quinton, a five-string instrument with a range of viola and violin), Régina Patorni-Casadesus (harpsichord), Lucette Casadesus (viola da gamba), Maurice Devilliers (bass viol) and Édouard Nanny (double bass) and they gave concerts until about 1939. Nanny and Casadesus explored a wealth of Baroque music, largely by forgotten composers at the time, including works by Ariosti, Borghi, Mascitti, Haessler, Tope, Bruni and Andre. Their concerts included an enormous breadth of music from the contemporary works of the late 19th-century, such as Saint-Saëns, Grieg and Lalo, alongside transcriptions of works by Bach, Schumann, Bruch and Beethoven. The group also ‘re-discovered’ works from the 18th-century, notably the Viola Concerto in D major by J.C. Bach and a Sinfonia Concertante for viola d’amore and double bass by Lorenziti, both actually composed by Henri Casadesus. A concert on 16 January 1903 also includes a performance of a ‘Gavotte by B. Lorenziti for viola d’amore and double bass’, which may be a first outing of the Lorenziti Gavotte, also composed by Nanny, which is now part of the standard repertoire but known today in a version for double bass and piano.
The likelihood is that Édouard Nanny also followed his friend’s example and composed his Concerto in A major ‘in the style’ of Dragonetti, although for many years it was thought to be an original work by the great Dragonetti. Henri Casadesus’s works ‘composed’ by J.C. Bach and Handel have entered the repertoire and found a place for themselves, much as the ‘Dragonetti’ Concerto has in the double bass world.
Alongside a wealth of transcriptions for double bass, Nanny also composed a series of original works which are worthy of revival in the 21st-century. He may not be a Ravel or Debussy, but his music is elegant and charming, exploiting the lyrical and technical possibilities of the double bass, and useful study and concert repertoire for the progressing bassist.
Édouard Nanny’s Concerto in E minor for double bass and piano was published in 1938 and, probably to its detriment, was only available for orchestral tuning. The score and orchestral parts (2202/2100/Strings) are available on hire and the three movements, probably less than fifteen minutes in total, ensure that it is easy to programme but its brevity probably also works against it. I was introduced to the concerto by my teacher, Laurence Gray, when I was about 17 years old and remember studying, and enjoying, the first movement and also working on the slow movement. There are many technical challenges, throughout the solo range of the double bass, making this a wonderful teaching and recital piece.
The concerto is dedicated to Nestor Higuet, Professor of Double Bass at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels, but, to the best of my knowledge, it has never been recorded, and hopefully, 2022 is the year. The first movement (Allegro moderato) is confident and driven, with an imposing and arresting first theme introduced by the soloist in bar 9. There are a wealth of double stops to negotiate, scale and arpeggio passages alongside several allusions to the ‘Dragonetti’ Concerto in A major. Nanny certainly tests the technical prowess and stamina of the solo bassist, and there is plenty here to get your teeth into.
The slow movement (Lento) is a mere 20 bars in length, emphasising the lyrical possibilities of the double bass through a series of arpeggio figurations followed by a virtuosic cadenza which leads directly into the Finale (Allegro moderato). The last movement is bright and buoyant, technically challenging and with a strong rhythmic momentum from beginning to end.
The compositional style is tonal and accessible with a supportive but independent piano accompaniment which adds drive and colour. Nanny obviously knew the technical possibilities of the double bass in 1938, the majority of which he included, and it’s a concerto which deserves to be reassessed in the 150th anniversary of Nanny’s birth. I think only being published in an edition for orchestral tuning has worked against it, and I have decided to create a new edition in 2022, which includes accompaniments for both solo and orchestral tunings.
An anniversary is often a good time to reassess a composer’s work, and Recital Music is planning to create new editions of a number of Nanny’s original works and transcriptions for both tunings this year.
Édouard Nanny is an important figure in the development of the double bass in the first forty years of the 20th-century, particularly in France, and much of his educational music is still in print today. He made an amazing contribution to the double bass world and deserves to be celebrated and remembered.