Who was Lorenziti, and what do we know about him? Is this the correct spelling of his name, or should it be Lorenzitti? The answer is we know hardly anything at all about him. There is very little documentation about his life and music, and only two works seem to have “survived” — the eponymous Gavotte and a Sinfonia Concertante for viola d’amore, double bass, and orchestra, held in the Torello Collection at the Curtis Institute of Music. In this day and age of instant communication, how many composers are as unknown and undocumented as Lorenziti? Very few, I would suggest.
When and where was he born? Where did he work? Why are there so few existing compositions by him? Many questions but so few answers.
Lorenziti’s Gavotte for double bass and piano is a fun and lively piece which has been popularised by the American virtuoso Gary Karr. Gary added the story of The Fly and the Elephant to the music and played it extensively for children’s concerts. His unique personality and sense of fun made it a great hit with audiences of all ages. It was first published by Alphonse Leduc in the 1920s and edited by Édouard Nanny (1872 – 1942), who was Professor of Double Bass at the Paris Conservatoire at the time. It fits the double bass well, making effective use of an instrument tuned in 4ths, with easy and enjoyable harmonics successfully adding to the mix. There are scale passages, arpeggios, double stops, harmonics – everything that the bass does well but without being too challenging or virtuosic, and certainly not taking itself too seriously.
As I tried to find more information about this elusive composer and hit the proverbial brick wall, my suspicions began to surface about the true authorship of the piece. Who could have written it?
Lorenziti’s Gavotte is supposedly from the 18th-century when the double bass was a popular solo instrument, and many of the leading composers of the day wrote concertos, concert works, or chamber music featuring the instrument. Composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Vaňhal, Dittersdorf, Pichl, Sperger, Koželuch, Zimmermann, Kohaut, and many others who wrote for the solo double bass, but almost always in Viennese tuning (A, F#, D, A, F) rather than for a 3 or 4 string double bass tuned in 4ths. How many other works from the 18th-century fit the 20th or 21st-century double bass so well and with so few adjustments to be made? I cannot think of any, although many of my esteemed colleagues around the world may know more.
Is Lorenziti’s Gavotte a “modern” work but in an “olden” style? The harmonic structure is not sophisticated or advanced; the solo line sits well on the modern double bass, and little by little, I came to the conclusion that I knew who had written the piece. Was it written by a double bassist?
Violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875 – 1962) had fooled the critics for many years with his newly “discovered” miniatures by long-forgotten composers, so there is certainly precedent in musical history for this type of thing. Even in the bass world, everyone is gradually realising that Dragonetti’s Concerto in A major is by Édouard Nanny and not the Venetian virtuoso. Search through Dragonetti’s manuscripts in the British Library in London, and there is no manuscript copy of this work and nor is it typical of Dragonetti’s compositional style or his other works. The Concerto, however, is not a million miles away from Nanny’s Concerto in E minor for double bass and piano, nor his 10 Études-Caprices or 20 Études de virtuosité for unaccompanied double bass. The similarities are quite striking.
The Gavotte is a very effective and useful teaching piece and introduces a number of techniques which will be later developed in more advanced repertoire. My own students have enjoyed studying and performing the Gavotte, and it is a nice and gentle introduction into more advanced repertoire, especially the user-friendly harmonics.
Having found little or no information about Lorenziti, I used my “little grey cells” and eventually came to the conclusion that it is really by Édouard Nanny. The technical aspects of the piece can be found throughout Nanny’s Method and teaching material, also the case for the “Dragonetti” Concerto. It works so well on a modern 4 string double bass tuned in 4ths that it must have been written by a bassist. Nanny was the first to “edit” the piece for publication, and having seen and taught much of Nanny’s music for double bass, I am almost one hundred per cent sure that he is “Lorenziti.” During the first few decades of the 20th-century Nanny also worked with French violist and composer Henri Casadesus (1879 – 1947) in the “Société des instruments anciens,” performing music which was out of fashion, often long forgotten. It was subsequently discovered that Casadesus and his brothers had composed many of these works in the styles of composers of the past, which certainly adds to the proof that Nanny may have done the same. Lorenziti’s Sinfonia Concertante for viola d’amore, double bass and orchestra was almost certainly composed by Henri Casadesus.
Does it matter that Nanny has fooled bassists for almost a century? Not at all! The Gavotte is a wonderful miniature which is popular with young players and audiences alike. Will it stop bassists playing the piece? I don’t think so, but it adds a nice touch of mystery and intrigue to a most charming, elegant, and fun piece in our repertoire.