The legendary and iconic Finnish bassist-composer Teppo Hauta-aho celebrates his 80th birthday on 27 May 2021 and has the distinction of being the most prolific double bass composer in the history of the instrument. His seminal piece Kadenza, composed for his graduation recital at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, is probably the most performed contemporary work of the past fifty years. Every self-respecting international double bass competition features it in the repertoire list, and it is the composer’s most performed work. Kadenza is an amazing piece for unaccompanied double bass, which explores and exploits a wealth of techniques, colours, and timbres throughout the range of the instrument, but has also overshadowed many of the composer’s other great works for the double bass.
Teppo Hauta-aho has composed for every ability level, from complete beginner to virtuoso and from one to sixteen basses. His music is beautifully written for the double bass and, although there are often aspects which may challenge the technical and musical skills of the performer, it was written by a bassist, so it must work, and the skill is to discover the new techniques for yourself. Teppo Hauta-aho is self-taught as a composer, but his experience as a classical and orchestral bassist, alongside his work in the jazz and improvisation worlds, imbues his music with a freedom and rhapsodic richness which has endeared it to bassists the world over. Surely the influence of Jean Sibelius, alongside the beauty of the vast, open, and bleak landscapes of his native Finland, has also played a part in his musical development and helped create a musical language which is “typically Teppo.”
Hauta-aho is able to write music which is both performer and audience-friendly, with the ability to create mini-masterpieces for every ability level. Jazz-Sonatine for unaccompanied double bass was composed for a young bassist and includes three short pizzicato pieces, each dedicated to an American jazz-great. Focusing primarily on 1st position, Paul is influenced by the playing style of Paul Chambers (1935 – 1969) and features a walking bass line which would happily underpin many a jazz solo. The composer’s great skill is to create music which feels like an accompaniment but which also works well as a solo followed by a short cadenza which leads into Charlie, a gloriously slow and sultry slow movement, influenced by the music of Charles Mingus (1922 – 1979). The piece could easily be a 3.00 am jam session when the audience has gone home, and the musicians are performing for the sheer enjoyment of making great music together. Scott is lively and energetic, influenced by the playing of Scott LaFaro (1936 – 1961), and brings the suite to a fun and successful conclusion. Who would have thought that so much wonderful music can be written when restricted to a few playing positions? The music is loved by all young bassists, and Teppo Hauta-aho’s jazz experience is felt in every bar of the piece.
Pieni Basso Fantasia (A Little Bass Fantasy) is more challenging than Jazz Sonatine but still remains predominantly in bass clef. In one extended movement and lasting around five minutes, it demonstrates what can be achieved in the orchestral register of the instrument, using traditional notation and effects. This is “classic” Hauta-aho territory combining pizzicato and arco techniques, double stops, and glissandi, and would make a useful introduction for any bassist who is starting to venture into lyrical contemporary music. There are opportunities to create a wealth of colours and timbres, to develop a knowledge of sul ponticello and tremolando, and to explore the many musical and technical possibilities of the solo double bass without venturing out of bass clef. Pieni BassoFantasia is another mini-masterpiece which offers much to performers and audiences alike.
Rhapsody — a Munich Impression was inspired by the Munich International Double Bass Competition in 1985, and Teppo Hauta-aho recalls, “I was following the Munich Competition because Kadenza was the obligatory piece. I wanted to write a melodious piece to show the audience that you can play long melodies and express many feelings through the double bass.” Rhapsody is an advanced work, both musically and technically, and requires a player with an excellent technique but also the skills to create new sound worlds and musical vistas throughout its eight-minute duration. Although contemporary in style and design, a modern lyricism is ever-present and demonstrates the sonorous and singing qualities of the solo double bass. Rhapsody is so much more than an eight-minute piece for unaccompanied double bass and amply demonstrates how far the double bass has developed through the 20th-century.
Kadenza is Teppo Hauta-aho’s most famous work, and rightly so, but the composer’s 80th year is a perfect opportunity to explore more of his outstanding and amazing output. He has composed music for every ability level, in a range of styles and idioms, and I can guarantee that the research will pay dividends many times over. 2021 is a great excuse to find out more about his music and to celebrate the music of this much-loved and respected figure in the international bass world.
[highlight]Happy 80th birthday to Teppo Hauta-aho.[/highlight]