Twelve Basses Is Not Enough

David Heyes discusses Recital Music's origins and its future.

With David Heyes · United Kingdom

The Origins of Recital Music

I knew from my school days that I wanted to start a publishing company which was dedicated to the double bass, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would become such an important and integral part of my musical life and that we are close to celebrating our 40th year in business. 

My interest in double bass music began soon after I started to play the double bass, and as I saw people like Bert Turetzky, Gary Karr, Rodney Slatford, and Bronwen Naish, one of my teachers, commissioning and playing new pieces, I knew that I wanted to be part of this world. Meeting Tony Osborne in the early 1990s was a catalyst for the direction that we would take, and Tony, alongside my amazing friend Teppo Hauta-aho and many others, has helped to shape Recital Music’s eclectic and unique catalog today. 

Bass ensembles are an important element of Recital Music, now featuring music from 2 to 20 basses, and from playing in my first bass quartet in about 1978, I was hooked. Although I had read about bass quartets in the ISB magazines, it wasn’t something that was particularly prevalent in the UK at the time, and Laurence Gray, my second teacher, introduced me to the medium with a Bach Chorale arranged by the iconic Fred Zimmermann. If memory serves me well, I played bass 1, although it would have been a struggle playing in treble clef, probably sounding terrible, but I did it, and my love of bass chamber music began. 

Bass Workshops

Bass workshops have been an important part of my career, including ones I have organised or national and international invitations as a guest tutor, which usually required music for massed basses alongside suitable pieces for smaller chamber groups. When I first started to organize workshops, I soon realized that there were very few pieces in print and the ones that didn’t match the ability levels of the basses we attracted, hence the need to transcribe and commission pieces that were suitable for many different levels. The workshops were a great testing ground for what worked, but more importantly, what didn’t, and the Can-Can by Offenbach had about six or seven incarnations before I had the one that worked well for everyone. 

Bass-Fest was also an important part of my life for a number of years, creating new opportunities to perform and promote music by Recital Music’s many composers and also to commission music for the tutors and students to play. The first Bass-Fest attracted a stellar line-up of guests, and I commissioned Tony Osborne to write Carnival Contrasts for 12 basses, which we played in the massed bass concert featuring all the invited players. Over the years, Tony composed a number of octets for us, and Robert Moran composed Apparitions for 20 basses (or multiples of 20), alongside many other original works and numerous transcriptions. My arrangement of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus for bass octet was a Bass-Fest favorite for many years, and the idea for this transcription came after hearing almost 300 French Horns play a version of the piece at London’s Barbican Hall in the 1990s. 

Miloslav Gajdoš composed an amazing piece for 16 basses (Sextdeciment) alongside an encore (Bass-bis!/Bass Encore) because he knew the spectacle of seeing and hearing 16 bassists was a rare event, to say the least, and an encore would be obligatory. Both will soon be available in a digital format and are part of a growing body of publications for massed basses. 

My Dream for Recital Music

My dream was to make Recital Music the largest publisher of double bass music in the world, and as we now move from printed editions to digital editions, my plan remains the same. I want Recital Music to be a one-stop destination if you are looking for double bass ensemble music, whatever the ability level. As a composer, I have loved writing music for young bassists and have been lucky to have had many opportunities to write new pieces and for them to be performed in many countries.

Bessy’s Beginner Bass Quartets, also available as trios and with stories by May Halyburton, are primarily in 1st position and are suitable for young bassists. The Great Wall for China for bass quartet only uses 1st and 4th positions but introduces different playing styles such as percussion, Bartok pizz., sul ponticello, and more. Adding playing effects adds interest and variety, also introducing new playing styles at an early stage of playing so these simply become ‘normal’ and, when encountered in orchestral music, the basses are ahead of the game! 

At present, Recital Music publishes an unrivaled catalog of bass ensembles, including music for 2,3,4,5,6, 8,9,10,12,13, and 20 basses, with many more planned for publication in 2024/25, and my drive to commission new music for younger players continues. Bass quartets offer young bassists exactly the same challenges that violinists, violists, and cellists encounter in string quartets, which is no bad thing. There are so many skills that can be developed even when everyone is playing in 1st position. 

I love composing, teaching, playing, conducting, and publishing music for bass ensembles, and my passion for them has only increased over the years. The sight and sound of 20 or 30 basses playing together is, for me, a complete joy. I hope my enthusiasm for bass ensembles shines through this short article and do look at our growing catalogue if you are in need of bass ensembles. We are so happy to be working with Double Bass HQ and Chimes Music London. If you have any questions, please contact me, and I will be happy to help. 

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