bertram turetzky

Bertram Turetzky is the key figure in the modern renaissance of the contrabass. Since 1955, more than 300 new works have been written for, performed by, and recorded by him, making him the most frequently recorded contrabass soloist in America. Bertram Turetzky is one of the few performers in all of music history to have single-handedly created a large and impressive repertory of music for his instrument.

His first LP, Recital of New Music (1964), was the first recorded collection of contemporary music for the bass. He is the author of The Contemporary Contrabass (1974), a book outlining the new techniques he himself largely developed. He is currently working on his long-awaited autobiography.

"Turetzky is a leading exponent of the double bass as a solo instrument and has extended an already noteworthy classcial technique to include a large repertory of new bowings, harmonics, pizzicatos, glissandos, and, especially, percussive effects from the use of his hands, fingers, and knuckles on various parts of the body of the instrument." - The New Grove Dictionary of American Music

"Turetzky is a stunning executant, like a great basso cantante, his double bass speaks purely and with an easy resonance at the softest dynamic levels. Even his harmonics never sound gritty. And the resourcefulness with which he strives for unlikely colors and textures seems virtually unlimited." - New York Times

"Turetzky is a virtuoso of a caliber unsurpassed by any other practitioner of his instrument today." - Chicago Daily News


Spirit Song ICR009

Long-awaited new recording by the groundbreaking innovator who redefined the bass as a solo instrument!

Subtitled "Music for Contrabass & Flute," the new album features Mr. Turetzky’s wife and musical partner, flutist Nancy Turetzky. Over the past 50 years, the couple has created a vast repertoire of new works for this surprisingly simpatico instrumental pairing.

Spirit Song includes works spanning a 650-year period – from Jacopo da Bologna’s 14th-century madrigals to premiere recordings of new works by John Alexander, Teppo Hauta-aho, Peter Racine Fricker and Turetzky himself.

Praise for Spirit Song:

Intriguing collection from the veteran US duo – Spirit Song is Bertram and Nancy Turetzky’s celebration of 50 years of marriage and music making, bringing together favourite pieces from a range of traditions. In Jacopo da Bologna’s madrigals, Bertram’s bass-lines are a hazy glow that occasionally comes softly into focus with gently percussive strokes. Simplicity is one of his watchwords throughout the recording, as in the unaffected solo in "Monk’s Blues."

Review #1 – The pairing of the huge doublebass with the dainty flute might conjure up a comical vision of unlikely association, and if they weren't both such serious musicians – this union might have just been a cute human interest story. Instead, it is a document of human achievement from two artists that just happen to be married to each other. (+)

The album is called Spirit Song, and it is a powerful testimony to the idea of matching two instruments from opposite ends of the frequency spectrum.

The album is called Spirit Song, and it is a powerful testimony to the idea of matching two instruments from opposite ends of the frequency spectrum.

"Four Madrigals" is the kind of astonishing music that only a pedigreed music historian like Turetzky could discover. The four short pieces are contemplative and full of intricate melodic give and take between the two instruments. At times, Turetzky's arco is so transparent that it sounds like two flutes are playing.

"Rain Spirit Passing" is thoroughly modern, featuring low rumbling quavers by the bass over pad-popping percussive effects by the flute. One instrument posits an idea as the other one answers it. Nancy Turetzky growls and utilizes a myriad of extended techniques to startling effect.

"Monk's Blues" (variations on themes by Thelonious Monk) begins and ends with Bert, alone, improvising in the spirit of the master. After a gorgeous bass flute statement, Boss weaves an imaginative blues tapestry as only a real "bluesician" can.

"Fracas" is aptly titled. It's a wicked 4-channel collage of instrumental mayhem, dedicated to the composer Henry Brandt, who once wrote a similar piece for a Turetzky ensemble.

Finally, "Spirit Song" is a meditative solo tour-de-force, with World Music overtones, and full of Turetzky's trademarked extended techniques. Spirit Song is a wellspring bubbling with the wisdom of experience and the joy of life. Recommended.

Review #2 – Bert's virtuosity is known the world over, but his wife Nancy's accomplishments are not as well known. A shame, because she is a flute master of the highest degree. Together they bring music of the 14th Century to vivid life, and explore contemporary classical music – much of which was written specifically for them.

Recital of New Music ICR006

Digitally-remastered reissue of Bertram Turetzky’s classic 1964 LP featuring virtuoso new music for contrabass. Out of print for almost 50 years, this album redefined the role of the bass as a solo instrument. This digital edition gives a new generation of listeners a chance to hear the first album-length recording to feature the bass as soloist – and the first full LP to feature all new music by American composers.

The album features Josef Marx (oboe), Patrick Purswell (flute), Shirley Sudock (soprano), and Nancy Turetzky (flute). The compositions are by Charles Whittenberg, William Jay Sydeman, Kenneth Gaburo, Ben Johnston, George Perle, and Donald Martino.

Click here for original liner notes by composer Barney Childs.

Praise for Recital of New Music:

Wow, wow, wow, this is fun! We have Bert Turetzky from 1964, playing compositions contemporary at that time and by no means outdated at this time.

Recorded twenty-six years ago on vinyl and recently re-released on compact disc, the first album exemplifies a truism: technologies change (at times with surprising speed), but great art is timeless. From an audio engineering standpoint, and to answer the "why" question (why re-release a 26-year old recording?), Recital of New Music sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s, but the music itself and the performances are quite current. (+)

There are six pieces, all written between 1957-63, by composers who were contemporaries – a snapshot of early 1960s art music and double bass music concepts, among other things. It is my opinion that this era of music found composers using "extended techniques" (non-pitch sounds, non-traditional performance methods, electronics, etc.) as a means of expression within the fabric of the composition, and not a gimmick or "just for the sake of."

The album opens with the electronic crash of thunder that begins Charles Whittenberg’s Electronic Study II with Contrabass (1962). Here, strong bass playing is balanced with an electronic track that sometimes sounds like percussion, jets or thunder. This is followed by the three movements that make up William Jay Sydeman’s For Double Bass Alone (1957). These short pieces are wonderful, particularly the second movement Allegro ritmico. Next is the exclamatory Two (Kenneth Gaburo), a musical debate among soprano vocalist, flute(s) and double bass; and another short three movement work, this time by Ben Johnston (Duo for Flute and String Bass). The neat second movement of Johnston’s piece is titled Interim: Brooding, disquieted, and interestingly, the composer creates the disquieted part by some long-ish silences. Turetzky delivers a superb rendering of George Perle’s Monody II for Unaccompanied Double Bass; then the album finishes with Donald Martino’s Cinque Frammenti For Oboe and String Bass.

This music and the first-rate performances here are well worth hearing – a terrific new product to enrich our bass recording canon, compliments of Bertram Turetzky.

Originally issued in 1964, Recital of New Music marks the coming together of a true virtuoso and disparate composers in search of instrumental accents and colours that haven’t been drained of life through overexposure. A comparable coincidence of ability and innovation led to Berio, Boulez and Maderna writing for flautist Severino Gazzelloni at that time. Bertram Turetzky is a phenomenal double bassist, recently heard in the company of George Lewis and Wadada Leo Smith. His first solo recording still sounds purposeful and involving. (+)

The opening piece by Charles Whittenberg pitches the soloist against liquid chromium elecrtronics, dramatic yet time-locked compared to Turetzky’s eloquent soundings from the big violin. Sonorities usually submerged in orchestral depths are given breathing space on William Jay Sydeman’s For Double Bass Alone. Another solo outing, it combines composer George Perle’s serialist preoccupations with ear-catching exploration of pizzicati and harmonics. A duo with Turetzky’s wife Nancy on flute displays composer Ben Johnston’s searching microtonal interests and imaginative metrics. Kenneth Gaburo’s Two has bass, flute and soprano voice enacting the setting of a text. The concluding work by Donald Martino teams Turetzky with the pinched timbres of Josef Marx’s oboe. Like Perle’s piece, it follows 12-tone guidelines and sounds somewhat academic, but the playing is awesome. It’s amazing that this recording has stayed out of circulation for so long.

Recital of New Music is one of the earliest solo double bass LPs, with a roll call of ‘70s and ‘80s Nonesuch composers in its credits. It opens with Charles Whittenberg’s "Electronic Study II with Contrabass," which sounds both of its time and of the moment. George Perle’s "Monody II" requires the performer to read three different clefs and use a variety of arco and pizzicato colors. Turetzky’s sound is full and gritty – very much a double bass sound without "cello envy" – but still clear.

Review #1 – Double-bassist Bertram Turetzky broke ground with his 1964 debut LP Recital of New Music, the first recorded collection of solo double-bass repertoire. Recital of New Music represents the beginning of what turned into an influential career as a performer, composer, and ambassador of the bass as a solo instrument. Turetzky has had a strong hand in the continued creation of new contrabass repertoire and style, most notably the "percussive effects from the use of his hands, fingers, and knuckles on various parts of the body of his instrument," according to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Also an author and educator, Turetzky has edited bass studies for the American String Teachers Association and wrote his own book on contemporary contrabass.

Review #2 - I find it exciting that the long out-of-print double-bass recording Recital of New Music has been digitally remastered and reissued. This 1964 recording is Bertram Turetzky’s first album of music written for him. Throughout his career, one of Turetzky’s primary goals has been to increase the repertoire for the double bass and he has met with great success – he reportedly has had more music composed for him than any double bass player in history. A tireless innovator, he is constantly hunting for new ways to play his instrument. The bass world has needed movers and shakers like him. (+)

In this day and age, there are many bass soloists and many pieces written for double bass, but this groundbreaking album, initially released nearly five decades ago, represented a huge step forward for radical bass playing at the time. For this reason alone, it should be a necessary addition to any bass player’s collection.

Six American composers have their pieces featured here, all of which were written between 1957–63. There are a variety of interesting ensembles, including duets with flute, oboe, and electronics.

What makes this album come alive is Turetzky’s passion and creativity.

Serial music, like any music, sounds mechanical and dry if the notes are not impregnated with genuine emotion and imagination. Turetzky’s early brilliance is well on display.

Unsatisfied with the dearth of music for his instrument, Bertram Turetzky's search for new pieces for double bass culminated in this first album of works written for him. This 1964 record was the first of many which document a life spent engaging with and commissioning new music from hundreds of composers over a fifty-year period. Today, Turetzky (born 1933) is recognised as one of the most imaginative double bassists around, and his book The Contemporary Contrabass is a handbook to new ways of playing the bass. (+)

Imaginary Chicago Records has unearthed this album after nearly fifty years of neglect. This time-capsule of an album features some fascinating music written at a time when instruments such as the double bass were only beginning to be explored as solo voices.

The vocal qualities of the bass are utilized in the first piece, Electronic Study II with Contrabass (1962) by Charles Whittenberg (1927- 1984). A crash redolent of a nuclear blast unleashes a series of gloriously archaic electronic beeps and whistles which bring to mind vintage visions of a science-fiction future of robots and vast computers. Fighting for survival amid this electronic onslaught is the solo bass which mimics a despairing human voice in its leaping phrases. It is the overwhelmed human heart at the centre of this mechanized nightmare, and the work is elevated beyond the amusingly dated by the historical context of the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. The solo bass's dying harmonics in the quiet conclusion reveal Whittenberg's seriousness of intent.

William Jay Sydeman (born 1928) allows Turetzky to explore the cello-like sonorities of the bass in For Double Bass Alone (1957). The glowering opening chords of this brief three-movement work establish the broadly tonal music language. The snarling sense of foreboding in the outer movements proves to be the most effective moments of the piece.

Turetzky is joined by soprano Shirley Sudock in Two (1962) by Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993). The three-minute piece is a setting of Virginia Hommel's poem about two lovers. The vocal line proceeds as though carefully setting one foot in front of the other, while flute and bass flutter and spring around, growing more excited as the text describes the arrival of rain. Gaburo's slow and leaping vocal phrases render parts of the text unintelligible, but his handling of the instruments is effective.

Flute partners bass in Ben Johnston's Duo (1963). Johnston (born 1926) builds a three-movement work of great contrast with the two instruments initially opposed and intermittently united in music which explores the microtonal possibilities of both. This is the most appealing work on the disc and, unlike the rest of the record, nods to styles removed from the avant-garde.

Turetzky is joined by oboist Josef Marx in Cinque Frammenti (1961) by Donald Martino (1931-2005). This unusual pairing of instruments is particularly effective in the second of five interlocking movements, and throughout the tone is one of lamentation leading to a quiet coda of spent energy.

This is a fascinating slice of mid-century American musical history, and while the works are less varied stylistically than a similar recital of new music might be today, the concerns of the time and a feeling of exploration are palpable.

Every bass player owes a debt to Turetzky. I am pretty sure it was at one of his recitals where I first heard Tom Johnson’s humorous and virtuosic "Failing" (1975). Ripe with academic flavors, these works hug the 1960s’ start, and yet, nearly 50 years later, Perle and Johnston’s 12-tone idiom isn’t that far from Gaburo’s intuitive response to Virginia Hommel’s poem. Within Martino’s five brief pieces we should admire the squawky oboe’s energy and the grumbling bass’s contours. I vastly enjoyed the bleepy effects in Whittenberg’s bass-plus-tape study.

Bei dieser CD handelt es sich um einen verdienstvollen Reissue einer LP aus dem Jahre 1964, die damals Bertram Turetzky als einer der Spitzeninterpreten am Kontrabass aufgenommen hatte. Das Reissue wurde von Karl E. H. Seigfried, ebenfalls Bassist, liebevoll remastert, und zeigt die ganze Kraft und Bandbreite von Turetzkys Spiel. Stücke, die den Kontrabass ins Zentrum stellen, sind eher selten – reine Solowerke stammen hier von William Jay Sydeman, Kenneth Gaburo und George Perle. Besonders das dreisätzige For Double Bass Alone von Sydeman aus dem Jahre 1957 hinterläßt hier einen starken Eindruck. In den kontrastreichen Parts zwiscehn virtuosem Zupfen und kraftvollen Streichen wird dem Klang immer auch ein komplett anderer Charakter gegeben; von schwermütig bis verspielt reicht das Spektrum. Eine wahrer Schatz an schillernden Klangfarben ist Ben Johnstons Komposition Duo For Flute And String Bass aus dem Jahre 1963. Hier scheint sich ein Umtänzeln der Instrumente zu vollziehen. Neben diesen spannenden, aber auch karg-spröden Instrumentalwerken sticht die Komposition für Kontrabass und Elektronik Electronic Study II with Contrabass von Charles Whittenberg fast schon bizarr heraus. Wie beröckelnde Eisberge krachen elektronische Klänge gegen die tiefen Streichtöne des Basses, eine kraterhafte Landschaft zeichnet sich ab. Dieses Reissue war eine der schönsten Entdeckungen im noch jungen Jahr 2011. Danke dafür!