Lower Bass Repertoire
Date: September 6, 2010
First some observations, then a request.
The "standard" bass compass is higher than a lot of singers, including me, can usefully manage, but there is very little repertoire to make use of our middle to lower register. I possess a voice that, even among singers, is low but not exceptionally low. In most of the (largely amateur) choirs that I sing in, I meet with people that have as much facility below the bass clef or as much difficulty at the top end as I have. A large proportion of the standard repertoire has so many notes at the top end that the choir tenors can sing it more easily than the basses. It doesn't sound good to go quiet or into falsetto at the peak of a musical phrase and I suspect that a great many lower basses get put off choral singing early as a consequence. And yet when directors lament a lack of men, they especially miss high tenors and low basses.
It's not just a matter of the highest notes. I struggle to chant a monotone at A 220Hz but can usually manage a handful of middle Cs or the occasional D before having to resort to falsetto. A sad consequence of attempting high notes is that the low ones vanish. In Faire is the Heaven, I have seen a whole section lose their low Db at the end of a testing, high-lying anthem. In the octave around A 110 Hz, we can enjoy flexibility, power, control and variety of tone, in the register where we are usually given a few cadential notes or a long drone. I once had a great time singing Die Forelle with an accompanist who didn't mind my putting the voice down a minor seventh and the piano part up a tone.
Choral parts vary by composer. At the high end are Stanford, Vaughan Williams (with rare exceptions, like Greensleeves), Handel, Haydn, Schubert. Lower are Bairstow, Bach, Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Gabrieli (provided the editor takes the lower choice regarding chiavette!), Monteverdi, and of course the sacred Russian Orthodox tradition.
Looking for solo repertoire, it gets very, very sparse. Transposition is definitely second best. Feasibility aside, it is a lot of extra work to produce something that is not quite what the composer was after. A long search turned up:
These last two need nothing below a C. After that there is a gap to
This has two endings, of which the composer preferred the lower. That is comfortable enough, but only when I've just got up. It's probably asking too much to have a choir and congregation or audience ready and waiting, so I'll have to settle for the higher version in public. It does however demonstrate that there are people capable of singing musically repertoire that is far lower than the limits usually imposed in the west.
Enough observations. The request:
Can you please suggest some more repertoire? Choral parts with rewarding lines for low basses or solo material with no need for transposition. If you are yourself the composer or the rights holder, please say so. It will help a lot to know whom to contact about performances, YouTube permissions and so on. If the moderators agree to it, I'll collate the responses and ask for them to be made into a resource.
I suspect there is a similar need for low female repertoire. Hearing a woman singing in the tenor compass is a very different experience from hearing a man singing at the same pitch. It will be interesting to hear of music composed deliberately for the timbre of a low female voice, whether solo or ensemble. Maybe that should be another thread.
Thank you for your suggestions.
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