‘The Double-Bass’ by Patrick Süskind

A startling monologue as a double-bass player in a government-funded German regional orchestra sits at home drinking beer and lets rip on the entrapment of the instrument that, to him, is the cornerstone of the orchestra.

Yet, as he talks, the anonymity, the loneliness, the alienation of the double bass kicks in to his ramblings – an unloved instrument where no great composers ever wrote real music for it. I’ll play you the standard work for double-bass…the concerto by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf…There. That’s it…All in all there are more than fifty concertos for double bass…have you ever heard of Johann Sperger? Or Domenico Dragonetti? Or Bottesini? Or Simandl or Kussewitzki or Hotl or Vanhal or Otto Geier or Othmar Klose? Have you heard of any of them? Those are the luminaries of the double-bass. He’s particularly put-out as he admires Sarah, a young, emerging mezzo-soprano. Whilst she can spend time with voice coaches and piano or violin accompaniments, the double-bass offers nothing. There is no sex-appeal or attraction.

Sitting alone in his sound-proofed apartment, the physical presence of the musical instrument is, to him, overpowering – always there, an intimidating dominant second character. He fantasises about winning Sarah by yelling out her name as silence falls in the auditorium at the forthcoming festival premiere of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. As the novella closes, that possibility is left open.

It’s short, it’s bittersweet. The Double-Bass started life as a one act monologue, premiering at a theatre in Munich and where the actor played the double-bass on stage. It would have undoubtedly had more impact than a single night’s reading of its 60 pages.