Category Archives: string bass

Double bass players grotesque?: Hemingway thought so

Ernest Hemingway

I WAS recently re-reading Hemingway’s classic treatise on bullfighting Death in the Afternoon and came across a quote which I missed first time around.

In discussing the spectacle of the bullfight, Hemingway compares the picador – the mounted torero who pics the bull with a pike pole – to the bass player in an orchestra.

The Picador

The aficionado, or lover of the bullfight, may be said, broadly, to be one who has a sense of the tragedy and ritual of the fight, so that the minor aspects are not important except as they relate to the whole. Either you have this or you have not, just as, without implying any comparison, you have or have not an ear for music. Without an ear for music the principle impression of an auditor at a symphony concert might be of the motions of the player of the double bass, just as the spectator at the bullfight might remember only the obvious grotesqueness of the picador. The movements of the player of the double bass are grotesque and the sounds produced are many times, if heard by themselves, meaningless.
If the auditor at a symphony concert were as humanitarian as he might be at a bullfight he would pobably find as much scope for his good work in ameliorating the wages and living conditions of the players of the double bass in a symphony orchestra as in doing something about the poor horses [in a bullfight].

The Bass Player

Grotesque? What do you think?