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Gary Karr: Bass Virtuoso 
Dez Cordas: Pilgrimage 
- Advanced difficulty
- Standard notation
Alec Wilder’s Suite for Double Bass and Guitar (“in D”) is not to be confused with the Suite for Double bass and Piano written by the same composer. It is unknown when the guitar-bass duet was written. Now, the Alec Wilder papers and manuscripts are housed at the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music and at the New York Public Library. The Sibley Library has a separate room named after him recognizing his importance as a composer and former student of the School. Wilder attended the Eastman School for a couple of years studying composition but never graduated.
Wilder is best known for his output as a popular song composer, but his talents extended far beyond that. While he wrote songs such as I’ll be Around and A Long Night for singers like Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, Wilder also composed a large number of Classical music pieces. Some of these were solo and chamber music pieces he dedicated to his friends. He also wrote larger compositions, and even a number of operas.
There are already some fabulous recordings of the Suite for Double Bass and Guitar available, such as this one by Gary Karr (http://www.isbstore.com/gary-karr-bass-virtuoso.html). Dez Cordas also sounds amazing: (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/pilgrimage/id995463208). These two performers made very different interpretational choices not only in terms of playing style, but also in terms of the realization of the actual notes in the score, which is, unfortunately, necessary with the current edition available. In this post I will not try to put any labels on Wider’s musical style or discuss the significance of the Suite in the repertoire of chamber music. Instead I have compiled an informal errata list that you can use to save time and frustration should you choose to perform this piece. You’re welcome!
The current edition consists of a copy of handwritten parts, but there is no score available. The bass player will get dizzy just looking at the part, because the composer or editor changes octaves in notation (ottava) at the most inconvenient places. This happens frequently throughout the piece. Another inconvenience is that there are no measure numbers, so it makes rehearsals difficult. However, there is a reason for not having measure numbers, which I will discuss below. It is a good idea for performers to agree upon section numbers.
I learned that this edition is not a copy of Wilder’s own handwriting, but of someone else’s. Therefore, we do not know whether the typos in the piece come the composer’s neglect or that of the copyist. However, it seems like the guitar part has more than just typos. It also contains unplayable passages or notes that need to be changed in order to allow performance.
The Bass part
For the bass part corrections I will use measure numbers according to the double bass part.
- In the second bar an eighth note value rest is missing.
- M. 20- the note values add up to 6/4 instead of the actual 5/4 meter. On Dez Cordes recording, instead of 6 eighth notes two groups of triplets are played, therefore. On the Gary Karr recording the written eight notes are played, therefore, the guitarist had to alter the guitar part to expend to 6/4.
- In bass part mm. 22-23 is in 5/8, but the guitar part is in 5/4. Later 5/4 in bass part vs. 5/8 in guitar part. This is the reason for different number of measures in the two parts! Also it may be the reason for not having a score with both instruments (problem with alignment).
- Bar 36 is 5/4, therefore, the value of the Ab is a dotted whole note.
- In the guitar part there is a ritenuto written in in bar 37, hence the "a tempo" indication in bar 38. There should be a ritenuto in the bass part as well.
- M. 47 is a 5/4 measure between two 6/4 measures. However, there is 6/4 value in that bar as well. On the Dez Cordas recording the first and second quarter notes (that are tied to the Eb and to the Ab) are shortened to eighth notes. On Gary Karr recording we hear the rhythm as it is, so probably the guitarist had to alter the music.
- M. 58 there are 7 measures of rest (could be read as 1)
- Mm. 67-70 pizzicato chords need reworking, as it is impossible to play all the notes at once in the given tempo. Both on the Dez Cordas and the Garr recording we hear the middle voice eliminated (that is what I did too).
- Last few measures -the guitar has an extra 8th note rest notated. Guitar should play the chords on the 5th eights note (last beat of the 5/8 measure).
- M. 17. – First note is a quarter note.
- mm. 21-22 – quarter notes instead of half notes.
- m. 14 - quarter notes instead of half notes
The Guitar Part
Measure numbers used according to the guitar part
Courtesy of Marc Rosenberg
- mm. 7-10 – the chord written is possible, but doesn’t work well with the melody. I took out the E and played the melody all on the first string.
- m. 11-12- I played the chords as written knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hold all of the notes for written durations. Measure 11, I would let go of the D. In measure 12, I would have to block the E to play the F#.
- m. 13: is not possible. I made the decision to take out the D# in the chord, but would play it in the melody, this forces the C in the middle of the chord to not ring for entire duration.
- m 16: not possible. I took out the D.
- m 17: not possible. I took out the higher C# in the first chord. There is already a lower C# anyway.
- Regarding m 67-75: I’ve heard recordings where people play some of those chords an octave lower. I found them possibly to play and worth the effort to play those higher chords as written. The guitar is by itself, and so guitarist can take a little bit of time.
- m 77: I took out the Bb to continue barring at the 4th fret and to allow the melody to be more fluid.
I essentially had to rewrite the entire second movement. Having the chords written as high they were took away from fluidity of the accompaniment and were mostly just not possibly to play. What I mostly did was take all the higher chords and dropped them an octave. This didn’t solve all of the problems with the chords. Some of the voicings are still not possible, and at the point, it became choosing which notes to drop, or sometimes changing octaves of individual notes which would change the voicings but keep all of the notes.
The whole movement is a single line written in a comfortable range. No changes necessary as long as fingerings properly chosen.
Also a movement that the majority works well for the instrument if proper fingerings are utilized.
- m. 22: For the second chord of m 22 (the same chord in m 23), I dropped the lower D-natural.
- m. 42: The chord written at the fermata is not possible to play as written. I remember a recording that played it with the low G# by itself, lifting off of it, and strumming some combination of the rest of the notes written. What I decided to go with, was to bring the low G# up an octave, the low D up an octave, and stuck with F-natural and C# on top. This allows the guitarist to bar at the 6th fret. In summation, the chord that I play is: G# D F C#
- m. 43: I got rid of the E.
- m 47: I dropped the C# an octave lower. This allowed the rest of the notes to remain.
- m. 49: I got rid of the E in the middle of the chord.
- m. 68: In order to (as directed in the music) “let ring if possible,” I arpeggiated a Bb-major 7 chord in first position and played the harmonic C in measure 69 as an artificial harmonic on the second string.
Is also a movement that is mostly single line writing. This one is not always as comfortable to play as the Mov. III, but again with well-thought out fingerings it’s possible. The few chords written did not need to be changed.
I would be interested to see whether the edition errors came from the manuscript or the copyist made the mistakes. I tried to contact Margun Music (the publisher), however, all roads lead to the distributors, Shewanee and Thompson edition, whose representative could not answer my question.
I would also like to know if Wilder had the chance to coach anyone playing this piece and what kind of suggestions he made regarding style.
If you have any answers to these questions, please let me know!