Psalm 130 for Double Bass and Orchestra

By Vittorio Giannini
Composed in 1963

Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) was an influential American composer and teacher in the first half of the 20th century. He served on the composition faculties of the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute, and the North Carolina School for the Arts; among his students were many prominent American composers, including John Corigliano, David Amram, and Nicholas Flagello.

A prolific composer in a neo-romantic style, Giannini wrote numerous symphonies, over 12 operas, works for concert band, songs, concertos and chamber works; his most enduring success was an opera buffa adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. His compositional style grew darker and more complex towards the end of his life, and this is reflected in his Psalm 130, a work of anguish and passion – and a tour de force for the double bass.

Giannini composed the Psalm in 1963 when he was in the midst of being divorced from his young wife, and he poured his soul into this piece. The Psalm is in three sections. It opens with a declamatory statement in the high winds and strings, based on a minor seventh, which is the work’s main theme. The middle section is slower, wistful, and somber, with the soulful double bass line set off against plaintive woodwind motifs. The third section returns to and intensifies the opening theme, interspersed with double bass recitatives, before coming to an abrupt and intense end.