Bass (voice type)

Bass (voice type)
Voice type
Female voices

Male voices


A bass is a type of male singing voice and possesses the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4).[1] Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef.


Variations in bass range

Range of bass voices according to the The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Middle C is highlighted in yellow.

The low extreme for basses is generally C2 (two Cs below middle C). However, several extreme bass singers are able to reach much lower than this.

Within opera, the lowest note in the standard bass repertoire is D2 (Osmin), but few roles fall below F2. Although Osmin's note is the lowest 'demanded' in the operatic repertoire, lower notes are heard, both written and unwritten: for example, it is traditional for basses to interpolate a low C in the duet "Ich gehe doch rathe ich dir" in the same opera. Other optional or traditional low Cs and Ds are sung. The high extreme: a few bass roles in the standard repertoire call for a high F or G (F4 and G4, the one above middle C), but few roles go over F4. In the operatic bass repertoire, the highest note is a G4 (The Barber in The Nose by Shostakovich); the aria "Fra l'ombre e gl'orori" in Handel's cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo calls for an A4.

Cultural influence and individual variation create a wide variation in range and quality of bass singers. Parts for basses have included notes as low as the B-flat two octaves and a tone below middle C (B1), for example in the Rachmaninov Vespers, G below that (e.g. Measure 76 of Ne otverzhi mene by Pavel Chesnokov) or F below those in Kheruvimskaya pesn (Song of Cherubim) by Krzysztof Penderecki. Many basses have trouble reaching those notes, and the use of them in works by Slavic composers has led to the colloquial term "Russian bass" for an exceptionally deep-ranged basso profondo who can easily sing these notes. Some traditional Russian religious music calls for A2 (110 Hz) drone singing, which is doubled by A1 (55 Hz) in the rare occasion that a choir includes exceptionally gifted singers who can produce this very low human voice pitch.

Many British composers such as Benjamin Britten have written parts for bass (such as the first movement of his choral work Rejoice in the Lamb) that center far higher than the bass tessitura as implied by the clef.[1] The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines the range as being from the E below low C to middle C (i.e. E2–C4).[2]

In choral music, voices are subdivided into first bass and second bass, no distinction being made between bass and baritone voices, in contrast to the three-fold (tenor–baritone–bass) categorization of solo voices. The exception is in arrangements for male choir (TTBB) and barbershop quartets (TLBB), which sometimes label the lowest two parts baritone and bass.

Bass roles in opera

In classical music, and particularly in opera, the following distinctions are often made among different kinds of bass voices:

Basso cantante/lyric high bass/lyric bass-baritone

Basso cantante means "singing bass".[3] Basso cantante is a higher, more lyrical voice. It is produced using a more Italianate vocal production, and possesses a faster vibrato, than its closest Germanic/Anglo-Saxon equivalent, the bass-baritone.


Hoher Bass/dramatic high bass/dramatic bass-baritone

Hoher Bass or "high bass" or often a dramatic bass-baritone.


Jugendlicher Bass

Jugendlicher Bass (Juvenile Bass) denotes the role of a young man sung by a bass, regardless of the age of the singer.


Basso buffo/bel canto/lyric buffo

Buffo, literally "funny", basses are lyrical roles that demand from their practitioners a solid coloratura technique, a capacity for patter singing and ripe tonal qualities if they are to be brought off to maximum effect. They are usually the blustering antagonist of the hero/heroine or the comic-relief fool in bel canto operas.


Schwerer Spielbass/dramatic buffo

English equivalent: dramatic bass


Lyric basso profondo

Basso profondo (lyric low bass), is the lowest bass voice type. According to J. B. Steane in Voices, Singers & Critics, the basso profondo voice "derives from a method of tone-production that eliminates the more Italian quick vibrato. In its place is a kind of tonal solidity, a wall-like front, which may nevertheless prove susceptible to the other kind of vibrato, the slow beat or dreaded wobble."


Dramatic basso profondo

English equivalent: dramatic low bass. Dramatic basso profondo is a powerful basso profondo voice.


Bass roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas

See also


  1. ^ a b Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J. B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes (ed L. Macy). "Bass". Grove Music Online. Retrieved 14 June 2006. ; The Oxford Dictionary of Music gives E2–e4/f4
  2. ^ Ranges Guide, Yale University Music Library, taken from the Harvard Dictionary of Music
  3. ^ Bass Guide, BBC Wales

External links

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