The Vuillaume Octobasse 1850
I know from experience that the double bass is a massive piece of furniture. But the ones I’ve played have been the standard jazz 3/4 size. Orchestral basses are even larger, second only to the piano on stage — and you don’t carry your piano around on the bus.
So I was intrigued when I heard of the Octobasse, a sort of bass viol which is nearly twice the size again — a genuine ‘triple bass’.
Only the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume was crazy enough (or merely prolific enough) to build one in 1850.
He was a noted devoteé of the Stradivarius and made numerous copies of the Messiah (the most pristine and expensive of all the Stradivari).
For some reason, Vuillaume decided to build one of the largest string instruments ever conceived.
It takes two people to play the full size three-stringed Octobasse; one bowing and the other using a system of levers and pedals to press the fingerboard.
It seems counter-intuitive that a 12-foot triple bass has a range only two tones lower than the standard double bass, but that isn’t the point of the instrument — increased volume and tonal stability are the real advantages.
The Octobasse appears in the orchestrations of a great many romantic composers, notably Berlioz, but I’m pretty sure they transpose the parts to double bass these days — with a low-C extension.