Gabriel Prokofiev on why the bass drum is the instrument of the 21st century
24 September 2019, 17:10
We hear it booming from car stereos as much as we do from the back of the orchestra: but why is the bass drum the unsung hero of the 21st century?
In an exclusive interview with Classic FM, the London-based composer and producer says: “It’s this instrument that’s actually everywhere, but never really given its due. It’s sort of hiding in the background.”
Prokofiev adds that wherever we go, there’s a chance we’ll hear a bass drum – whether that’s walking along the street and hearing passing car stereos, or feeling the thump of beats from bars, shops and concerts.
“That wasn’t the case 100 years ago,” Prokofiev reminds us. “Since electronic music became more and more dominant, the bass drum became this essential sound.
“It’s something that producers of electronic music especially obsess over,” he adds.
What is a bass drum?
The bass drum is the largest and lowest instrument found in the western percussion family, also found around the world.
Where does the bass drum feature in classical music?
For producers it may feel natural, but what about the bass drum’s place in classical music?
“It’s been present in classical music only really since Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – he brought it in the Turkish March,” he explains.
“It’s become more and more important in popular music and that’s why I thought it deserve a concerto.”
Prokofiev composed his bass drum concerto in 2012, and it was premiered by percussionist Joby Burgess.
“Some people might still question the idea of doing a concerto for just bass drum,” he admits. “It does seem like an unnatural solo instrument.”
“And that’s what attracts me to it,” he continues. “It makes you want to explore things and be more creative.”
He goes on to tell the story of somebody shouting out “rubbish!” as the second performance ever of the piece finished.
“Clearly some people aren’t ready for the bass drum as a solo instrument.”
We’re with Prokofiev in thinking this is missing the point entirely (watch above). Classical music has always tapped into dance genres, and we’re excited to see it continue to do so.
Watch more videos from our Discover Instruments series on YouTube.