Patrick Süskind, Der Kontrabass (The Double Bass)


Published by Diogenes, 1960


A restless man, chained to his instrument. This is how the main character of the one-man play “The Double Bass”, authored by Patrick Süskind, presents himself. The title says it all. Tall as a man, the wooden instrument appears so dominant to its owner that it becomes the projection surface for the frustration of his life. Only the bulky double bass prevents him from leaving his soundproof room and the third orchestra music stand and set forth for life.


A civil servant in his mid-thirties, he still has a small chance for a love with Sara, the soprano singer he idolizes from afar, were it not for “the most hideous, clumsy, most ungainly instrument ever to be invented”. The nameless protagonist had started his monologue with a hymn of praise, though. But in its course, he gets more and more upset, linking oedipal conflicts, and much more, to his instrument.


With “Der Kontrabass”, Süskind, born March 26, 1949 in Ambach at Lake Starnberg, scored a worldwide success. Four years before the publicity-shy author was to cause another sensation with “Das Parfum” (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” in English), the 1981 play started its triumph on the theater stages. In 1984/85, it was performed more than 500 times in Germany alone.


The great success of the work is rooted not only on its outstanding history, which evolves in an unexcited manner. It is mainly due to the fact that “The Double Bass” has only minimal staging requirements. This makes the piece especially interesting for houses with a small budget. The monologue of the moping instrumentalist costs the theater makers almost nothing but generates a maximum of entrance fees.


And over and over again, the theatergoers want to see the piece which the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki attested a “quiet, almost smiling melancholy”. The moody contrabassist is a brilliant parable on the inner turmoil of today’s man. Highly topical in a time of seemingly unlimited possibilities but growing uncertainty, it makes an impression on every member of the audience.


Annika Backe

Signet Sunflower Foundation