Mellon Scholars Program: What About the Double Bass? An Exploration of Western Orchestration

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Julia Randel, Hope College
Dr. William Pannapacker, Hope College

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Throughout its musical history, the double bass has rarely been brought forward in front of the orchestra to play a concerto, which is a solo piece performed in front of an orchestral accompaniment. In fact, there are only roughly twenty double bass concertos in existence as opposed to hundreds known for violins, violas, and cellos, and none of them is written by a major composer such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, or Dvorak. (One double bass concerto was written by Haydn, but it has since been lost.) What are the reasons for the lack of double bass concertos compared to the other orchestral stringed instruments? Is it because the composers see the cello to be a more attractive and capable solo instrument? Or is it simply a lack of concertos being commissioned for the double bass? The reason for the lack of double bass concertos lies not only within those questions, but is revealed through a study of the orchestration manuals written by composers of prominent double bass orchestral excerpts throughout the history of Western tonal music.

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