A SURVEY OF COMPOSITIONS FOR BASS BY BASSISTS (1764-2007)
Wagner, Julie Christine
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In early musical eras, the double bass was primarily an accompanimental instrument, providing the backbone of the harmonic structure. As a solo instrument, the double bass was generally disregarded until the latter half of the eighteenth century. This eventually changed thanks to the contributions of rising double bass virtuosi. Not only were their techniques exceptional and unique in that era, but these virtuosi also composed pieces that would become cornerstones of the standard repertoire. By writing new pieces that highlighted their own superior techniques, virtuoso double bass players were able to set new standards to which double bass students and amateurs strived. Their compositions became so significant to double bassists because of the exciting new flourishes but also because they were written with knowledge of the instrument’s limitations and capabilities. From a historical standpoint, it is important to look closely at these pieces to see the advancement of the double bass. In a series of three recitals, I presented a survey of works written by bassists, from 1763 to 2007 that cast the bass in a variety of solo and chamber music settings. My intention in doing so was to trace the evolution of the literature for the bass as it progresses through time to help better understand the origins and permutations of the repertoire. Through the process of preparing and performing these recitals, I found that as bassists’ technical abilities increased, compositions became more technically challenging. Concurrently, as composers’ technical demands increased, the performer’s capabilities needed to rise to the challenge. I was interested to observe that although they composed in different eras and styles, the composers were all similarly motivated by the quest for new sounds and methods of expression.