Dissertation Defense Announcement
Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music announces the Final Dissertation Defense
for the Degree of Doctor of Musical Arts
March 29, 2022 at 3:00 PM in Music Building Room 125
Advisor: Dr. Janet K Page
The Double Bass in Handel's Messiah: An Examination of the Instrument's Role in the Continuo
ABSTRACT: "Double bassists face a particular conundrum in Handel’s Messiah—when exactly should they play? This dissertation will address this confusion and offer possible solutions. In order to arrive at conclusions, three areas will be examined: key manuscripts closely associated with Handel, critical performances given under the composer’s direction, and historical evidence related to the double bass in Handel’s time. Regarding manuscripts, Handel’s autograph manuscript and the copy that became his conducting score will be closely examined. As for critical performances, this dissertation will take an in-depth look at the 1742 Dublin premiere of Messiah, the 1749 revival at Covent Garden, and the 1754 Foundling Hospital performance. Personnel lists and accounts of Handel’s orchestras will be among the most prominent pieces of evidence considered. Handel’s typical orchestral bass section consisted of three cellos and two double basses. Contrary to how modern orchestras are arranged, there is evidence to suggest that the first cello and double bass shared a stand or read from the harpsichord. While these two players formed the concertino bass, the other two cellos and double bass constituted the ripieno bass group. Handel eventually made con/senza ripieno indications in his score, but little guidance is provided as to when the bass would be expected to play in many arias and recitatives. Given the accounts of certain performances, it is possible to conclude that the double bass played a prominent role in these movements except for several instances where Handel clearly writes for cello. While there is no shortage of literature on the subject of Messiah, little is offered specifically for the double bassist. This dissertation is meant to fill a conspicuous gap in knowledge and address a problem that all bass players must confront."