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ClassicsOnline Home » BOTTESINI COLLECTION (The), Vol. 1
Giovanni Bottesini was not only among the most famous double bass virtuosos of his time, but he was also a distinguished conductor and composer. Known to some as the Paganini of the double bass, he significantly extended the technical possibilities of the instrument. The Gran Concerto in F sharp minor is arguably Bottesini’s most accomplished and involved composition for the double bass in which the instrument’s resources are fully exploited with virtuoso passages and adventurous modulations. The popular Gran Duo Concertante, originally scored for two double basses, was reworked by Paganini’s only disciple, Camillo Sivori, who rewrote and greatly expanded one of the double bass parts for the violin.
By David Denton
Giovanni Bottesini (1821–1889)
Gran Concerto in F sharp minor • Gran Duo Concertante
Giovanni Bottesini is famous as “the Paganini of the double bass” and there is rich evidence that such an epithet was well justified. As a virtuoso on his three-stringed instrument he was a sought-after performer on both sides of the Atlantic. Ever since his first concert trip abroad, from his native Crema in Northern Italy to Havana, he travelled extensively all his life, enthusiastically received everywhere, including at the courts of Queen Victoria, Czar Alexander of Russia, and the Emperor Napoleon III of France. He first visited the United States in 1847 and Britain in 1848, with his London début in 1849. Like his double bass, however, Bottesini himself had three strings to his life: he was not only the virtuoso, but also conductor and composer. His most spectacular performance as a conductor was no doubt at the première of Aida in Cairo in 1871, on Verdi’s own recommendation, but he also held such important posts as that of Music Director and Conductor at Covent Garden in London and the Italian Opera in Paris.
A full appreciation of Bottesini as a composer is becoming increasingly possible owing to the current interest in his compositions, which for too long have been neglected. Not only did he write numerous works for his own instrument; he also expressed himself in forms as varied as art songs, string quartets and grand operas such as Colón en Cuba (Havana 1847; usually referred to as Cristoforo Colombo), L’assedio di Firenze (Paris 1856), Ali Baba (London 1870), and Ero e Leandro (Turin 1879, composed in 1875).
Gran Duo Concertante for Double Bass, Violin and Orchestra became one of Bottesini’s most popular compositions. It began as an early work for two double basses, but one double bass part was rewritten for the violin and greatly expanded by Camillo Sivori, the one and only disciple of Paganini and at one time Bottesini’s touring companion. Sivori must have thought highly of his contribution, for he claims the violin part in his own list of compositions. Bottesini subsequently appeared with such celebrated violinists as Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, and Papini. A contemporary critic wrote: “It is necessary to hear Bottesini in the piece to discover what possibilities are hidden in the giant of the stringed instruments; to hear what can be done in the way of sonorousness, tone, lightness of expression and grace.”
Andante sostenuto for Strings was written in April 1886. Bottesini had been performing in London during the first few months that year, but the composition took place in Naples, all in keeping with the general pattern of Bottesini’s life at that period: he tended to divide his time between London for work and Naples for relaxation.
Duetto for Clarinet and Double Bass was performed on one notable occasion at the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden, in September 1865, the clarinet part being played by Mr Lazarus, the greatest British clarinettist of his time. This was part of a popular promenade concert with a star-studded cast including Mlle Marie Krebs and Mlle Carlotta Patti. The Duetto follows mainly the same pattern as the Gran Duo Concertante, but while equally entertaining and equally demanding on the performers, it is on a slightly less grandiose scale. The clarinet must have been a familiar instrument to Bottesini, as his father was a well-known clarinettist.
Gran Concerto in F sharp minor for Double Bass and Orchestra, probably a later work, is Bottesini’s most accomplished composition for the double bass. The earliest date known for a performance is May 1878; a London performance took place in March 1887, two years before Bottesini’s death. In his Gran Concerto Bottesini is not content with writing a virtuoso showpiece. Whilst exploiting the instrument’s resources to the full (a fact evident to the performer but not always. to the listener), he is adopting a more involved compositional style: there is a lengthy orchestral introduction, the modulations are much more adventurous and take the double bass into keys that are not as clear-cut as tonic and dominant.
In his compositions Bottesini always remained true to the mellifluous Italian school but in his later works his range broadened with the influences of his constant travels in other musical climates.
Yngve B. Olsson, 1986
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BOTTESINI COLLECTION (The), Vol. 1