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ClassicsOnline Home » BOTTESINI COLLECTION (The), Vol. 5
These works for two double basses by Giovanni Bottesini date from his student days at the Milan Conservatory. The delightful Fantasia on themes of Rossini features an opening Tarantella, a lyrical middle section and a stormy finale. Passioni amorose, in three movements like the rhapsodic and pyrotechnically brilliant Concerto a Due Contrabbassi, begins with a light-hearted Allegro, followed by a lyrical Andante and a rondo Allegretto. The second of the Tre Grandi Duetti is recorded here in the original version for two three-stringed instruments.
Giovanni Bottesini (1821–1889)
The Bottesini Collection • 5
Giovanni Bottesini, ‘the Paganini of the double bass’, was born in Crema, Northern Italy, on 22nd December 1821 into a family of talented musicians. His own musical education began at the age of five, when he studied violin with an uncle. He also sang as a treble in church choirs and played timpani in several local orchestras. When he was thirteen his father, having learned that there were two scholarship places available at the Milan Conservatory, one for bassoon and the other for double bass, asked him which he would like to apply for. Young Bottesini chose the double bass, not because he already felt a particular attraction for the instrument, but mainly because of his previous knowledge of stringed instruments. During his audition, after only four lessons with Luigi Rossi, he so impressed the jury with his general musicianship that they overlooked his lack of technique; at one point he apologized for playing out of tune but promised this would not happen once he had mastered his fingering.
Thus began Bottesini’s association with the double bass, an association that was to bring him the greatest triumphs of his long and varied career. On leaving the Conservatory in 1839 he was awarded 300 francs which he used, together with 600 francs borrowed from a relative, to purchase the instrument that was to be the companion of his successful concert career. This instrument was made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore and was a 3/4 size Italian double bass tuned one, or one and a half tones higher than the usual orchestral tuning. The three strings were of gut and he used a slightly longer than average French bow.
Bottesini gave his first public concert in Crema in 1839 and in 1840 embarked on a concert tour of Italy with his former fellow-pupil, Luigi Arditi. 1846 found the two friends in Havana and it was here that Bottesini wrote his first opera, Cristoforo Colombo, which was performed with great success. His composing career had begun while he was still at the Conservatory with a Quartet for Harps in B minor. His operas, and in particular Ero e Leandro and Ali Babà were well-received in his lifetime and his fascination for the human voice can also be seen in his writings for the double bass. Although a recognised composer it was as a virtuoso of the double bass that he was acclaimed in all the cities that he visited, places as far apart as St Petersburg, London, Dublin, Paris, Vienna, Buenos Aires and Boston. He played before most of the crowned heads or Europe, receiving praise from, amongst others, Czar Alexander II, Emperor Napoleon III and Queen Victoria, and everywhere he played his audiences were amazed at the brilliance of his technique. His friendship with Verdi, which had begun in 1844, led the latter to choose him to conduct the first performance of Aida in Cairo and to recommend him for the post of Director of the Conservatory in Parma, a post he accepted just six months before his death in 1889.
Music for Two Double Basses
The works for two double basses by Giovanni Bottesini presented on this recording all date from his period of study at the newly opened Conservatorio in Milan. Bottesini’s classmate Alfredo Piatti, the renowned cellist, said of him that after three years of study “he never got better, he only gained experience”. One feels in these early works that he realises he has an amazing technical and musical potential and is discovering how far he can take it, rather like being presented with a Ferrari car and finding out what its capabilities are. The technical challenges in these early works, therefore, are often more demanding on the performer than in Bottesini’s later writing. For these duos Bottesini had found another double-bass player, Luigi Arpesani, who, among other things, told him where to find the Testore instrument that became his constant companion throughout his career.
Fantasia on themes of Rossini is delightfully written and features a Tarantella opening followed by a lyrical middle section, closing with a stormy finale.
Passioni amorose is in three movements in the style of a concerto, like the Concerto a due Contrabbassi also included here, and is probably an earlier work. It begins with a light-hearted Allegro, which is followed by a lyrical Andante. The work closes with an Allegretto in the style of a Rondo.
The second of the Tre Grandi Duetti, in C minor, was composed and dedicated to Bottesini’s professor Luigi Rossi. Bottesini always spoke of Rossi in the highest terms throughout his career. They are very challenging in a different way, as they are written from a chamber music rather than virtuosic perspective. It is recorded here in the original version for two three stringed instruments. The movements are Allegro agitato and an Andante rich in double-stopped harmonies, followed by a finale Rondo Allegretto.
The Concerto a due Contrabbassi is a rhapsodic and pyrotechnically brilliant work in three movements, an opening Allegro maestoso, a lyrical Andante middle section and an Allegro finale, leading to a Moderate brillante section which gradually picks up tempo to finish with a flourish. One can see the young Bottesini spreading his wings as a composer in the tutti sections which were truncated in the later version of the work, the famous Gran Duo Concertante for double bass and violin. Paganini’s disciple Camillo Sivori claims the double bass and violin version of the work in his list of compositions although the Polish violinist Wieniawski appears to have contributed as well.
For practical reasons this recording was made at the State University of New York at Purchase, NY, just north of New York City, on two beautiful instruments very kindly lent by our mutual friend John A. Scheaffer, former principal double bass of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Timothy Cobb plays on a Landolfi and Thomas Martin on a Testore.
Both players would like respectfully to dedicate this recording project to their teacher Roger M. Scott, retired principal double bass of the Philadelphia Orchestra and professor at the Curtis Institute of Music, who died in 2005.
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