Showing posts with label Paganini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paganini. Show all posts

22 December 2018

Giovanni Bottesini - double bass virtuoso

Musician was also a composer and conductor

Giovanni Bottesini took up the double bass so he could attend Milan Conservatory
Giovanni Bottesini took up the double
bass so he could attend Milan Conservatory
The composer, conductor and double bassist Giovanni Bottesini was born on this day in 1821 in Crema, now a city in Lombardy although then part of the Austrian Empire.

He became such a brilliant and innovative performer on his chosen instrument that he became known as “the Paganini of the double bass” - a reference to the great violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, whose career was ending just as his was beginning.

Bottesini was one of the first bassists to adopt the French-style bow grip, previously used solely by violinists, violists and cellists.

He was also a respected conductor, often called upon to direct performances at the leading theatres in Europe and elsewhere, and a prolific composer, particularly in the last couple of decades of his life.

A close friend of Giuseppe Verdi, he wrote a dozen operas himself, music for chamber and full orchestras, and a considerable catalogue of pieces for double bass, for accompaniment by piano or full orchestra, or duets.

When conducting opera, Bottesini would often bring his double bass on stage to play fantasies based on the evening's opera, of his own composition, during the intermission. His fantasies on Gaetano Donizettis Lucia di Lammermoor and Vincenzo Bellinis I puritani and Beatrice di Tenda are outstanding pieces still played today by accomplished bassists.

Bottesini with the Testore bass that served him well through his career
Bottesini with the Testore bass that
served him well through his career
It was almost by accident that the double bass became Bottesini’s speciality.  Taught the basics of music by his father, Pietro, a clarinetist who played at Crema’s Teatro Sociale and the cathedral chapel, he began training for the violin from the age of five, working with a priest, Carlo Cogliati.

During his childhood, Giovanni is thought  to have played the kettle-drums in the orchestra of the Teatro Sociale as well as in theatre orchestras in Bergamo and Brescia. He also sang as boy soprano in the cathedral choir in Parma.

His father was keen for him to study at the Milan Conservatory, but the family were not wealthy and the only possibility of a place was to be granted a scholarship. As it happens, the only two positions available were for double bass and bassoon. Choosing the former, he had to learn to play the double bass to a respectable standard within days, yet did so and after an audition was granted a place.

In fact, he became so good so rapidly that only four years after starting his studies - much faster than with most students - Bottesini won a prize of 300 francs for solo playing. It was enough for him to buy an instrument made by the 18th century luthier Carlo Antonio Testore, and to launch his career.

He travelled abroad, spending time in the United States and in Cuba - then still part of Spain’s empire in South America - where he was the principal double-bass in the Italian opera at Havana, of which he later became director. His first opera, Cristoforo Colombo, was produced there in 1847.

Giuseppe Verdi recommended Bottesini as director of Parma Conservatory
Giuseppe Verdi recommended Bottesini
as director of Parma Conservatory
In 1849 he travelled for the first time to England, where he would become a frequent visitor.

As a conductor, Bottesini worked at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris from 1855 to 1857. Between 1861 and 1862 he conducted in Palermo, and in 1863 went to Barcelona. In 1871 he conducted a season of Italian opera at the Lyceum theatre in London and he was chosen by Verdi to conduct the first performance of Aida, which took place in Cairo on December 27, 1871.

Bottesini's bass, which was noted for the purity of the sound he was able to produce with it, was built by Testore in 1716. The instrument was owned previously by several unknown bass players before Bottesini paid 900 lire for it in 1838. It is now owned by a private collector in Japan.

In 1888, Bottesini was appointed director of Parma Conservatory on Verdi's recommendation. The following year, he died in Parma at the age of 67.

The Duomo at Crema, a short distance from the street in which Bottesini grew up
The Duomo at Crema, a short distance from
the street in which Bottesini grew up
Travel tip:

Crema, a small city that sits on the banks of the Serio river about 50km (31 miles) east of Milan, has an attractive historic centre built around the Piazza del Duomo.  Apart from the cathedral itself, built in Lombard Gothic style in the 14th century with a tall bell tower completed in 1604, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo Comunale can also be found off the square. The Teatro Sociale, the only surviving part of which stands in Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, a short distance from the Duomo, was destroyed in a fire in 1937. Bottesini grew up in a house in Via Carrera, within a short walk of both the theatre and the cathedral. The city’s other attractions include the circular 16th century Basilica of Santa Maria della Croce.

The Conservatorio Arrigo Boito in Parma, where Bottesini was director
The Conservatorio Arrigo Boito in
Parma, where Bottesini was director
Travel tip:

Parma, where Bottesini spent his last months, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio. The Conservatory, named in honour of Arrigo Boito, who wrote the libretti for many of Verdi’s operas, is on Strada Conservatorio.

Search TripAdvisor for hotels in Parma

More reading:

The Venetian who became the best double bass player in Europe

The jealous streak of composer Giovanni Paisello

The short but brilliant career of Vincenzo Bellini

Also on this day:

1858: The birth of the brilliant composer Giacomo Puccini

1908: The birth of sculptor Giacomo Manzù

1963: The birth of footballer Giuseppe Bergomi


25 October 2018

Camillo Sivori – virtuoso violinist

Paganini’s successor was also a talented composer

Camillo Sivori was the protégé of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Camillo Sivori was the protégé
of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Ernesto Camillo Sivori, a virtuoso violinist and composer, was born on this day in 1815 in Genoa.

Remembered as the only pupil of the great virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini, Sivori began his career as a travelling virtuoso at the age of 12, having by then also studied with other violin teachers.

He was acclaimed as ‘Paganini reincarnated’, or even, ‘Paganini without the flaws’, by music critics during a lengthy tour of Europe that he made between 1841 and 1845.

During his travels he met some of the best-known composers of the day, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Berlioz and he took parts in hundreds of concerts.

After being compared to other celebrated violinists, his status as Paganini’s successor was confirmed, even though the great man had died in 1840 and was still remembered in the musical world.

Sivori had met Paganini, who was also from Genoa, when he was seven years old and had made such a favourable impression on him that Paganini gave him lessons between October 1822 and May 1823.

Sivori met Paganini when he was only seven years old
Sivori met Paganini when he was only
seven years old
Paganini also wrote pieces of music for his pupil ‘to shape his spirit’ and even provided guitar accompaniment when Sivori performed these pieces privately.

When Paganini left Genoa he continued to follow Sivori’s progress, writing in 1828 that Sivori was ‘ the only one who may call himself my pupil.’

Shortly before he died, Paganini summoned Sivori and gave him a violin, by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, Il Cannone, which was a replica of his own favourite violin by Bartolomeo Guarneri del Gesù, a member of one of the great families of luthiers from Cremona.

Sivori was entrusted by Mendelssohn with performing the English premiere of his Violin concerto, Op. 64 in 1846.

Sivori’s fame reached America and he visited many north American cities and also travelled to south America between 1846 and 1850.

A replica of Paganini's Guarneri  violin is in a Genoa museum
A replica of Paganini's Guarneri
 violin is in a Genoa museum
He made a great impression in London and Paris, a city where he lived for a few years, because of his technique and breathtaking displays of virtuosity. As late as 1876 Verdi invited him to perform his E minor quartet at its Paris premiere.

Sivori wrote 60 works of his own that inventively married virtuosity with melodic beauty, including two violin concertos.

The violinist lived for many years in Paris but died in his native Genoa in 1894 at the age of 78.

The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Camillo Sivori was born, is the capital city of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside villages of the Italian Riviera
The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside
villages of the Italian Riviera
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.

More reading:

Why the violins of Antonio Stradivari are still worth millions

The luthier who set the standard for Stradivari

How Francesco Maria Veracini became one of the great violinists of the 18th century

Also on this day:

1647: The death of Evangelista Torricelli, inventor of the barometer

1902: The birth of Carlo Gnocchi, brave military chaplain


7 April 2017

Domenico Dragonetti - musician

Venetian was best double bass player in Europe

Domenico Dragonetti: a lithograph from the New York City Public Library collection
Domenico Dragonetti: a lithograph from the
New York City Public Library collection
The composer and musician Domenico Dragonetti  - Europe's finest double bass virtuoso - was born on this day in 1763 in Venice.

Apart from the fame his talent brought him, Dragonetti is remembered as the musician who opened the eyes of Ludwig van Beethoven and other composers to the potential of the double bass.

They met in Vienna in 1799 and experts believe it was Dragonetti’s influence that led Beethoven to include passages for double bass in his Fifth Symphony.

From 1794 onwards until his death in 1846 at the age of 83, Dragonetti lived in London but it was in Venice that he established his reputation.

The son of a barber who was also a musician, Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti taught himself to play the guitar and the double bass as a child using his father’s instruments.  It was not long before word of his precocious ability spread and he was sent to the Ducal Palace of San Marco for tuition from Michele Berini, who was widely respected as the best double bass player in Venice.

Berini declared after only 11 lessons that there was nothing more he could teach the young Dragonetti, who at the age of just 13 was appointed principal player in opera buffa, the comic opera genre that was becoming popular in Venice, possibly at Teatro San Moisé, Teatro San Cassiano or Teatro San Samuele.  A year later, he was made principal double bass player in the mainstream, serious opera at Teatro San Benedetto.

Dragonetti with his three- stringed da Salò double bass
Dragonetti with his three-
stringed da Salò double bass
In 1787 he was accepted for the orchestra at the Chapel of San Marco, who valued him so highly they twice increased his annual salary to stop him going to Russia, where the Tsar was keen to recruit him.  Such was his dexterity with the instrument he was given solo pieces to perform, which was highly unusual.

An example of Dragonett's ability to exploit the potential of the instrument came when he was staying at the Monastery of St Giustina in Padua, where he produced a sound that woke the monks in the middle of the night, thinking it was thunder.

In 1794, the Chapel of San Marco agreed that he could accept an invitation to play at the King’s Theatre in London and gave him paid leave for a year.  In the event, he settled in England and never returned for more than brief visits.

He made his debut at the King’s Theatre in December 1794 and within only a few months had become famous. He was able to provide for his extended family in Venice with his earnings, but also invested in art and purchased musical instruments previously owned by Stradivari, Maggini, and Montagnana, which he would later bequeath to members of the orchestra.

He became a prominent figure in the musical events of the English capital, performing at the concerts of the Philharmonic Society of London.  Prominent figures in London society, such as the Prince Consort and the Duke of Leinster, would invite him to play in private concerts. He and his close friend, the cellist Robert Lindley, found themselves in demand across Europe and embarked on many tours.

A bust of Gasparo da Salò, in Salò on the  shores of Lake Garda
A bust of Gasparo da Salò, in Salò on the
shores of Lake Garda
In 1795, on a visit to London, the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn met Dragonetti and they became friends. In turn, Haydn invited Dragonetti to Vienna, where he was introduced to Beethoven. He also became acquainted with Paganini, Spohr, Hummel, Liszt and Rossini. He collaborated with many composers but also wrote several pieces for double bass in his own right.

Dragonetti was unusually tall for an Italian of his era and blessed with formidable strength and stamina, which was one factor that helped him get so much out of the instrument, playing parts that many double bass players would have thought impossible.

His favoured instrument was a massive, three-stringed bass made by the renowned luthier Gasparo da Salò, which he kept all of his life, turning down a number of offers, including one of 20,000 lire.  There are different stories as to how he acquired the instrument. One says he was given it by the Benedictine nuns of St Peter's monastery in Vicenza, where Dragonetti lived while he was paying in the Grand Opera. Another says it was bought from the monks of St Peter's by the Chapel of San Marco and given to Dragonetti as an enticement to stay.

The bow with which he played, which evolved during his career to suit his physical size and style of playing, became known as the Dragonetti bow.

He died at his lodgings in Leicester Square in central London in April 1846. He was buried initially in the vaults of the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Mary, Moorfields. In 1889 his remains were moved to the Roman Catholic cemetery at Wembley.

The Teatro San Benedetto in its heydey
The Teatro San Benedetto in its heydey
Travel tip:

None of the Venice theatres – the San Moisé,  the San Cassiano or the San Samuele – in which Dragonetti might have played in opera buffa exists today. The San Benedetto closed in the early 20th century and was remodelled as a cinema.  Renamed Teatro Rossini in 1868 in honour of the composer Gioachino Rossini, it reopened as the Cinema Rossini in 1937. Nowadays, the building, in Salizzada de la Chiesa o del Teatro, which is between Teatro la Fenice and the Grand Canal in the San Marco district, holds a multi-screen cinema.

Travel tip:

Dragonetti’s prized da Salò double bass is said to have been stored in a room in Venice for 150 years after his death, where it inevitably fell into disrepair. However, the Venice authorities had the good sense to hire the modern-day luthier Sergio Scaramelli to restore the 400-year-old instrument in 2007 and it is now on display in the museum inside the Basilica di San Marco.

Let TripAdvisor advise on Venice hotels

More reading:

Giovanni Battista Pergoloesi - genius of opera buffa

The beautiful music of Antonio Vivaldi

La Fenice opera house destroyed by fire

Also on this day:

1794: The birth of opera singer Gianni Battista Rubini