Giovanni Bottesini as most influential contrabass maestro of the Romanticism
Giovanni Bottesini by Vespasiano Bignami
Giovanni Bottesini was an Italian composer and legendary contrabassist of the Romantic period whose work for solo double bass still defines the repertoire for this instrument. His career as a contrabass performer began, to a certain extent, unexpectedly when at the age of fourteen he trained on the instrument in preparation for admission to the Milan Conservatory which, at that time, guaranteed a scholarship only to students of the bassoon and double bass classes.
Already a skilled violinist, Bottesini began his studies with a double bass tutor just a few weeks before the entrance tests at the conservatory, thinking that he would subsequently transfer to violin classes while retaining his scholarship.
Reportedly, Bottesini did not play well in front of the examination jury but caused them to laugh, joking that he, of course, heard the false notes in his performance and would stop it as soon as he found out where to put his fingers.
"Sento o Signori, di stonare, ma quando saprò dove posare le dita, allora non stonerò più!"
Bottesini enrolled in the conservatory and was so interested in double bass that he no longer thought about a violinist career. With his first scholarship, he bought an antique double bass which he would go on to play throughout his life, developing innovative performing techniques that earned him the flattering nickname "the Paganini of the Double Bass".
Listen to Bottesini's Allegro moderato from Concerto No. 2 in B Minor for Double Bass and Orchestra performed by Edgar Meyer and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra:
Despite the obvious difficulties accompanying travellers in the 18th century, Giovanni Bottesini toured extensively throughout his life, showing his tremendous bass skills as well as directing opera orchestras in Europe and both Americas. Even as a conductor, he often filled intermissions between opera acts by performing his own compositions for solo double bass which are still the core of the repertoire of contemporary musicians.