December 22, 1821 - July 7, 1889
born in Crema, Italy, composed during the Romantic period
Giovanni Bottesini was one of the foremost virtuoso double bass players in history and a major contributor to the development of the technique of that instrument. His compositions are also the foundation of the rather small repertoire for that instrument.
His father, Pietro, was a clarinetist and minor composer, and the boy learned the basics of music from him. He sang in local choirs and played timpani in the opera theater orchestra. He studied violin with Carlo Cogliati, a leading violinist in town.
On learning that there were two scholarships at the Milan Conservatory, one for a bassoon student and the other for a bass player, Giovanni applied himself to learning the later instrument. By mid-summer he had mastered it will enough to earn the scholarship. He studied bass with Luigi Rossi, and also took harmony, counterpoint, and composition, from 1835 to 1839. When he graduated he won a prize equivalent to 300 francs for his playing. With some of it he bought a Giuseppe Testore bass, a rather small instrument that was designed for chamber playing. Legend has it that he found it in a puppet theater lying under a pile of trash. He used only three strings, tuned higher than normal, and adopted the French-style bow. With this bass, he had a successful debut at the Teatro Comunale in Crema in 1840. This led to several engagements in Italy. He also was principal bass of the Teatro San Benedetto of Venice. When the theater produced Verdi's I due Foscari, he became a close friend of the great opera composer.
Bottesini also began composing. With his friend Luigi Arditi, he went to Havana, Cuba, where he was the principal bass player of the Teatro Tacón there. While he was there, it premiered his opera Cristoforo Colombo. From there he went to the United States through New Orleans and made a sensation touring through the country to New York. He was such a celebrity that a jeweler became rich off of a pin designed in Bottesini's likeness. When he traveled to England in 1849, he successfully toured and made a major hit in London, where he played both the bass and the cello in different works. He was nicknamed the "Paganini of the double bass." He continued to tour widely, as far as St Petersburg and Mexico City.
With the assistance of Verdi, he also began acquiring jobs as a conductor (he conducted the world premiere of Verdi's Aida in Cairo, at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1871) and was able to spend more of his time in composition and conducting. His operas were quite well received, and he wrote popular pieces of chamber music. Aside from his double bass works, his compositions are rarely heard now.
Bottesini died shortly after being nominated director of the Parma Conservatory. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi