T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

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XIV

GIOVANNI BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT

One of the most interesting and profitable things
in musical history is to inquire carefully into the
beginnings of the careers of men who have become
celebrated, to ascertain how they came to enter
into a course of life which has proved so success-
ful, and how it happened that they adopted music
as a profession. In some cases the latter result is
due to quite accidental circumstances, but in most
cases it will be found that these specially dis-
tinguished men have been born, so to say, to the
profession, and have inherited a decided gift in this
respect from one or both of their parents.

Such was evidently the case with the immortal
Bottesini, the greatest contra-bassist that ever lived,
not excepting the renowned Dragonetti (born 1796,
died 1845), who may perhaps have served him to a
certain extent as a model ; but we have no proof
that he ever heard the sounds of Dragonetti's
famous Gasparo instrument.

I am indebted to that gifted violinist and com-
poser, Guido Papini, for a few manuscript notes

io3



BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 109

on his celebrated friend Giovanni Bottesini, which
I make use of in this chapter.

The greatest performer on the contra-basso —
*'the Paganini of the big violin" — Giovanni Bot-
tesini, was born at Crema, in Lombardy^ in the
year 1822.

It can be very cold at Crema in the winter, and
it was on a chilly night in December that this
marvellous musician came into the world. There
is a small theatre in that old town, in the orchestra
of which his father played the clarionet.

Who could ever have dreamt that the son of a
clarionetist in the theatre of the modest little town
of Crema should become in after years a European
celebrity ?

Yet such was destined to be his lot, and the
successful career of this extraordinary genius was
certainly due in great measure to his own plod-
ding, industrious nature, his naturally amiable,
warm-hearted disposition, and his great love of
music.

Bottesini was not what could be called a hand-
some man, neither tall nor of a commanding figure;
but his features bore the expression of intelligence
and generosity, in spite of the hard lines and
wrinkles indicative of strenuous labour and deep
thought. There is an admirable portrait of him
as a young man in Arditi's recently published
volume of musical reminiscences.



110 VOICE AND VIOLIN

How his young days were passed may be best
imagined by those who happen to know the sur-
roundings of the children of members of an
orchestra in any small provincial theatre. Pro-
bably he went to some day-school, and in the
intervals of his lessons played in the broiling
sunshine on the pavement of the Crema streets,
or made juvenile excursions among the vines and
olive orchards in the neighbourhood, with, no
doubt, occasional free visits to the theatre.

His father, who has the reputation of being a
very superior clarionetist, probably taught him the
elements of music, and got him into the choir ;
employed him to copy his parts of the various
scores used at the theatre, or gave him other use-
ful occupation in the house. We only know with
certainty that, about the age of seventeen, he
seems to have made up his mind to follow a
musical career, and left his native town for Milan,
not so far distant now, but in 1839 a long and
tiresome coach journey.

When he presented himself to the principal of
the Conservatorio of that city, with a request to
be admitted to a free place in the singing classes,
he was informed that the only vacant place in
this celebrated Milanese school of music was one
in the class of contra-basso ! Rather than return
home, and thus sacrifice this opportunity of secur-
ing a good musical education, Bottesini determined



BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 111

to accept this offer — an offer which perhaps not one
man in a thousand would have accepted.

He soon proved such an ardent student that at
the end of three years his professor did not know
what more he could possibly teach him.

The distinguished violoncellist, Signor Piatti, was
at that time also a pupil at the Conservatorio of
Milan, and he once told Papini that Bottesini never
played better than he did after these three years'
tuition ; but, of course, he had not then developed
all the marvellous resources of his instrument.

The playing of the young contra-bassist soon
began to attract attention. He appeared in many
concerts between 1840 and 1846 ; and when twenty-
three years of age he was offered the directorship
of the orchestra at the Opera of Havanah, which he
accepted, and during his residence in that city he
wrote the music of a little Spanish opera, Christopher
Columbus, which was played with success. For
Bottesini devoted himself to the science as well as
to the art of music.

He afterwards travelled through the United States
and Mexico, and, on his return to Europe, visited
Great Britain, being received with enthusiastic
applause wherever he appeared. In 1855 he
accepted the position of conductor of the orchestra
at the Theatre des Italiens, in Paris, which he held
for two years, and in 1856 produced there his opera
Assedio di Firenze, which was favourably received



112 VOICE AND VIOLIN

by the French pubHc. During the years 1857 and
1858 he gave concerts in Germany, Holland, France,
and England, always arousing enthusiasm and
astonishment. In 1859 he returned to Italy, and
produced there his opera buffa, // Diavolo della
Notte.

He possessed at this time a very valuable instru-
ment — a small pattern double-bass by Testore, of
Cremona ; and he not only used very thin strings,
which enabled him to produce the most surprising
harmonic notes, but he usually strung them up a
note higher than the pitch of the orchestra, in order
to get the requisite brilliancy.

His reputation as a great musician as well as a
virtuoso caused him to figure for eight years as
conductor of the Opera at Cairo and Constantine,
where several of his own operas were performed
with success. It was during his engagement in this
capacity that Verdi's opera of Aida was brought out
for the first time, Bottesini having studied this fine
composition with the celebrated maestro himself, at
Santa Agata, the villa residence where Verdi spends
most of his time.

He wrote a number of pieces for his favourite
instrument — solos, airs with variations, fantasias,
and concertos. He always won great applause with
his fantasia on La Sonnambula, and his variations
on the Carnaval de Venise. His D minor quartet
for strings is spoken of as a very fine work ; his



\



BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 113

Concerto for contra-basso and his Tara7iteUa are
among the most remarkable works ever written ; in
his hands they invariably produced an immense
effect. He published also a Methode Complete de
Contre-basse. For Guido Papini he wrote his cele-
brated Duo pour Violon et Contre-basse, These two
distinguished men were on the point of organising
a monster tour together, when death carried off the
illustrious Bottesini, at the age of sixty-six years, in
1889, not long after he had been appointed Principal
of the Academy of Music at Parma. " It was in
that ancient city that he died, a city always noted
for its love of music, and whose opera-house is
capable of holding 1200 people. He left, unfinished,
a grand oratorio."

The last concert he gave in England was one of
the finest on record. It was a double concert, where
the chief attraction was the double-bass, and took
place on the morning and evening of the 17th June
1884, at Princes Hall, Piccadilly. On this occasion
he announced himself as ^'Signor Bottesini, Com-
poser and Solo Contra-basso." Some songs of his
were sung at these two concerts ; the programme
included the wonderful duet for violin and double-
bass, and he played his Tarantella and Carnevale
with immense success, besides several other pieces.

How prophetic is the announcement on the first
page of the programme !'*... His only appear-
ance this season before his final departure. . . ."

H



114 VOICE AND VIOLIN

How little did any one present realise the sad truth
of the words I have printed in italics.

It is interesting to refer here to this last concert
given by the illustrious Bottesini in England, for
since the time when John Bannister first inaugu-
rated public concerts in the reign of Charles II., up
to the present time, this is one of the finest that have
ever been given in Great Britain.

The ''morning" concert began at 2.30 in the
afternoon, and the evening performance at 8
o'clock. The distinguished artists who contrib-
uted the results of their talent to the brilliant
programmes, comprised some of the most eminent
in the world of song and instrumental music ; and
there was one amateur. Lord Bennet, whose name
was included as an attraction in the evening pro-
gramme. No less than sixteen singers were an-
nounced ; four solo violinists, three of whom were
ladies ; four solo pianists, a 'cello, a harp, and nine
conductors.

The singers included Mdlle. Elly Warnots, Mdlle.
Carlotta Leria, Mdlle. Schow- Rosing, Madame
Sanderini, Mdlle. Fernande Carini, Mdlle. Del-
phine Le Brun, Mdlle. Lydia Vigert, and Madame
Rose-Hersee (sopranos) ; Madame Bentham-Fer-
nandez and Madame Lablache (contraltos) ; Signor
V. de Monaco and Signor Ria (tenors) ; Mr.
Barrington Foote, Lord Bennet, Signor Monari
Rocca, Signor Zoboli, and Signor Foli (basses and



BOTTESIiNI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 115

baritones). The pianists were : Tito Mattei, Carlo
Albanesi, Carlo Ducci, and Carlo Ducci, junior.

The solo violinists included Signor Guido Papini,
Mdlle. Anna Lang, Mdlle. Isabella Levallois, and
Miss AdeHna Dinelli. The violoncello solo was
M. ]. Hollman ; and the harp solo, Signor Felice
Lebano. The conductors, some of whom accom-
panied their own compositions, were : Arditi,
Denza, Ducci, Tosti, Rotoli, Gelli, Costa, Emma-
nuel Nelson, and Li Calsi; and at the head of the
programme figured the name of the immortal
Bottesini, the giver of this splendid concert.

With regard to the prices, the stalls were half-
a-guinea ; reserved seats, five shillings ; balcony,
half-a-crown ; and admission, one shiUing.

That the room was crammed at both morning
and evening concerts may be taken for granted.
The first concert began at 2.30 p.m., with a won-
derful quartette for two pianos, entitled Military
Fantasia, by the talented Adolfo Fumagalli, the
first pianist, I believe, who introduced solos for one
hand. This piece of his is dedicated to General
Garibaldi. It includes four movements : (a) Night
Patrol J {b) A Night i?i Camp (both by Fumagalli),
(c) Engagements (by Bellini), and (d) Hymn of
Triumph (by Rossini). It was performed most
brilliantly by Tito Mattel, Carlo Albanesi, Carlo
Ducci, and Carlo Ducci, junior, and this was the
first time it was given in London.



116 VOICE AND VIOLIN

This spirited performance was followed by two
beautiful songs, the Alleluja d^ Amove (Faure), and
valse, La Farfalla (Gelli), accompanied by Signor
Gelli (husband of the talented Sidonia van der
Beck, formerly of the Italian Operas at Paris
and Madrid), and sung with excellent effect by
Madame Julie Schow-Rosing, of the Royal Theatre,
Copenhagen.

The third piece on the programme consisted of
two solos for the contra-basso, composed, and
executed with his accustomed skill, by Signor
Bottesini : (a) Elegia No, i, and (b) Tarantella.
It was a most surprising performance. This was
followed by Her old's Ah' d'lsabelky from his opera
Le Pr^ aux ClercSy sung by Mdlle. Carini with
violino obbligato by Mdlle. Levallois.

Then came a violin solo, {a) Cavatina (Raff),
(b) Hungarian Dance (Joachim), played with suc-
cess by Miss Adelina Dinelli.

The next piece was another composition by
Bottesini, a canzone called // Contrabbandierey
accompanied on the piano by the composer, and
sung by Signor Monari Rocca, the author of the
words.

Then came three short solos for the harp :
(a) Graftd Adagio (Alvars), {b) Tableau Moresque
(Lebano), and (c) Air de Ballet (Ketten), played
by Signor Felice Lebano.

Mr. Barrington Foote next sang Te fossi Dio del



BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 117

Mar, by Manzocchi ; Madame Rose Hersee gave
U7ia Voce (Rossini), and the first part of the morn-
ing concert concluded by the Trio for Violins
known as Serenade Humoristique (Leonard), admir-
ably performed by Mdlles. Isabelle Levallois, Anna
Lang, and Miss Adelina Dinelli.

A new song. For Everfnore, by Carlo Ducci,
accompanied by the composer, and sung by Sig-
nor V. de Monaco, opened the second part of the
programme, and this was follow^ed by two brilliant
piano solos, composed and played by Signor Tito
Mattei, (a) Espoir, MtHodie, and {U) Fete Champetre,

Madame Bentham-Fernandez next gave the fine
Recitativo and Aria from Mercadante's opera //
Giuramente \ ^'Ah ! si mie care," &c., and Mdlle.
Levallois played for her violin solo, Wieniaw-
ski's Airs Riisses. Denza's new song Like to Like
(accompanied by the composer) was then sung by
Mdlle. Le Brun, and Signor Foli followed with the
fine bass song // Monaco (Meyerbeer).

Two bracketed solos for violoncello, Ave Maria
(Schubert) and Arlequin (Popper), were played
effectively by M. Hollman, after which Mdlle.
Carini and Signor V. de Monaco sang the lovely
duet by Lucantoni, Una Notte a Venezia.

Then came one of the most striking features of
this splendid concert in the shape of a Grand
Duet for Violin and Contra-basso, played by Signor
Papini and Signor Bottesini (composed by the



118 VOICE AND VIOLIN

latter); which created a great sensation. It was
followed by another song of Denza, Tu vianchi
fiore ! sung by Madame Sanderini, accompanied
by the composer, and with harp obbligato played by
Signer Lebano ; and the second part of the morning
programme was concluded by a most beautiful and
astonishing fantasia on airs from Bellini's Puri-
taniy arranged and played with wonderful effect by
Signor Bottesini.

The evening concert began with the Trio for
Violins already mentioned, followed by an aria
composed by Bottesini, Cosa e DiOy and a chanson
by Schubert, Marguerite ^ sung by Mdlle. Car-
lotta Leria. Then the marvellous Bottesini gave
his solos for contra-basso, {a) Elegia No. 2, and
(b) Nel cor piu (Paesiello), which were followed
by a sweet tenor song by Caracciolo, Ritorno cJiio
fanio, sung by Signor Ria, and a song composed
by Rotoli, Fior die langue, sung beautifully by
Madame Bentham-Fernandez, and accompanied
by the composer. Lord Bennet's song should
have come next, but both he and Madame La-
blache were prevented from appearing. Then came
the well-known Bach-Gounod Ave Maria^ sung
by Mdlle. Vigert, with violin (Mdlle. Anna Lang),
piano (Signor Ducci), and organ (Mr. Emmanuel
Nelson), one of the gems of the concert ; after
which Anna Lang played for her violin solo.
Andante and Polonaise (Vieuxtemps).



BOTTESINI AND HIS LAST CONCERT 119

Tito Mattel's song // Farfallofte was next sung
by Signor Zoboli^ accompanied by the composer,
and Lebano played two short harp solos, {a)
Tristesse (Lebano) and {b) Priere de Mo'ise (Alvars).
Gounod's valse-song from the opera of Mireille
followed, sung by Mdlle. Elly Warnots, after
which Bottesini and Papini again gave the won-
derful Duet for Violin and Contra-basso which they
had played in the afternoon. This concluded the
first part of the evening concert.

The second part began by a repetition of
Rossini's Una voce poco fa, but sung this time,
by Mdlle. Carlotta Leria ; after which Carlo Ducci
played a piano solo, Rondo capriccioso (Mendels-
sohn), and Madame Bentham - Fernandez sang
Hope Temple's Memory and Tosti's Good-bye^
accompanied by the composer.

Bottesini's fine song // Contrabbaftdiere was
again sung by Monari Rocca, and the grand
quartet for two pianos which opened the morn-
ing concert was repeated here in the evening.
Mdlle. Elly Warnots then sang Donizetti's O luce
de quest' anima ; which was followed by a violin
solo by Papini, id) Pensee fugitive (dedicated to
Dr. T. L. Phipson) and {b) Feufollet^ played by
the composer with the most charming effect.
Mdlle. Delphine Le Brun followed with Ducci's
song ^Twas not to bcj and H oilman gave three
short 'cello solos, (a) ElegiCy (U) RomajtcCy and



120 VOICE AND VIOLIN

(c) Mazurka^ his own compositions. These were
followed by the spirited song Billet de lotetie by
Nicolo, sung by Mdlle. Carlotta Leria, and Bottesini
brought the concert to a close by his w^onderful
solo Carnevale di Venezia, which astonished all
present.

Every one went away wondering how so great
perfection could possibly be attained upon such an
awkward, uncouth instrument, and delighted with
the entire concert. It was indeed a treat such
as may occur only once in a man's lifetime, and
certainly deserves to be put on record as one of
the most striking musical features of our day.



XV

THE ART OF PLAYING IN TUNE

At one of the rehearsals of a new opera by Ros-
sini, a viohnist of his orchestra persisted in playing
F sharp instead of F, whereupon the sarcastic com-
poser remarked —

** I would prefer to hear the F there, my friend.
Your F sharp, it is true, is also very beautiful, and
no doubt we can find a place for it elsewhere in the
opera."

Nothing is easier than to accuse a violinist of
playing out of tune. It is the last resource of cer-
tain critics when nothing else can be said, and there
are cases where the criticism happens to be true !

The piano, flute, clarionet, organ, guitar, man-
doline, &c., have the notes, so to speak, ready made;
whereas on the violin you must make the note
yourself by the position in which the finger happens
to fall upon the strings.

Now, for this purpose the violin-player must have
a perfect ear, like the singer ; and as with the finest
singers the very best of ears will not always insure
perfect accuracy, so with the violinist the habit of



121



122 VOICE AND VIOLIN

letting the fingers drop always exactly into the
right places can only be acquired by long practice,
and may be affected at any time, as with the singer,
by fatigue or nervousness.

The very greatest violinists have been known
occasionally to play a little " alongside the note/'
as the French term it. It is, undoubtedly, one of
the weakest points of the violin, whether considered
as a solo instrument or as an element of the orches-
tra, and too much attention cannot be given to it.

In former years the first flute was the leading
instrument in the opera orchestra, but nowadays
it is the first violin. All the wood-wind instruments
have a tendency to rise in pitch as the evening wears
on, especially when the weather is hot and moist.
At the same time the strings tend to become flat,
and sink rather below the pitch.

When we add to this that the strings themselves
may be defective, and give imperfect fifths ^ &c., it will
be easily perceived how many '' temptations " there
are for playing out of tune.

Laziness on the part of the performer is another
cause.

Indeed, when we consider calmly and success-
ively all these things, it is quite wonderful how
perfect is the intonation of most violinists, even in
very elaborate passages.

But such a fortunate state of things can only
exist in perfection for those who have the instru-



THE ART OF PLAYING IN TUNE 123

ment constantly in their hands, and who play
always upon the same violin. With them the latter
becomes, as it were, a part of themselves. Their
fingers drop naturally upon the notes as the result
of long familiarity — habit is second nature — and
even when a string has sunk a little in pitch, an
acute ear will still enable perfect intonation to be
attained.

A well-known orchestral conductor was once
much annoyed by the constant tuning which con-
tinued long after the musicians were at their desks,
and he remarked rather sharply to a novice —

" My dear fellow, do please stop all that tuning !
You ought to be able to play in tune when the
strings are not exactly correct."

A clever orchestral artist may, indeed, be able to
do so ; but with a solo-player it is different, or, at
least, not so easy. De Beriot, who was well aware
of the tendency of the strings to become flat, whilst
the wood-wind becomes much too sharp, always
paid the greatest attention to the tuning of his
violin. Before performing a long piece with orches-
tral accompaniment, he invariably took his A about
a quarter of a tone higher than that of the orchestra.
With a piano accompaniment such a thing is not
necessary.

Of course, it is essential to use good strings,
which yield perfect fifths ; and I am glad to say
that the manufacture of violin strings has improved



124 VOICE AND VIOLIN

immensely during the last thirty years, and there is
now no longer the difficulty in procuring good and
true strings which was formerly the case. It is,
therefore, needless to say more on this point ; but I
will add a few words on violin music.

Our composers for the opera and symphonic
concerts have generally made a sufficient study of
the violin to enable them to avoid useless difficulties,
such as extraordinary keys and impossible chords,
or writing long passages that can only be performed
in the second or fourth positions. A good composer
will never be guilty of such faults. In some of the
bad music for the violin which falls into the hands
of the amateur, the score is simply copied from
piano, flute, or clarionet pieces ; and sometimes we
see elementary music announced as "for flute or
violin," which is often quite unworthy the attention
of a violinist, except as a pastime, or amusement for
the moment.

Young violinists, after five or six years' good prac-
tice, will play admirably in tune in the first and
third positions, in good compositions ; but when
they come to make use of the second ox fourth posi-
tion the intonation will be often false, because these
are, so to say, unnatural positions of the left hand,
based on theory rather than on practice.

It is essential that those who write for the violin
as a solo instrument should study the works left us
by Rode, Spohr, Ernst, Paganini, and De Beriot.



THE ART OF PLAYING IN TUNE 125

The last-named is, perhaps, the best model in this
respect. What may be termed the awkward keys
and the unnatural positions are avoided as much as
possible in the music of Paganini and De Beriot ;
and it may be safely pat down as an axiom, that
any who fail in this particular are bad composers.
No writer of orchestral music can hope to achieve
success, unless he has made a careful study of the
various instruments, and more especially of the
violin.

Much of the faulty intonation experienced at the
present time is due to bad writing, to the careless
transcription of piano music (or of music originally
intended for the voice or for other instruments) to
the violin.

Another subject which affects amateur orchestras,
now rather numerous in England, is well worthy of
consideration. I allude to the necessity of having a
piano part. It is an immense resource, and tends
to keep the other instruments well in tune. A faulty
double-bass or 'cello will pull down the best of
amateur violinists ; but the notes of the piano, being
fixed and invariable throughout the evening, tend
to perfect the performance, and it is a great im-
provement to any orchestra.

In the Italian opera the piano has always had its
place in the orchestra, and on the production of a
new opera the composer himself usually presides
at the piano, thus fixing the beat {tempo) and the



126 VOICE AND VIOLIN

intonation. During the four years that I had the
honour of acting as vioHn solo to the Bohemian
Orchestral Society my clever wife always presided
at the piano, and I am perfectly convinced she con-
tributed immensely to the remarkable success of
that orchestra, of which I will say more presently.

I am also of opinion that De Beriot made an im-
portant step in the right direction when he wrote
piano accompaniments to his studies for young
violinists. It was a great improvement on the
second-violin accompaniment, and enhances the
value of his Etudes Melodiques very considerably.

In studying scales, and double-stopping alone,
that is, without an accompaniment, frequent use
should be made of the open strings as a test of
exact intonation ; and the daily practice of the
principal scales, taken rather slowly^ will go far
towards making perfect intonation the general rule.

In double-stopping, as Tartini pointed out to his


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