Dragonetti (1763 - 1846) - became a member of the Philharmonic Society in London in 1816 and continued to play at the Society’s concerts along with his life-long friend & cellist Lindley for almost 30 years. Although he never played a concerto with this Society, he took part in many performances of chamber music by composers such as Spohr, Onslow, Beethoven, Hummel and Cramer.
Even in his first season with the Society (1816) Dragonetti, took part in some historic first English performances - the Beethoven Septet and Symphony no.5. Dragonetti was also present @ the first performances of Beethoven’s Symphony no.7 (1817), Piano Concertos 1 (1822) and 3 (1824). The Philharmonic Society commissioned the Beethoven Choral symphony in 1822, gave the first UK performance of the work on March 21, 1825 conducted by Sir George Smart, at the New Argyll Rooms. (Dragonetti wasn’t present on this occasion.)
During Dragonetti’s lifetime the instrument remained a three-string bass as was the custom.
In the spring of 1799, the greatest contrabassist in music history, Domenico Dragonetti, stayed in Vienna and also made Beethoven’s acquaintance.
As the letter (Thayer: 208:-) later told Samuel Appleby from Brighton,
“ Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument, and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed his desire to hear a sonata. The contrabass was sent for, and the Sonata, No. 2, of Op. 5, was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immediately fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument. ”
Mendelssohn was a frequent visitor and conducted first performances of the 1st & 4th Symphonies, and the "Hebrides" overture for the Society (1833).
The Philharmonic Society concerts were in addition to Dragonetti’s many other commitments of which the most permanent was the King’s Theatre Orchestra. His assistant at the Opera for many years was James Howell, although it is said his closest companion was his dog Carlo, who would sleep under his stool during performances!
1st performance of Giselle in Paris, from The Morning Post, July 1841. "Taking it all together, the music was remarkably dramatic and appropiate to the situation, and above the common order of ballet music...It was quite reviving to see his nod at the basses, as they led off with rare vigour (except from our Dragonetti and Howells) in the fugue."
On one occasion, Dragonetti came to the rescue of the Anglo French composer Georges Onslow; when one of the cellists went sick at a performance of one of Onslow’s string quintets, the Italian contrabassist took over the part. Onslow was so pleased with the result that, from that time on, he made the 2nd cello part in all his quintets optional for double bass.
Dragonetti died in his Leicester Square lodgings at the age of 83. His will is fascinating to read, as he had collected a large number of instruments during his life - not just basses. At the head of the bequests was his Gasparo da Salo double bass which was to be returned to the Chapel of St. Marco in Venice where he played early in his career. Dragonetti would often bring back fine Italian basses from his travels abroad, and some of these are also mentioned in his will. (see The Times announcement 1846)