Giovanni Bottesini, was born into a musical family near Milan in 1821, and although he had violin lessons from a young age, it was the double bass that earned him a scholarship to Milan Conservatoire at the age of 14, where he was also to study composition.
The Testore Double Bass (illustrated) was purchased with a loan from the Conservatoire and a relative, after discovering it lying neglected in a marionette theatre. It was to be his constant companion throughout the rest of his life. (notes on the maker and instrument - see below)
Leaving his studies early, he took up the position of Principal double bass with The Italian Opera Company, travelling widely and was much in demand as a soloist, and often referred to as "The Paganini of the Bass." He often gave solo performances during the intervals of operas, and at musical soirees. Countries which he visited include: Cuba, Mexico City, United States, England (1849), and St Petersburg.
As a composer there are numerous works for double bass, including the three famous concertos. Bottesini also produced 14 operas. When conducting opera, Bottesini would frequently bring his double bass on stage to play fantasies on the evening’s opera during the interval. (eg. "Fantasy on Lucia di Lammermoor")
• Bottesini with his Testore Double Bass
• A lithograph of Bottesini at the Musical Union c.1851
• Covent Garden Promenade Concerts Bottesini acted as double-bass soloist as well as conductor in 1867.
As a conductor, Bottesini was invited by his friend Verdi to conduct the first performance of "Aida." This was in 1871 whilst Bottesini held a conducting post at the Cairo Opera House. Also on Verdi’s recommendation he was appointed director of Parma Conservatory shortly before his death in 1889.
During Bottesini’s lifetime the instrument remained a three-string bass as was the custom particularly in Italy. Bottesini tuned his bass a tone higher for solo work (i.e. tuned to a-d-g.) But during the 2nd half of the 19th century composers were increasingly writing down to a low E, hence Verdi’s instruction in Act 4 of "Otello": soli for "the basses with four strings."
(From The Strad, 1911)
“It has been converted from a three-string to a four-string bass since its present owner, Mr. Claude Hobday (1872-1954), acquired it in the year 1894, through the instrumentality of the late William E. Hill. [Mr.Hobday was a notable collector of basses, besides owning the Testore, he also owned instruments by Montagnana, Gasparo da Salo, Gennaro Gagliano, and Vincenzo Panormo. The idea, which has frequently found its way into print, has long been current amongst musicians that Bottesini’s solo bass was of the small (basso di camera) size.... Except in the matter of widths, which are a trifle under the average, his favourite bass is to all intents and purposes an ordinary full-sized specimen.”
Later it was owned by James E. Merritt - a highly regarded player (Principal LPO) and teacher (Guildhall School of Music) in London. After he died, it was sold to Japan to Mr. Tokutaka.
Carlo Antonio Testore (1693-1765) was a prolific maker and is reputed to have made this instrument in Milan in 1716 - aged 23. However in some reference books it is his father, Carlo Giuseppe (c. 1660-1716) who is credited with making the instrument. The confusion is entirely due to the lack of labels in these fine old instruments.
The f-holes are unique to Testore’s work. The table is pine, and the flat back and ribs of pearwood which was popular with makers in Northern Italy. The design is beautifully compact. Often his instruments have a scratched double line in place of the more normal inlaid purfling.
“Lord of the Basses”
Bottesini: Music for Double Bass - Vol. 1
Bottesini: Capriccio di Bravura