The Bow After Bottesini

After Bottesini's tragic death, Il Devastatore ended up in the possession of a dedicated consortium of his former students, who reverently kept it in a secret vault in Parma against the day of their Master's resurrection, an eventuality in which they fervently believed.

The students kept the bow until some time around the turn of the century when Umberto, Bottesini's shadowy arch-rival, somehow got his hands on it.

Umberto kept Il Devastatore until his death some time during the First World War.

Between the Wars, the bow dropped out of sight, as it was presumably somewhere in Germany, where it would have been considered a useless curiosity, possibly a museum-piece or object of scornful propaganda. Koussevitsky gets the credit for bringing it back to light when he found it (he never would say where, though I suspect he somehow wrested it from the control of Moristo, with which he had an intensely ambivalent relationship) and began to display it in St. Petersburg as Bottesini's famous bow. The superstitious Koussevitsky, however, never used it.

When Koussevitsky came to Boston, he brought Il Devastatore with him. Eventually, he gave it to one of his prize students there, who went on to a successful career as a section man in several American symphony orchestras.

Il Devastatore quickly proceeded through a number of hands, including one peripatetic bassist of the Bottesini mold named Miles Hognapier who moved from Seattle to Los Angeles to San Antonio to Chicago, among other places, always using Il Devastatore to the best advantage until his retirement. Apparently Hognapier was never aware that his bow had belonged to Bottesini. His widow, however, reports that the bow often seemed to move of its own accord, and that her husband often remarked that he sensed in it a mystical presence.

The Bow might have had a happy existence as a fixture of American bassdom, had not a Moristo agent snapped it up.

The bassist who lost it to Moristo was so broken by his loss that he lost the powers of speech and reason; I met him a number of times over the years and tried to sift the truth about the bow from his shattered mind, but when I brought up the subject he would only turn away and begin quietly humming the tune to "Frere Jacques" in a minor key.

Moristo subsequently sold Il Devastatore to a Japanese collector for a price rumored to be in five figures.

"We all must learn where to place our fingers."
© 1997, Jeff Brooks (