The Death of Bottesini

Parma, July 7, 1889

Lying among the twisted, sweat-soaked clothes of his deathbed, his gnarled hands held like claws before his face, Giovanni Bottesini breathed his last, and a great light went out of this world.

A small group of his students, the only followers that remained faithful to the end, bowed their heads mournfully, then picked up their Contrabasses and played in unison a slow, dirge-like rendition of their Master's "Tarantella." Whether the slowness of this performance was because of the gravity of the occasion or because the students were unable to play the difficult piece up to tempo remains unknown.

Was Bottesini murdered?

It is natural to ask if Bottesini's arch-rival Franco D. Umberto played any part in his untimely death. After all, this malefactor is implicated in the deaths of: Evidence for the murder is scanty. Bottesini suffered from angina most of his life, and in his last few years he developed a liver ailment (it flared up suddenly and violently when he attended a performance of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung). Either of these conditions could potentially have been fatal for Bottesini in his weakened state.

However, mysterious gifts of Genovese food began to arrive for Bottesini in his last months. In his poverty, he accepted these, though he was surely aware of the dangerous connection between Umberto and Genoa. He soon began to suffer hallucinations, and under the influence of these, he wrote an unfinished, mysterious 13th opera. (The extremely cryptic manuscript is being edited by MTIC Publishers for publication in the future.) Bottesini's demoralized and terrified students sent a message to Giuseppi Verdi, pleading for composition coaching for their Master. Verdi never received the message.

During his last hours, Bottesini called for long-dead friends, speaking to them as if they were in the room. He then began to name familiar landmarks in many of the cities he'd lived in, including London, New York, Trieste, London,and Paris.

Then he weakened steadily; the final blow came when his doctor ordered Bottesini's Bass removed from his bed.

The 7 dying sayings of Bottesini

A message of condolence arrived from Umberto less than an hour after the death, further implicating him.

The only public observance of Bottesini's death was in Crema, his birthplace, which ordered all citizens to leave town for a month in honor of their traveling native son. Bottesini's students demonstrated their grief by lowering their strings by a semi-tone for the rest of their lives.

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