Domenico Dragonetti

(1763-1846) Born in Venice, Dragonetti stayed there, playing in the orchestra at San Marco until he moved to London at age 21 and settled there.

Dragonetti had no family, though he kept a collection of life-sized cloth mannequins, with which he traveled often; he brought them to his concerts and had them placed in front row seats of theaters. He introduced one of these as his wife (one shudders at the implications of this piece of eccentricity). His closest companion for several years was his dog Carlo, who would sleep under his stool during performances, sometimes awakening to howl during tenor solos.

Dragonetti and Bottesini never met, though there is some evidence that the two of them were both in Vienna at the same time for several months in 1843. Whether their lack of contact was intentional on the part of one or the other is a matter of conjecture. There is record of Dragonetti's disdain for Bottesini's bow.

Dragonetti's Bass

Dragonetti speculated widely in basses -- the major source of his considerable wealth was through the sale of fine instruments. His pride, though, was a magnificent instrument made by Gasparo da Salo, given him by nuns after a stunning performance in their convent.

Today, the Bass is on display in an upper room in San Marco, Venice, where it was sent by Dragonetti's wish after his death. It stands in a cabinet between a narwhal tusk and an antique Turkish crossbow. No one, not even a renowned Bass scholar, is allowed to touch it; Bottesini himself once asked if he could sample its power and was refused. For 150 years, this fine bass has stood a museum curiosity, tucked away where the only people who will see it are those who know to ask chapel personnel, "Dov'e il contrabasso?" Perhaps a fitting end for Dragonetti's enigmatic legacy.

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