"What an artist the world is losing in me."

This, of course, is also the reputed dying saying of Emperor Nero. The Italian Futurist Marinetti attributed it to Bottesini in a speech in Milan in March 1921, and also used it in a pamphlet distributed throughout northern Italy later that year in observance of Bottesini's birth centenary.

Marinetti referred to Bottesini as "the emperor," and imputed on him numerous preposterous actions and attitudes. For instance, he said that Bottesini somehow had the power to change the course of 19th century European history and hasten the risorgimento but neglected to do so. He also claimed that Bottesini was the first Futurist, an artist whose driving power prefigured the aggressive dynamism the Futurists admired. Of course, anyone who studies Bottesini's pastoral state of mind knows this claim is absurd and slanderous. Furthermore, the apolitical Bottesini would have been horrified to be connected in any way to the proto-fascist Futurists. Why Marinetti chose to idolize or defame Bottesini in such a manner remains a matter of conjecture.

Furthermore, Bottesini's classical education was nearly non-existent, so I find it most unlikely that he would have any real knowledge about Nero, much less quote him while death closed in. The only reason this odd and unlikely version of Bottesini's last words is remembered at all is that an unknown person early this century carved the saying into the back of a double bass in Turin that Bottesini is believed to have played once.

This act of bass-vandalism has all the hallmarks of an act Bottesini's life-long enemy, Umberto, would have committed -- except for the fact that the carved sentiment has the effect of lionizing Bottesini -- something Umberto clearly would never have done, even in an ironic sense. So the carver -- and his motive for carving -- are utterly mysterious.

Whether the carving was done before or after Marinetti is not known.

"We all must learn where to place our fingers."
© 1997, Jeff Brooks (mtic@aol.com)