"I will relieve them of their trembling. That the death of a feeble old man should be a comfort to so many."

This dying saying comes to us from Bottesini's sister Angelina. It was recorded in 1913 by a brilliant musicologist named Keith Lowe when he interviewed Angelina for a planned but never-finished biography. She was an old woman, blind and bed-ridden, but, Lowe said, very lucid and eager to talk about her famous brother.

While Angelina should be regarded as a friendly source of Bottesiniana, I doubt the absolute veracity of her version of his last words. In his last days, Bottesini suffered from delusions that he was the subject of a plot by a cabal jealous German composers, chiefly Wagner. He seemed to have forgotten the power and malice of his true arch-enemy Umberto, and was convinced that the opposing schools of opera were locked in mortal battle, and that he represented, in some supernatural way, the Italian bel canto school. Angelina's report certainly resonates with this delusion.

But we have no evidence Angelina was with her brother when he died. In fact, she was almost certainly living in Paris at the time.

Why she should falsely credit her adored brother with last words that make him appear more delusional than he actually was is a mystery. A possible explanation is that she was hypnotized by Moristo agents.

Oddly enough, this saying is most often repeated by members of various German opera societies, who like to cite it as a prime example of the paranoia and self-absorption which they see as the death-knell of bel canto. I also found it quoted in a widely circulated English anti-art pamphlet from the 1920s titled "Why Opera Is Evil."

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