New York

In a sense, New York launched Bottesini as a mega-virtuoso. It was his visits in the late 1840s with Havana's Italian Opera Company that convinced him and many others of his near superhuman abilities. Umberto's tentacles had not yet reached the New World, so his success was all but unsullied.

New York on Bottesini

New York loved Bottesini. Performance after performance garnered reviews like these, taken from a single run in mid-1847:

We have never heard anything equal to the precision of the notes upon such a difficult instrument as the "contrabass." It is certainly a wonder to be added to the seven wonders of the fashionable world.

--New York Herald, June 11, 1847

Signor Bottesini is an oddity. For the second part he performs some "harmonical" notes, which seems us the most difficult thing ever attempted on such an instrument as the double bass. But the wonder of wonders is, to be sure, the "dansante." Suppose a player obliged to jump from the top of that immense handle to the bridge, performing the most admirable dancing melody--this is executed by Bottesini, and so well, that we must call him the Max Bohrer, the Caselin, the King of the "contra-basso."

--New York Herald, June 13, 1847

We are astonished, bewitched, when his bow touches the monster instrument. There is something indefinable which no pen can express.

--New York Herald, July 4, 1847

Bottesini on New York

Bottesini, on the other hand, did not like New York. He repeatedly warned his students never to go there under any circumstance. His fragmentary American diary is full of complaints about the city: the noise, the smell, the climate, the women. His disgust is palpable in this revealing 1848 letter to his sister Angelina:

The exhalations of the many people here -- the nail parings, ear wax, lost hair, and other bodily secretions -- they gather in drifts, they accrete in the corners and back alleys, they raise the island imperceptibly over the years. In the future, New York will sit atop high cliffs. Arriving passengers will have to disembark from their ships by means of mechanical lifting apparati.

Bottesini was made an honorary member of the Philharmonic Society of New York in 1850, along with Jenny Lind, (see "Did Bottesini sleep with Jenny Lind?"). In his acceptance speech, he said:

In your city, I have learned not only where to place my fingers, but where to place my heart.

Surely an enigmatic and side-handed compliment coming from someone who hated the city as much as Bottesini did.

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