Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dragonetti and "IL Devastatore"

Shortly before he died in 1849 in London, Domenico Dragonetti was shown a French bow by a student of his who'd seen Bottesini in concert. Dragonetti is said to have laughed and said, in his charming and inimitable way of speaking, "Dot poco stick? Dot is arco?" -- and thrust it from himself.

The reaction is, in fact, mild and conciliatory, given Dragonetti's disdain for the younger Bottesini and consider the older man's own bow, which might be described as "hyper-german" in style.

Why "The Devastator"?

Shortly before Bottesini left Milan in 1839 for Trieste and ulitmately Vienna, he was asked to play in an opera orchestra at a small Milanese theater. On arriving at the theater with his newly-purchased Testore, Bottesini found the stage door exceedingly narrow and feared that his instrument might be damaged as he struggled through with it. In his 1899 memoir, Arpesani recounts the momentous scene:

Bottesini Thundered, "This door is too small!" and proceeded to brandish his bow as if it were a sword.

The stage manager came out to see what the commotion was, for a crowd of musicians had gathered around and were loudly berating the theater's inferior facilities.

"Your door is too small for my bass," Bottesini said.

"Perhaps your bass is too large for my door," the manager replied, hoping, I think, to assuage the situation with humor.

"Then one or the other must be altered!" cried Bottesini as the musicians pressed forward. He swung his bow against the door frame, which gave way in a splintering crash. Again and again Bottesini brought his bow against the brick and mortar about the door as the musicians gasped in amazement. At last he stopped, the door a full ten inches wider than it had been before.

When the stage manager regained the power of speech, he said only, "That bow is devastating."

"Yes," answered Bottesini, "It is The Devastator!"

The musicians cheered, and streamed in to joyfully take their places in the pit. The opera went ahead as scheduled.

The name stayed with Bottesini's bow for as long as I can remember. To this day that door is among the widest in Milan.

Numerous cities, including Philadelphia, London, Barcelona, Glasgow, and Bayreuth, have similar stories about Bottesini and narrow theater doors. I have been unable to confirm any of them, though I find it hard to doubt them

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