Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso

Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso

Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso

Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794-1846): The Career of a Double Bass Virtuoso


Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) was the most famous double-bass player in history. He dominated the English musical world for just over half a century. This critical biography explores his extraordinary career as musician, composer, entrepreneur, and pedagogue.


Dragonetti passed the evening with us . . . he came to seek his beloved wife, alias his double bass, which he had left in our care for these past two months. He has refused a sum, which few men would for their wives, and perhaps which few wives would value namely [£]800. It has been in his possession for 40 years and upwards, and belonged to the nuns of La Pietà at Vicenza. . . . An English nobleman had offered 100 guineas for this celebrated double bass, but Dragonetti, who coveted it also, won the father confessor to his side, who finally succeeded in persuading the nuns that it would be sacrilege to sell this valuable instrument to a heretic who could not give voice to it, and refused to hear their confessions until they acceded to his wishes, and the instrument became Dragonetti's who alone is worthy to possess it. At a convent in Padua Dragonetti boasted that his bass was more powerful than the organ, a dispute arose, and a wager was settled between him, the superior and organist. Dragonetti purchased an extra large string, indeed one that had served as a sign of the man's trade, and having fastened it to his bass, in the dead of night alarmed the fraternity by imitating a sudden storm of wind and thunder on his instrument in the corridors.

Extract from Mary Novello's diary, Jan. 29th/32 in Pilgrimage, 337-8

Although I will concentrate on Dragonetti's English period (1794-1846), it is important to know something of his formative years in Venice (1763-1794). He began his career there, and played at St Mark's and La Fenice. The procurators of St Mark's valued his talent, and offered him financial inducements to entice him to remain in their employment when he considered foreign opportunities, During his Venetian years he came to possess the Gasparo da Salò double bass, on which he played throughout his career.

Little research has been done on primary material in Venice relating to Dragonetti's life there. As a result, statements about these years are often unreliable. It was one such misrepresentation, in a letter to the Gazzetta privilegiata di Venezia shortly after Dragonetti's death, that prompted Francesco Caffi to write an account of Dragonetti's life. This biography, dated 20 September 1846 . . .

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