Domenico Dragonetti, Duetto

the Dragonetti duo for bass and cello is very lovely music, played with tenderness and feeling” THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley


One of the most sought after and highly paid musicians in London in the early C19th, Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) shared a desk with the great English cellist Robert Lindley at the ‘Italian Opera’ for fifty two years. Known as chamber music partners as well as orchestral players, most likely this delightful little ‘Duetto’, with a double bass part just as melodic and virtuosic as the cellist’s, was composed for their partnership. ‘Il Drago’s’ legendary reputation as one of the greatest bassists of all time was sealed when he was accompanied by Beethoven for a performance of Beethoven’s ‘cello sonata Op.5 No2 on his bass. So great was Beethoven’s delight at the close that he sprang up and threw his arms around both Dragonetti and his bass!

Here is how the story goes;

"Two new and valuable, though but passing acquaintances were made by Beethoven this year, however - with Domenico Dragonetti, the greatest contrabassist known to history, and Johann Baptist Cramer, one of the greatest pianists. Dragonetti was not more remarkable for his astounding execution than for the deep, genuine musical feeling which elevated and ennobled it. He was now - in the spring of 1799, so far as the means are at hand of determining the time - returning to London from a visit to his native city, Venice, and his route took him to Vienna, where he remained several weeks. Beethoven and he soon met and they were mutually pleased with each other. Many years afterwards Dragonetti related the following anecdote to Samuel Appleby, Esq., of Brighton, England: "Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed the desire to hear a sonata. The contrabass was sent for, and the Sonata, n°2, of Op.5, was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immovably fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument". The unlucky contrabassists of orchestras had frequent occasions during the next few years to know that this new revelation of the powers and possibilities of their instrument to Beethoven was not forgotten." (Alexander Wheelock Thayer, 1967)

Was it indeed because of this early encounter with the highest quality bass playing that Beethoven wrote such daring and challenging bass parts in the years that were to follow? As might be expected he was seeming quite a strong willed character as can be gleaned from a piece of contemporary correspondence (see below). Someone had suggested Signor Dragonetti was “in a state of infirmity and decay” and he was having none of it! Interestingly he had his good friend Vincent Novello (a name that will be familiar to most musicians even today from the publishing company he founded) write a refutation as Dragonetti felt his mastery of the English language was not quite up to the task. 


Dragonetti was one of the highest paid musicians of his day earning something in the region of £67,000 (in today’s money) for his season at the opera which is quite astonishing. What is even more amusing in the light of his commanding such a salary, is how the orchestra manager’s notebook is littered with irritated comments regarding how Dragonetti would fail to turn up to this or that rehearsal due to other musical commitments! However it was at the opera that Dragonetti struck up a close and enduring friendship with the cellist Robert Lindley. And for Dragonetti there was no sitting at the back of the orchestra as is the way for the bassists of today - he sat at the front sharing a music desk with his cellist friend Lindley. Dragonetti and Lindley gained somewhat of a reputation for their duet playing, especially playing the sonatas by their contemporary Arcangelo Corelli.

“Taken as a whole, this is a fascinating disc, well worth hearing for Daly’s outstanding lyricism and command of his instrument” THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley