Domenico Dragonetti

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Queensland University ofTechnology]On: 22 November 2014, At: 23:58Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales RegisteredNumber: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Domenico DragonettiRodney SlatfordPublished online: 28 Jan 2009.

    To cite this article: Rodney Slatford (1970) Domenico Dragonetti,Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 97:1, 21-28, DOI:10.1093/jrma/97.1.21

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  • Domenico Dragonetti

    RODNEY SLATFORD

    A SHORT PAPER can give but a glimpse at the life of a pro-fessional musician who worked in London for over half acentury. Baptised Domenico Carlo Maria, Dragonetti wasborn in the poor parish of St. Gervasio and St. Protasio (calledSt. Trovaso), Venice. As with most details of his early life,there are conflicting reports as to his date of birth. VincentNovello gives 10 April 1763,1 but Caffi, the musical historianand friend of Dragonetti, gives 7 April.s Other dates that arevariously given include 17553 (a date which also appears onone of Dragonetti's bows, now in the author's possession),'1762 or 1764'/ and 1771.5

    Of his mother, Caterina Calegari, nothing is known, but hisfather, Pietro, was probably a barber. Some sources say heplayed the kettle drums, others that he played the doublebass and guitar. The Dictionary of National Biography is romanticenough to suggest that he may have been a gondolier, whileThe Musical Magazine was more specific about his bass playing,and said he 'excelled in accompanying a band at balls'.6

    Whatever his occupation, the money he earnt was little, andas a result Domenico had no education other than that whichfamily life and the local priests could provide.

    His early musical tuition seems to have stemmed from hisown curiosity. Novello recounts how he 'was accustomedsurreptitiously to purloin his father's guitar, and in a remotequarter of the house to practise upon the instrument'.7 Healso learnt the violin, picking up some knowledge of thisfrom a shoemaker friend, Sciarmadori [Schiamadori ?].Applying these basic principles to the double bass, he con-tinued to practise secretly in the house. One day he surprised

    1 British Museum, Add. MS 17838, f. 437.* F. Caffi, Storia delta Musica Sacra, Venice, 1855, ii. 73-91. Grove's Dictionary, 1st edn., London, 1879-89.* The Times, 18 April 1846.6 F. J , Fitis, Biographie universelle des musiciens, 1st edn., Brussels, 1835-44. 'Sketches of the Lives of Celebrated Musicians. No. I V , The Musical

    Magazine, i (1835), 55.' 'Orchestral Sketches', The Musical World, i (1836), xi. Novello's

    authorship is revealed in The Illustrated London News of 25 April 1846,where the article, originally unsigned, was used for Dragonetti's obituary.

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  • 22 DOMENICO DRAGONETTI

    everybody by accompanying his father's violinist friendDoretti in public. This he did so well that Doretti persuadedPietro to allow his son (then aged twelve) 'to accompanyhim at the various concerts he attended in Venice'.8 Hewas given eleven lessons by a Venetian, Michele Berini, whothen declared he could teach him nothing further.

    At the age of thirteen he was appointed primo basso at theOpera Buffa in Venice, and at fourteen held the same positionat the Grand Opera Seria. Later he succeeded Berini at theDucal Chapel of St. Mark's, and also played in the opera atVicenza. By this time 'his fame had spread beyond Italy, andhe was offered an engagement at the Imperial Opera in St.Petersburg, upon which the Procurators of St. Mark's im-mediately raised his salary'.9

    One of his closest friends in Venice was the violinist NiccoloMestrino, and the two passed many hours experimenting with'scientific and accurate exercises on the violin and doublebass' and also composing ' "capncci" and other short pieces'.10

    Probably many of Dragonetti's compositions were writtenat this time. When not playing at the opera or studying, hecould often be seen with Mestrino, serenading passers-bywith violin and guitar. Caffi suggests that the young singerBrigitta Banti was frequently seen singing in the cafes, whereshe was accompanied by Dragonetti on a small portabledouble bass. Sometimes they had a violinist with them who,if not Mestrino, could well have been the young virtuosoGimbattista Cimadoro.

    Cimador (to use the name he preferred in England), wasnot only a violinist; he played the piano and the cello, and hecomposed. His operas met with great success both on thestages of Venice and, later, in London. The concerto he wrotefor Dragonetti (to which Dragonetti later added a movementof his own), illustrates well both the humour and the lyricalcantabile that must have made Dragonetti's own performancesso popular.a

    In 1794, encouraged by Cimador and Banti, both of whomhad already left Venice, Dragonetti, then aged 31, obtainedleave of absence from St. Mark's. London newspapers on 13October announced that 'rehearsals for the ensuing season [atthe King's theatre] will commence immediately after the 20thinstant, the opening of this theatre being fixed for Saturday

    Ibid.* Grove's Dictionary.

    10 The Musical Magazine, loc. cit.

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  • DOMENICO DRAGONETTI 23

    the 22nd of next month'. On 15 October a more detailedannouncement added:

    All the performers coming from abroad, were, by consent amongthemselves to meet at Verona the 20th of last month, in order to pro-ceed on the journey together; . . . Dragonetti... took his journey from[Venice] . . . on the 16th of September, in company with youngBartolozzi, for London, being also engaged for the opera; he is soextraordinary a performer, that in Italy his salary was always equalto that of the first singer's.11

    His first appointment in London, however, yielded some-what less than that to which he had been accustomed. As'double bass at the harpsichord' he was paid '250 and bene-fit'.12 Where he lived at first is not certain. A receipt for oneguinea's duty for hair powder dated 6 April 1796 shows thatby then he was lodging at 'No. 207 Piccadilly, St. James's,(Westminster)'.13 He was certainly among friends, as con-temporary concert programmes reveal. Some of the Venetianoperas were repeated in London with virtually the entireItalian cast. Singers, composers, designers and instrumentalistsflocked to the capital from all parts of Europe and workedamongst the English; Band, Viotti, Cramer, Bianchi, Martini,Dussek, Braham and Lindley are but a few of the names thatappear most frequently.

    Viotti (who also retailed 'wine and other liquors' in TheStrand) led the 'Opera Band', and with him Dragonettiplayed violin duostaking the second fiddle part on hisdouble bass. Martini arranged a trio by Handel for violin,cello and double bass which Cramer, Lindley and 'II Drago'(as he became known) repeated at numerous 'Ancient Con-certs' to the delight of the London audiences. His partnershipwith Robert Lindley was one that lasted for over 50 years andthe pair eventually became such an institution that no musicfestival was considered complete without them.

    In 1798 Dragonetti went to Vienna where he 'renewed theacquaintance he had made with Haydn in London',1* andwas 'much delighted with the score of the "Creation", justcompleted'.16 It is not difficult to imagine him conversingwith Haydn in a mixture of Venetian, English, French andGerman, and probably enthusing over one of the composer'sconcertos for