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Duetto for cello and double bass

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It was a chance visit to a second hand bookshop in Nottingham that set me on the trail of Rossini's now well-known Duetto for cello and double bass. But the story begins earlier than that. In the 1960s I was studying the double bass at the Royal College of Music with Adrian Beers, who was at that time principal of the English Chamber Orchestra, on the front desk of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and a member of the Melos Ensemble of London (then one of the leading ensembles of the world). I was working on the 'Dragonetti Concerto', as most young players do, and I wanted to find out a bit about it. My teacher said he thought the autograph manuscript might be in the British Library, which was all the encouragement I needed to secure a pass to the Reading Room so I could go and see for myself.

There, sure enough, I found a large collection of Dragonetti's autograph manuscripts, together with other bound volumes relating to his life. The papers had been lovingly collated and annotated by Vincent Novello, one of Dragonetti's closest friends, then deposited in the library before his departure to Italy in 1848, two years after Dragonetti's death. One of the volumes included a lot of letters about various engagements and music festivals, copies of orders for strings Dragonetti wanted from Italy, details about paintings he wanted to buy, and numerous invitations to private functions. The manuscript of the 'Dragonetti Concerto', of course, wasn't among the papers – we now know it to have been written by Edouard Nanny a century or so later.

One name that came up regularly in the documents was that of Sir George Smart. Smart had been a violinist in Salomon's orchestra and had played for Haydn at his London concerts in the 1790s. As a child he had learnt much about music from his father, who had in turn been present at many of Handel's rehearsals when he was preparing some of his major works for the first time. Smart was also a fine keyboard player, becoming organist of the Chapel Royal in 1822. As a conductor, he directed performances all over the country and he was widely respected: in those days, as was the custom, he led from the piano or organ and did not use a baton. Another of Smart's professional responsibilities was that of assembling the large forces required for various music festivals that were held up and down the country. Most of the players were from London, but some were from overseas, and to engage them Smart undertook various tours throughout Europe. Dragonetti, and his colleague the cellist Robert Lindley, was an indispensable fixture in Smart's orchestras, and it was probably his appearances at these important events that contributed to his international reputation as much as his regular concerts for the Philharmonic Society in London, or his work at the opera at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. (Although Dragonetti frequently played chamber music arrangements of Corelli and Handel in public, he reserved his virtuoso 'divertimenti' and 'variations' for the drawing room.)

The book that caught my eye in the Nottingham second hand bookshop was Leaves from the Journals of Sir George Smart by H B and C L E Cox (London, 1907). It contained a number of references to Dragonetti, whose life I had begun piecing together from every scrap of evidence I could find. One entry in particular made my heart leap. 'On July 21st, 1824, I dined in the City at Mr Salomons' to meet Rossini, who made himself most agreeable. He had been paid by Salomons fifty pounds to compose a duet to be played by Salomons and Dragonetti, the great double-bass player.' Sir David Salomons was a member of a Jewish family, long resident in London, and in 1832 was one of the founders of the London and Westminster Bank. He was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1855, and became Liberal M.P. for Greenwich in 1859. We have to assume that Salomons was an amateur cellist, and that the duet had been written for one of the private musical gatherings at which Dragonetti was so frequently to be found. But of the music itself I could find no trace at all. (Sir David Salomons 1797-1873 should not be confused with Johann Peter Salomon 1745-1815 who promoted Haydn in London in 1790-91 and 1794-95.)

In 1968 I was playing continuo in a production of a Cavalli opera with Glyndebourne Touring Opera, together with the late Robert Spencer, a fine lutenist and an enthusiastic music antequarian. He told me that a Dragonetti manuscript was to be sold at Sotheby's and he asked me whether I would be interested to bid for it. He promised to find out more about it and returned the next evening with the news that it had been in an earlier sale than he had anticipated, and that the manuscript only had parts in Dragonetti's hand - the score was by Rossini. 'The duetto!', I exclaimed with excitement. 'Yes,' he said, 'unknown and unpublished.' It had been in the Salomons family ever since it was written. I told him of my research and of my interest in the piece, and he kindly arranged for me to visit the dealer who had bought it for a client in Switzerland. Within very little time I had made a performing edition and the new owner of the manuscript, who wished to remain anonymous, had given permission for it to be published.

In spite of making approaches to various major publishing houses, none was prepared to commit itself to a double bass rarity. Determined that the piece should reach as wide an audience as possible, I set about finding about how I might print it myself. A printer's error on the inside back cover announced that one or two other pieces were also available, when I had really only intended to advise that they were 'in preparation'. I had to work day and night for weeks on end to get everything to the printer and Yorke Edition was off to an unintentionally flying start!

The discovery of the Duetto, which Rossini dedicated to his friend Salomons, proved of interest to the BBC and Lionel Salter, then in charge of the music programmes on Radio 3 engaged me to broadcast it with the late Christopher van Kampen, with whom I played regularly as a member of the Nash Ensemble. We recorded it in the concert hall at Broadcasting House in London and played it from memory throughout. It was a debut solo broadcast for both of us and the recording went out as 'first performance in this country' at 11.40 on 6 February 1969 in a programme of chamber music called Music Making. We first played it in public at my London recital debut at the Purcell Room on the South Bank later that month.

The duet proved extremely popular and the first printing of 500 copies seemed to go very quickly. Within weeks of announcing the publication I had requests for it from players in Berlin, New York, Brussels, and Tokyo. Indeed with all of these fellow enthusiasts I was to develop lasting friendships as they gave the 'first performance' of the work in their various countries. The first of many commercial recordings was for EMI in 1975 on a disc I made with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, co-incidentally the first double bass recital record by any British player. The cellist was the late Kenneth Heath.

Editorially, there were many decisions to be taken, as Dragonetti's manuscript parts have slightly different dynamic markings from Rossini's hastily written score. The score at one point fades out entirely, as Rossini opted for repeat marks to save himself time. Bowings and phrasings in the printed copy are mostly original, although here and there I made small changes where there were obvious inconsistencies. Although there are places in the final movement where the music builds up to a written firmata, there is no evidence that cadenzas were ever part of the original concept. On the contrary, the insertion of additional material at these points is not only unnecessary, as it detracts from the humour of the piece, but it is probably also stylistically inappropriate.

The Duetto became the copyright of Yorke Edition in 1969 and is currently in its eighth impression.

Rodney Slatford, 1969 & 2003.

Cat No. YE0001
Price £9.50
ComposerGioacchino Rossini
CategoryCello & Double Bass
PublisherYorke Edition
Difficulty level3 - 5
ISMN 979-0-57059-001-8
EAN-13 9790570590018
Weight 102 grams
Published 19th August 2000
Availability Over 1,000 in stock!


A work of warm humour.

Telegraph, London

Charm and ingenuity...grace and finesse... delightful final in pollacca rhythm

The Times, London