The Master's Voice

Made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore, this stylish double bass was once the companion of Giovanni Bottesini.

Stefan Krattenmacher examines the instrument and ist histtory.Like many double basses from the early 18th century, Milanese maker Carlo Antonio Testore (1693-1765) built this instrument as a three-stringer. Tuned to a-d-g, the lack of the bottom string enables greater playability and frees up the sound, having far less pressure on the table. Giovanni Bottesini seemed to have preferred this set-up and wrote his own compositions within the range of this instrument. In fact, his motto might have been: 'Playing the bass is hard enough, therefore you shouldn't complicate things with too many strings.'

Made in Milan in 1716, Bottesini bought this double bass after discovering it in a marionette theatre, where it had laid in a dark and dusty room since the death of its previous owner, the Milanese bassist Fiando. When Bottesini purchased the instrument it was in poor condition, but once cleaned up it was to accompany Bottesini throughout his life. Carlo Antonio Testore made this bass when he was 23 and it was clearly influenced by the late-17th century Milanese violin-making tradition, a time when the profession's economy was very buoyant. Working until 1765, when he was 78, Carlo Antonio Testore was a more prolific maker than his father, Carlo Giuseppe Testore (c.1660-1716), and in later years his style could vary quite considerably from that of both his father and the Grancino family.

This instrument, with its compact shape, shows grace and elegance throughout. And the more we look at the complex shape of Testore's work, the more we realise that this model, with its open C-bouts (typical of the Milanese school at that time), the slightly sloping shoulders and the powerful, rounded bottom, is created with harmony and style. The well-proportioned outline makes it seem quite large, but after looking at the measurements we learn that the body width of 49.4cm (top bouts), 36.2cm (centre bouts) and 64.7cm (lower bouts) is rather on the medium side. The corners have a fairly worn appearance, but with some imagination one could see the young master's courage, making long and elegant corners which still look strong and suit the outline of the instrument. Much of the soft, dark-brown varnish still remains. Laid on a striking, dark golden-brown ground, the varnish is of a thick consistency and adds to the characteristic features of the instrument.

The inward-pointing f-holes are unique to Testore's work. The shafts are rather narrow, but perform a parallel curve into the circles, of which the upper circle looks bigger than the lower one. However, the cut, with its straight line and precision of the soundholes, shows a great master at work. The lower f- hole wing is slightly hollowed. Testore, like his father and the Grancinos, preferred to finish the woodwork using just a scraper, a technique which alters the levels between the winter grain and the summer grain, forming the ideal base for a three-century-old patina.

The four-piece table is made of a distinctive medium-grained spruce and the purfling is made out of poplar or a similar wood. While the purfling's white centre is slightly bigger than the usual medium width, the stained-black stripes are in relation to it; placed close to the edge, the double-purfling floats neatly into the corners. The flat, poplar back is also made of four pieces and is completely straight. Its outline marks consist of a double-ink line and are worn in the common places (corners, right-hand upper bout, lower bouts). To ink the outline, rather than cutting and purfling into the back, is characteristic of the Milanese school. This feature saved time and was later seen on many German instruments and on early Lowland (Flanders) instruments. This magnificent scroll is kept fairly narrow at the top edge in order to give it flowing elegance. The width of the ears is wide in comparison and adds more detail to the character. The chamfers are small, emphasising master craftsmanship, and the side cuts of the scroll are very clean.

For the past 25 years this double bass has been kept in a private collection in Japan. Its owner, a retired doctor and amateur bassist who plays the Testore in various orchestras, bought it from a dealer in Tokyo; before that it was played in Holland. Although kept in Japan, the bass has travelled to Europe recently and was seen in an exhibition in Cremona's town hall last October. It could also be heard during the fourth International Giovanni Bottesini Double Bass Competition in neighbouring Crema that same month, when artistic director Franco Petracchi gave a recital on the instrument. According to German bass professor Günther Klaus, it sounded as free and as powerful as if Bottesini had played a concert on it the night before.

Originally published in Double Bassist 13, Summer 2000,
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