Bottesini – Romances Sans Paroles (Camillo Sivori)

Camillo Sivori and Giovanni Bottesini: a story of friendship in music

The friendship between Camillo Sivori and Giovanni Bottesini came about in Havana in 1848; Bottesini was working in the city as a composer, conductor and soloist when Sivori passed through during one of his numerous concert tours of North and South America.

Bottesini’s fame was already so great that Sivori (the only known pupil of Paganini) asked a mutual friend to organise a meeting to personally meet this virtuoso who inspired wonder and admiration everywhere. Their meeting was so fruitful that upon returning to Italy they met again, this time with their own instruments, and in 1851 they gave their first concert in Milan which caused a sensation. It was on this occasion that they gave the premier of what would become their signature piece: the Grand Duo Concertante. The violin part of the Grand Duo was in fact largely written by Sivori, so much so that it is included in A. Pierrotte’s catalogue of the violinist’s works, written after Sivori’s death.

Bottesini and Sivori performed hundreds of concerts together, mostly following the format of two pieces by Bottesini (eg. Carnevale di Venezia, Beatrice di Tenda, Tarantella), two pieces by Sivori, and the Grand Duo. Here is an overview of their tours together:

1851: Milan and the UK
1852: UK
1853: France
1860: Over 60 concerts in the UK and Italy
1867: Paris and Marseille
1870: Paris

At the end of these performances, usually in the blaze of applause and ovations, it was their custom to perform transcriptions of their own pieces as an encore. Sivori often performed Bottesini’s Rêverie, and Bottesini often played Sivori’s Romances.

Performing transcriptions was a popular musical custom in the nineteenth century, and many virtuosos used transcriptions as an alternative to performing original works. Sivori’s Romances had enormous success amongst the virtuosos of the period, so much so that they were transcribed for cello, piano, flute, guitar, and string quintet in addition to Bottesini’s version for double bass.

During my career I have been interested in the great Italian virtuosos of the nineteenth century who thrilled audiences all over the world but who for the most part have been forgotten after their death. Above all, the figure of Camillo Sivori is the one that attracted me the most. During my research I had the opportunity to view a part of the Genoese master’s correspondence with family members, and among these letters I had the enormous surprise of finding Bottesini’s double bass part of the transcription of the two Romances, which was given to Sivori as souvenir of the French concerts in 1867. After years of research I found the corresponding piano accompaniment to the bass part, and presented here is the definitive transcription.

Christian Ciaccio
January 2021


Difficulty: VIRTUOSO