Cello by Carlo Giuseppe Testore
1700, Milan

This Testore cello is owned by Brensson Stringed Instruments in New York City. It is uncut and very large, it can be a strain on the left hand. However, the cello is otherwise remarkably easy to play with a lightning quick bow response regardless of the bow used. It is presently on load to young virtuoso Bion Tsang. Mr. Tsang writes: "I am very partial to Testore cellos. When I was eleven, my parents bought me a half-size Testore to play on the very day that I auditioned for Zubin Mehta. I won the audition to play with the New York Philharmonic and consider it my good luck charm ever since. Later on while I was still at the Pre-College Division of the Juilliard School, I borrowed the school's (full- size) Testore for a couple of years. Then, when I learned last year that I would be appearing again with Zubin Mehta in Chicago, I asked Juris Brensson of Brensson Stringed Instruments to borrow a cello. It just so happened that the best instrument he had for me to use was this Testore."

A Little History...

Paolo Grancino, trained by Nicola Amati, founded the Milan school of violin-making, with his sons Giambattista and Francesco. Most of the Milanese violins are shaped after the Amati design, and their dark red varnish is similar to that of the Neapolitan Gaglianos.

Carlo Giuseppe was born about 1660 in Novara, Italy. He died around the year 1717. His instruments are considered to be better than those of his sons, and are rare, the reason possibly being that they have been sold as Grancinos. He carefully selected his wood for its tonal qualities, though it is not always handsome. The varnish is usually yellow-brown. For the backs of his cellos he often used pear wood. He also made basses which are exceptionally fine.

The old masters took pride in their work, putting labels in their instruments and sometimes even branding them. The Testore family often branded their violins on the back, using a design consisting of a crown with a double-headed eagle. Their workshop had the name Al segno dell- aguila, "at the sign of the eagle," which was also displayed outside above the shop entrance. Characteristic of Carlo Giuseppe's style of work is the scroll which is flat at the back, not fluted like that of other makers. His instruments, especially cellos, are well liked for their fine carrying power.

The Testore family numbered half a dozen, all of them very gifted. Here is a photo of a label from a violin made by Carlo Antonio Testore in 1741:

Bottesini's Bass

C. G. Testore claimed he made the instrument from wood taken from the bodhi tree in India under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and that the tailpiece was carved from the True Cross. Indeed, the wood of this remarkable instrument has proved beyond analysis.

The Bass was owned by a series of indifferent Bassists around northern Italy and finally fell into the hands of the Fiando brothers of Milan. In the ownership of these exceptionally incompetent Bassists, the mighty instrument nearly met its end in the 1830s, hidden in mounds of refuse backstage in a marionette theater.

Fortunately, Bottesini purchased the Bass in 1838 for 900 lire.

Bottesini truly found his voice when he began playing the Testore; he soon left Italy for Vienna to begin his brilliant solo career.

Many critics have tried to describe the instrument's unique sound. One called it "honey-like, with the ponderousness of stone, yet full of light and air." They often liken the sound to fireworks. My favorite, however, wrote, "When Bottesini puts his bow to the great Contrabass, it becomes a dog-whistle to the soul."

Over the years, Bottesini developed a dependency on his Testore, like that of a mushroom on a log. If he was separated from the instrument by more than a few yards, he was known to break into fits of panic. When he could afford it, he hired bearers to keep the bass near him at all times. It was his need to keep the Bass at hand that so profoundly influenced public transit in Barcelona.

Madame Fiorentini wrote a letter to her sister in 1871, in which she described day-long barge trip up the Nile from Cairo, during which Bottesini did not have his bass:

"I have never seen John so carefree. . . . He only lamented the fact that he was wasting his day by not practicing a dozen or so times . . . and his compulsive habit of grasping any stick at hands and waving it back and forth like a bow was only in evidence a few times. . . ."

Far more frequent however, were accounts of Bottesini refusing to part with the Bass, even when it created great difficulty or awkwardness. Camille Saint Saens ridiculed him and his Bass as a "three-legged pachyderm."

Bottesini's close relationship with the instrument lasted right up to his death. It is said that the mortally ill virtuoso got dramatically worse after a doctor ordered the instrument to be moved out of his bed. He died within hours.

Today, the Testore belongs to Gary Karr, the world's most famous Bassist.

Gary Karr with his Bottesini Bass
Gary Karr and Bottesini Bass


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