Classical Music

Dragonetti: The Freakin' Creepy Saint Of Bass

Bass players, I know I spend a lot of time making fun of you, though of course you may not realize it because, well, you're bass players and the Internet hasn't evolved to the point where I can easily use puppets to explain my points. All kidding aside, I want you to know that your presence in the world of music is greatly appreciated.

That being said, you owe everything you are to a man named Domenico Dragonetti, who died on this day in 1846 at the age of 83. Dragonetti, in addition to having the most awesome musician name until Mark Slaughter came along, revolutionized the way people treated bass players.

Before him, the double bass was merely seen as a sort of back-up cello suitable only for meatheads who couldn't master more elitist instruments. Hell, most scores didn't even bother to write out a bass part. They just gave the bassist cello parts.

Then along came Dragonetti, a Venice-born son of an amateur musician who started out on guitar but switched to bass. His self-taught skill got him noticed by a local composer, who took the twelve-year-old to the best bassist in Venice for lessons.

It only took 11 of them before Dragonetti had surpassed his teacher. There's an old bass-player joke that applies in this situation...


A man gives his son an electric bass for his 15th birthday, along with a coupon for four bass lessons. When the son returns from his first lesson, the father asks, "So, what did you learn?"

"Well, I learned the first five notes on the E string." Next week, after the second lesson, the father again asks about the progress, and the son replies, "This time I learned the first five notes on the A string."

One week later, the son comes home far later than expected, smelling of cigarettes and beer. So the father asks: "Hey, what happened in today's lesson?" "Dad, I'm sorry I couldn't make it to my lesson; I had a gig!"

That was Dragonetti, except instead of playing in dive bars while singers and guitarist hogged all the groupies and left you with the chubby friend, Dragonetti composed works that made entire orchestras play backup to his bass playing.

He was the world's first lead bass player. He became rich and famous, and was even able to turn down the Tsar of Russia when asked to come work a regular gig. For contrast, imagine Les Claypool telling Vladimir Putin, "No," and that guy's just a president. We're talking about a Tsar, here.

So, Dragonetti was awesome... except for one little, terrifying thing. Namely, he had a harem of RealDolls.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner