Supplementary Appendix 363.1

The Italian improvisatore Pietro Scotes in Weimar and Gotha

Karl August Böttiger
The improvisatore Pietro Scotes from Verona [1]

Weimar, 16 June 1802

Perhaps our readers will recall with pleasure a certain essay written by an extremely competent connoisseur last year in this journal on the admirable skill and virtuosity of the Italian improvisatores. That article announced with considerable praise the improvisatore Bandettini, known in Italy by the name Amarilli Etrusca and at the time on a journey to Germany, though, we hear, she only made it as far as Vienna. It seems she could not bring herself to squander the magic of her poetic inspiration, which could be evoked only by more comely environs, on our northern forests and alraun hills.

[Portrait: from Maria Roche, “Amarilli Etrusca and the Roman Reading-Circle Movement,” The Catholic World: A Monthly Magazine of General Literature and Science lxiii [April 1895–September 1896], 665–73, here 666:]


We have in the meantime been wholly compensated for this loss by the recent presence of a true virtuoso in the freest of all gifts of the muses, that of the beautiful art of improvisation, by Herr Scotes, and it is a strict love of justice alone, not premature admiration, that prompts us here to provide a modest monument to the merits of this rare artist.

Herr Scotes was born into an old Spanish family in Verona, completed all his studies with the utmost thoroughness, disputed publicly on the metaphysics of the aesthetic disciplines, and quite early discovered in himself the inclination to pursue the poetic arts as his vocation, arts consisting, however, not only in the artisan-like skill of mechanical verse construction and in stylistic poesy, but also in the inspirations of that particular celestial genius whose torch animates what is lifeless and whose touch immediately understands how to permeate and shape raw material.

There lives in Verona a certain Abbate Lorenzi, who practices the art of improvisation with rare facility, capable without hesitation of speaking in verses even about scientific, mathematical, and physical themes, and of adorning even the most arid material with the flowers of his blossoming imagination. Herr Scotes took this man as his own model and indeed soon surpassed his beloved idol.

He thereafter visited Tuscany, providing samples of his own skills in the most distinguished cities of Northern Italy, such as Genua, Milan, Mantua, etc. The events of war in Italy in 1799 that were so disastrous for the French under the leadership of Scherer, during which the general was slain by Field Marshal Kray on the plains of Verona, inspired our poet to compose a modest heroic poem in terza rima published under the title Verona Liberated [Venice 1800], thereby also demonstrating that genuine love of fatherland dwelled in his breast

Other famous improvisatores could only rarely be moved to publish poems on a more regular basis, their own songs being exclusively children of the moment. Here, too, Herr Scotes differs quite to his own advantage from his artistic colleagues. In Milan he often kept the company of the famous improvisatore [Francesco] Gianni, in whom he found a great, albeit self-conceited master in the art of improvisation.

He has been in Germany for eight months now, having most pleasantly entertained aficionados of the Italian language and poesy in Munich, Regensburg, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Leipzig with his rare talent, also establishing for himself a reputation of an extremely cultivated and entertaining socialite with the wealth of his manifold learning, the sophistication of his comportment, and the accuracy of his judgments on politics and literature.

It deserves mention that besides the French language, which he speaks with the greatest facility, he also learned our own language, one so difficult to acquire for the Italian speaker, so quickly that he now expresses himself quite fluently in it and has acquired a thorough acquaintance with our own writers and literature.

Tiefurt Park


It was on one of the most beautiful evenings of this serene spring season, in a natural, romantic garden in the tranquility of Tiefurth, that Herr Scotes was invited to join the circle of the sublime princess, who herself once crossed the Alps [2] to gather, on the other side, the most select fruits in the gardens of the Hesperides, and who now — surrounded by a company of people almost all of whom similarly venerated, with knowing perception, the beauteous wonders of both nature and art of that magical land — well understands how to preserve in the golden cups of living memory the fruits she once gathered there.



Tiefurt Chateau


Tiefurt chateau, parks, and grounds site plan along the Ilm River


This evening as well, this same company gathered round her not far from the chattering sounds of the Ilm River beneath a cool, shady glade, whose gently lilting foliage only here and there permitted the setting sun to catch a stolen glimpse of their circle.

Anna Amalie and her companions at the Villa d’Este in Rome


It was in this open-air theater of nature and to the considerable satisfaction of all that Herr Scotes now responded improvisationally to three successive themes, which the company gave him in quick succession, with the most skilled virtuosity and an almost inexhaustible wealth of fresh, graceful imagery. The themes, determined in part by His Excellency the Duke and in part by the Duchess, began with the advantages of a monarchy over a democracy.

After lingering but a short while, during which he even exchanged jesting conversation with his neighbors, he immediately arose without any further preparation and expounded, within an extraordinarily organized structure and in uninterrupted declamation for over a quarter hour, the most charming play of fantasy on the advantages of a monarchy, all in a style of genuine poetic eloquence and while engaging all the arts of harmonious verse structure.

[Representative illustration: Pinelli Bartolomeo, Il poeta improvisatore a testaccio nel mese di ottobre [ca. 1830]; Istituto Centrale per la Grafica, Rome:]


In his treatment, what at first glance seemed a rather ungrateful topic for the illustrative arts of poetry was transformed into a graceful, delicate garland of cohesively woven poetic flowers, among which none seemed superfluous, and every one in its proper place.

Particularly pleasing was the description of patriarchal life and the peaceful happiness of the family, a description that virtually transformed itself into a pastorale, highlighted by the metaphor of the sun itself, monarchically ruling over the resisting forces of nature, and the allusion to the Platonic republic.

The sophisticated judgment to which the poet alluded on this occasion concerning this most sublime of all dreams, and which he concluded with a summons to the great philosopher himself: “Come, create for us the citizens of this republic yourself!” did not fail to have the expected effect on the philosophical poet of the graces, who was in actual fact present in the company and who was gratified to be reminded of the judgments he himself had recently addressed in part three of his Aristipp [Leipzig 1800–1801] concerning the favorite piece of poetry of a spirit so kindred to his own. The second theme was the mutual advantages of music and poetry.

The muses of both art forms made their appearance to our poet, and he related, under their visible guidance, their advantages and charms with increasing enthusiasm. First the wonders of music in the ancient world of fables, then the effects of war trumpets and of the shepherd’s flute, then of the lyre, and of the full-voiced instruments of the present age.

Then a gallery of the most lauded poets of antiquity paraded by, each poet being portrayed with a few, characteristic strokes, and one primary scene from their poetic productions emphasized. Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso were all accorded the respect due them.

The conclusion was a witty turn of phrase with the suggestion that these twin sisters be inseparably united once and for all, a suggestion that seemed genuinely to gratify the venerable author of Kalligone [3] and Adrastea [Leipzig 1801–4].

Our poet’s enthusiasm seemed most animated, however, by the third theme, the kidnapping of Italian artworks to Paris. Here the doubly incited Italian divulged hitherto unrevealed depths of feeling and of his comprehensive learning. First an address to beautiful Italy itself, and a delightful portrayal of its nature and art and of the heroic race that emerged from its womb of rulers.

Then a masterfully executed metaphor of a promising, richly blessed meadow. A hailstorm then destroys all these beautiful hopes, storming in over the entirety of Italy from beyond the Alps, after which the magnificent art collections stand wasted and plundered. Then a splendid procession of the great Italian artists, especially its painters, each introduced with few, but characteristic features. You as well, O lauded countryman of the poet, Paul Veronese, received your due.

In none of the preceding recitations was the poet’s inner turmoil as powerfully evident as in this one. His eyes were inflamed. His countenance, his voice, his gaze provided at least a glimpse of the ancient rhapsodic art that Plato perhaps too mockingly portrays in his Ion, and an intimation of the irresistible power of the most ardent enthusiasm. “O ye degenerate descendants of such grand ancestors,” he finally cried: “How could you tolerate such shame?” His right arm raised, as if carrying a shield into battle, he added: “Arise, arise, across the Alps! to where our treasures have been kidnapped! Arise and reconquer!” Thus would Horace, in his epodes [here: Epode 16], have proclaimed his famous:

Vos, quibus est virtus, muliebrem tollite luctum.

[But you, ye brave! unmanly wails give o'er.] [4] 

Hearty applause was accorded the patriotic poet, who was by no means seeking such and was instead evoking the depth of his vexation from deep within his own soul.

That which according to connoisseurs distinguishes Herr Scotes from most of his Italian artistic colleagues is in part the way he exposes the otherwise common aids used by improvisatores, and in part the living spring of his own inventive imagination and momentary true inspiration. Even his declamation is a kind of rhythmic singing, yet without any instrumental accompaniment of the sort on which many artists of this sort who have visited our area were all too often inclined to lean.

He also resolutely and with proud confidence rejects all those alien adornments and episodic labyrinths through which many improvisatores, embarrassed by this or that subject that may be pleasing to us, make listeners pass to the point of surfeit, a good supply of which these gentlemen invariably have immediately available.

With a steady gaze, Herr Scotes immediately seizes his object and pursues it to its cheerful goal, undistracted by this or that faraway flower, and instead strewing the sure path with the most charming children of his flora. No platitudes, no commonplaces, no saccharine praise and frayed aspergillum of the sort with which so many of these gentlemen so often besprinkle their listeners according to estate and status till they are veritably dripping.

One need but hear a recitation in person to become convinced that this artist has absolutely no need of such crutches. He knows his national poets, but he has by no means arranged them economically in the chambers of his own memory. That is, during the momentary reflection prior to commencing his declamation, he is apparently concerned only with the initial entry and, as it were, only with the most preliminary treatment of his object. Then it is his very soul that creates and organizes everything in the moment itself, warming itself on the ardor of its own imagination and ending up with ever-increasing energy and splendor.

The old artistic rule concerning ever-increasing interest has become genuine artistic instinct here. If there is anything else through which the improvisatore feels elevated and swept along, it is rhyme, which here always seems to conjure its compatriots on its own initiative (vir virum legit), [5] offering the observer the most unforced, natural revelations concerning the nature of this child of nature that originally emerged from Saracenic and Provençal improvisatores. It goes without saying that the admixtures of so-called versi sdruccioli [6] (concluding with a dactyl) must be allowed in this sort of presentation.

At further gatherings on the following days, Herr Scotes did not fail to provide yet additional expressions of his art and power, expressions one might even refer to as bravura pieces or forze d’Apolline. [7] He displayed his strength in the extemporized sonnet in various ways. The strangest final syllables (bouts rimés) for poor Xanthippe [Socrates’s wife] were assembled in a fixed order and, at his request, the topic specified on which he should present a sonnet with these bound rhymes. Since he thought the theme il matrimonio too easy, he made it more difficult by reciting a double sonnet first contra and then for the institution of marriage.

He surprised the company yet again in the following manner. He asked for a theme involving this or that interesting situation from either ancient or more contemporary poetic fables. The company chose the scene in which Ulysses takes leave of Calypso. He then asked for two lines that might serve to conclude each stanza as a recurring refrain (the Italians call such an intercalare). Such was provided, and the main rhyme was supplied by the word tormento; it read:

Costa, è vero, a me tormento,
Pur ti deggio, oh Dio, lasciar.

[O coastline, 'tis true, though it torment me,
Still must I leave you, O God.]

Then yet another request, this time for the company to think of and write down fifteen other rhymes. Only then did he commence his improvisation on the lamenting hero. A member of the company held the paper with the rhymes, which were still unknown to the poet. In every stanza, after the so-called middle verse (il verso tronco) was finished, this “keeper of the rhymes” had to choose at random one of the rhymes on the page, speak it loudly, whereupon the poet then immediately wove it into the poem without hesitating in the slightest in the flow of his declamation, and so quickly and with such skill that one would swear he himself could have chosen this rhyme alone, with complete forethought and deliberation, from the entirety of possibilities.

Thus did this miracle man conclude with uninterrupted harmony one of the most charming, melancholy farewell songs ever created in the Ovidic heroic tone, and in as many stanzas as were rhymes on the aforementioned page, and without even once disappointing the tense anticipation that arose in his nervous, anxious listeners when one of the unknown rhymes was to find its way into the series of the previous rhymes. —

Just how inexhaustible and animated the spring was that flowed so freely here can be seen in the meager effort the poet seemed to put forth in fulfilling even these equally daunting and riveting tasks, immediately thereafter flying over yet another theme in the freest of flight. The external scene changed. A lady entered who was, jestingly, alleged to have a slight inclination to jealousy.

The question had previously been debated whether women love their children or their husbands more. Because the opinions were so varied, the company turned to the improvisatore to have the question resolved in verse. He had already quickly outlined his response when someone put a new theme before him, namely, to illustrate jealousy and in so doing to dip his paintbrush into the darkest of colors.

With pretended seriousness he immediately began with this new theme, but showed the darker sides of jealousy only from afar, thereafter concluding with the most delicate imagery and metaphors (the most beautiful and exhaustively developed was that with the rose and thorns), even though the company had expected the most vehement Philippic. [8]

On another occasion, he was asked to improvise a poem of chastisement and jest against a confirmed bachelor. The company recalled having heard a famous Italian quicksinger (if one will permit me to use this word [Schnellsänger] from the Campe factory as a change of pace) [9] treat a related theme by engaging with quite spicy language and coarse jests.

The more urbane and chaste muse of our artist, however, treated this theme, too, solely from the more pleasing side, where Hymenaeus appears in the entourage of the gods of love, after the fashion of Anacreon, not Archilochus [Greek lyric poet].

On yet another occasion, a dainty écossaise [Scottish dance] was danced by talented lady dancers to an extremely lively music. The company asked him to take this dance as his theme, and he immediately began to recite a comely song on the service of [the muse of dance] Terpsichore, though this time not in the usual terza rima, but in a lightly lilting meter appropriate to the dance music that had just ended.

Finally, he gave an equally satisfactory performance in a public academy with almost fifty persons in attendance, and with the same skillful facility and inexhaustible wealth people had already so often admired in him in smaller circles; here, too, he successfully addressed the same sort of themes in which he had to recite a heroic poem extemporaneously on a romantic situation (this time the lament of Sappho before her leap from the Leucadian cliffs) with a specific refrain to which he accommodated a series of the most peculiar rhymes chosen by someone in the company.

No one will be inclined to apply to such an artist what Quintilian said of the improvisatores of his own age: Non fortuiti sermonis contextum mirabor unquam, quem iurgantibus etiam mulierculis superfluere video. [10]

(Anonymous) “Der Improvisator Scotes.” [11]

Gotha, late July 1802

Your recommendation of the improvisatore Scotes proved an excellent one indeed. His personality, unassuming and far removed from anything resembling artistic arrogance, contrasted considerably with that which he in fact is able to accomplish, and which as matter of fact might well have justified him having a rather pronounced feeling of self-worth. Notwithstanding that Italian literature is not really so fashionable here, he not only attracted a not unimposing gathering of, as he called it, academia estemporanea, but also improvised several times in more intimate circles with Prince August and with [Friedrich Melchior] Baron von Grimm [1723–1807], and always to the great satisfaction of his spectators and listeners.

Even for those who did not know the language, the music of his language (though perhaps a bit too close at times to actual singing) and his declamatory mimic talent provided an element of enjoyment one does not find every day. The various themes he set for himself to render in various poetic meter, in ottava rime etc., included: the advantages of blondes over brunettes, Achilles’s lament for Patroclus, Nina’s lament for her beloved, the advantages of music over painting, and of hope over fulfillment.

One of his most beautiful poems was dedicated to the discovery of Ceres Ferdinandea, whereby he took every opportunity to extol the merits of his fatherland. [12] Surprisingly well-executed bouts rimés and skillful recapitulations and summaries in a concluding poem of topics discussed in a single sitting provided even more variety and charm to his recitations. The longer he recited, the more fiery did his disposition become.

Each succeeding poem usually was even more successful than the preceding one; indeed, one could discern no fatigue of any sort. He initially meditated a few minutes, or meditated as well as one can in the midst of a group of people who were not really that calm; but then with the second, third, fourth, etc. topic he meditated almost not at all, hardly a few minutes. After poetically treating four or five topics, he was still feeling disposed to continue, and indeed he would surely have poetized for several more hours had the discreet company wanted to take advantage of his offer.

You have already pointed out that one must actually have seen and heard such a virtuoso to have any real idea of the improvisational arts of antiquity. No wonder one tried in so many places to honor the most accomplished improvisatore [Aulus Licinius] Archias [improvisational Greek poet who made a name for himself in Rome in the first century B.C.] by certificates of citizenship! Allow me to express my admiration for the talents of our new Veronese Archias with words the [first-century Greek] epigrammatist Automedon used to celebrate the improvisational rhetorician Nicetes [first-century rhetorician]. At the beginning, instead of Νικητης, I will read Ναι Σκωτης. Were the epigrammatist alive today, I am sure he would find this slight change acceptable: [13]

Scotes, like the breeze, when a ship has little sail up,
Begins with gentle rhetoric,
But when he blows strongly and all sails are let out,
He stiffens the canvas and races across the middle of the ocean,
Like a ship of vast burden, till he reaches the end of his discourse
In the unruffled harbor.


[1] Karl August Böttiger, “Der Improvisator Pietro Scotes aus Verona,” Der neue Teutsche Merkur (1802) vol. 2, no. 6. (June 1802), 135–48. Böttiger provides a quite similar review in the article “Der Veronesische Improvisator Scotes. Weimar, den 15ten Juny 1802,” Journal des Luxus und der Moden 17 (1802) July, 394–97. It may be noted that Böttiger dates his contributions (15, 16 June 1802) essentially coincidental with Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 15 June 1802 (letter 363).

Illustrations in order: Georg Melchior Kraus, Tiefurter Park: Das Monument für den Herzog Leopold von Braunschweig (n.d.), Klassik Stiftung Weimar (on site plan: “Leopold”); Tiefurt ca. 1780, illustration from Hans Wahl and Anton Kippenberg, Goethe und seine Welt (Leipzig 1932), 62; Tiefurt chateau, photograph from Wilhelm Hegeler, Tiefurt (Weimar 1913), 7; Kuno Walther, Tiefurt der Herzogin Anna Amalia Musenheim (Weimar 1902), final plate and plate following p. 32. Back.

[2] Anna Amalia had spent 1788–90 in southern Italy. Back.

[3] Metakritik der Urteilskraft (1800). Back.

[4] Horace. The Odes, Epodes, Satires, and Epistles (London 1889), 177; epode 16 trans. Rev. Canon Howes). The epode continues:

And fly beyond the Tuscan shore.
To distant plains of ambient ocean bound,
That lave the central earth around! Back.

[5] Latin, “each picked out his man,” so expressed when conscripts chose a comrade to fight by their side. Back.

[6] “Stressed on the antepenult.” Back.

[7] At one of these gatherings, on 15 June 1802 in a hall put at Scotes’s disposal by Henriette von Egloffstein, it was Amalie von Imhoff who was asked to provide the theme (Scotes had already paid her a visit in Weimar along with Böttiger on 13 June 1802, afterward sending her a flattering poem). Her choice was “the flight of the muses from Greece to Italy.” Goethe seems also to have attended, also concurring with Amalie von Imhoff that in his generally satisfactory treatment of the topic Scotes had concentrated on details concerning various poets while neglecting the genuinely poetic motif inhering in the subject matter (Henriette Krohn von Bissing, Das Leben der Dichterin Amalie von Helvig, geb. Freiin von Imhoff [Berlin 1889], 76–77). Back.

[8] A bitter attack or denunciation, especially verbal. Back.

[9] Here an application of suggestions for rendering the word tirade in German uninfluenced by foreign words in Joachim Heinrich Campe’s Wörterbuch der Erklärung und Verdeutschung der unserer Sprache aufgedrungenen fremden Ausdücke, 2 vols. (Braunschweig 1801), vol. 2, s.v. tirade. Böttiger makes the same allusion in his article on Scotes in the Journal des Luxus und der Moden. Back.

[10] “Nor again shall I ever be induced to admire a continuous flow of random talk, such as I note streams in torrents even from the lips of women when they quarrel.” Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10:7:12; trans. from The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, trans. Harold Edgeworth Butler, 4 vols. (London 1922), 4:138–39. Back.

[11] Der neue Teutsche Merkur (1802) vol. 3 no. 9 (September 1802), 71–73. Back.

[12] The reviewer’s reference is to the discovery of the dwarf planet Ceres Ferdinandea on 1 January 1801 by the Sicilian monk Giuseppe Piazzi. Back.

[13] Translation adapted from William Roger Paton, The Greek Anthology, 5 vols. (London 1918), 4:17. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott