Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Baroque Composers V - Tartini

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) was an Italian composer and violinist just like Corelli and Locatelli before him. It appears however that music was not necessarily his first choice for a career. While he likely had basic music instruction in his youth it’s possible he only took up the violin when he was forced to flee Padua and seek protection in a Franciscan monastery.

The reason for this sudden departure was his marriage to a young woman, technically below his station, but a favourite of the local cardinal who promptly accused him of abduction. At least that’s what Wikipedia says, so it must at least be a story associated with him. Another is that after hearing a violin virtuoso he became so inspired to improve his own playing he fled the town he was in, where he had a job in the opera orchestra, to practice more freely.

The biggest legends around Tartini however are related to his most famous composition, the ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata. Its use of double-stop trills make it difficult to play even on modern instruments. Legend has it he wrote it after hearing the Devil play it at the end of his bed in a dream. A 19th century legend had it that he could play it because he had six fingers. I'm actually somewhat ambivalent towards it to be honest. The opening movement is slow and full of longing, then it launches into the virtuosity and it's just a nice bit of violin playing for a while, then some more longing with notes that hold you as they stretch and fade. I don't really get it as a whole piece.

I do enjoy his violin concertos though. Particularly this one in A, D96 which is here performed by Accademia Bizantina on period instruments. with Carlo Chiarappa on violin and conducting. It's not as showy as many concertos and mostly just a nice piece of music, but the second movement is a gorgeous adagio rather reminiscent of a leaf floating on a sunlit river if you go for such imagery.

The legends are fun but the music is better and well worth exploring - get listening!

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