Giuseppe Tartini: Notes and Commentary

“Among Corelli’s many successors in the art of playing the violin and of writing music for the instrument, Giuseppe Tartini was the most significant. He wrote some 150 violin concertos and a hundred violin sonatas in which the technique of violin performance made significant progress over that established by Corelli. At the same time, Tartini’s thematic material reveals a deepening of thought and an enrichment of expression far beyond any realized by Corelli.”—David Ewen, The Complete Book of Classical Music

Giuseppe Tartini’s most famous work is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata,” a solo violin sonata that requires a number of technically demanding double stop trills and is difficult even by modern standards. According to a legend embroidered upon by Madame Blavatsky, Tartini was inspired to write the sonata by a dream in which the Devil appeared at the foot of his bed playing the violin.

Almost all of Tartini’s works are violin concerti, of which there are at least 135, and violin sonatas. Tartini’s compositions include some sacred works such as a Miserere, composed between 1739 and 1741 at the request of Pope Clement XII, and a Stabat Mater, composed in 1769. He also composed trio sonatas and a sinfonia in A. Tartini’s music is problematic to scholars and editors because Tartini never dated his manuscripts, and he also revised works that had been published, making it difficult to determine when a work was written, when it was revised and what the extent of those revisions were.

In addition to his work as a composer, Tartini was a music theorist, of a very practical bent. He is credited with the discovery of sum and difference tones, an acoustical phenomenon of particular utility on string instruments (intonation of double-stops can be judged by careful listening to the difference tone, the “terzo suono”). He published his discoveries in a treatise “Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell’armonia’.” It was eventually translated into French, and later published in an English translation by Sol Babitz in 1956, and that was later translated into German.

Tartini was born in Piran, a town on the peninsula of Istria, in the Republic of Venice (now in Slovenia). He lived from April 8, 1692, to February 26, 1770.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

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