Born: Apr 8, 1692 in Pirano, Istria, Italy
Dead: Feb 26, 1770 in Padua, Italy
Genre: Concerto, Chamber Music
Despite Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini's important place in musical history, he remains known to most musicians only as the composer of the "Devil's Trill" violin sonata. Born on the Istrian peninsula in 1692, Tartini was the son of a minor government official in the city of Pirano (now Piran, Slovenia). Although his parents had selected a monastic life for Tartini when he was very young, in 1708 he rejected his clerical training to pursue a course of instruction in music. Soon, however, he seems to have enrolled at the University of Padua as a student of law, and was more famed during his younger days as a dueler and swordsman than as a trained musician. Despite still officially being a candidate for the priesthood, Tartini married in 1710, and, having thereby incurred the wrath of the Paduan bishop, found it necessary to hide out in the monastery at Assisi for a time. He put his time to good use: apparently he made a rigorous study of music, and by 1714 he seems to have found employment with the opera orchestra at Ancona.
Reunited with his wife in 1715, Tartini spent the next several years trying to perfect his violin technique. The legend is that he heard the virtuoso Francesco Veracini perform and resolved to live in isolation until he could accomplish the same amazing feats of dexterity. By 1720, he was engaged as soloist and leader of the orchestra at St. Anthony's in Padua. Until an arm injury in 1740 seriously limited his career, Tartini fulfilled his duties at St. Anthony's even as he built a widespread reputation as the leading violinist of his day. He made an extended visit to Prague between 1723 and 1726. Officially retiring from St. Anthony's in 1765, Tartini remained active as a teacher until a mild stroke, which he suffered in 1768, incapacitated him even further. Tartini died in 1770, the year of Beethoven's birth.
Tartini was the founder of an important school of violin playing, subsequently disseminated by such noteworthy pupils as Pietro Nardini and Johann Gottlieb Naumann. Because he did not seek fame as a composer, very little of Tartini's music was published during his lifetime. Some 135 violin concerti and over 200 violin sonatas (some of which, however, are spurious) still survive in manuscript form. A smattering of sacred vocal works (such as the Stabat Mater composed during the final year of his life) and a few sinfonias, trio sonatas, and four-part sonatas round off Tartini's considerable output. In addition to his activities as a violinist and composer, Tartini became increasingly interested in theories of acoustics and harmony as the years went by, and his 1754 theoretical treatise Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell'armonia attempts to account for contemporary harmonic thinking in terms of the overtone series and to promote Tartini's own discovery of "sub-tones" in that series. Despite its lofty intentions (or perhaps because of them) the Trattato is not a particularly accurate or informative text; it does, however, provide great insight into the mind of this remarkable musician.
- Blair Johnston (All Music Guide)