Giuseppe Tartini was an Italian composer and a violinist of the Baroque style, born in a town in the Republic of Venice (modern-day Slovenia). Today, he is best remembered for his compositions for violin, his playing style and for a large body of theoretical work related to Baroque composition. Many contemporary violinists and music historians attribute the modern style of violin blowing to his influence. Tartini established a violin school, where he taught students who hailed from all over the Europe. He also focused more intently on theoretical works, such as studies of harmony and acoustics, toward the end of his life. Almost all of Tartini’s compositions are violin concerti and violin sonatas. One of his best-known works is notable for its extremely challenging passages, which make use of repeated “double stop trills.” As a musical theorist, he is also credited with making several landmark discoveries and observations. For example, he is widely acknowledged as the first music theorist to have observed the sum and difference tones of string instruments. In general, his theoretical writings largely expanded the understandings of ornamentation and harmony in Western music, shaping the future development of composition and playing
Childhood & Early Life
Giuseppe Tartini was born on 8 April 1692, born in Pirano, a village in Istria on the Adriatic Sea, which was formerly part of the Republic of Venice, but now belongs to Slovenia.
His parents, Gianantonio and Caterina Zangrando, were from Florence and Pirano, respectively; Tartini’s mother’s family was among the oldest aristocrats from the region.
Tartini parents wanted him to become a Franciscan friar and he was therefore given a basic level of musical education.
He studied law at the University of Padua, against his parents’ wishes, where he also learned to fence with great skill.
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According to the legend surrounding Tartini’s life, in 1716, he heard Francesco Maria Veracini playing violin and was inspired to hone his own violin playing skills. He locked himself in a room, in a town far away from his home, to devote himself solely to violin practice.
By 1721, Tartini had sufficiently improved his violin playing skills to gain the seat of Maestro di Cappella at Padua’s Basilica di Sant’Antonio, a position with a contract that left him fairly free to play elsewhere, as well.
In 1750, he began focusing more intently on theoretical works, a pursuit that he would remain faithful to until his final years.
Tartini retired from his position at Basilica di Sant’Antonio in 1765.
The ‘Devil’s Trill Sonata’ is Tartini’s most famous composition. It’s a solo violin sonata that requires a number of technically demanding double stop trills .
Tartini’s sacred work, ‘Miserere’, is one of the few pieces with a composition date that can be loosely approximated; he wrote it between 1739 and 1741, at Pope Clement XII’s request.
In 1754, he published a treatise entitled ‘Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell’armonia’, which explained his discoveries related to sum and difference tones.
In 1769, Tartini wrote another sacred work, a ‘Stabat Mater’.
Awards & Achievements
Tartini so greatly improved his violin playing skills through his long-term, solo practice that the Basilica di Sant’Antonio of Padua requested him to be be their Maestro di Cappella.
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Personal Life & Legacy
In 1710, upon the death of his father, Tartini married Elisabetta Premazone, a young woman of a far lower social caste than his own family.
As Tartini’s wife was favored by the Cardinal Giorgio Cornaro, their marriage prompted his spite and forced Tartini to flee to Padua to avoid trumped-up prosecution charges; while in exile, he learned to play the violin.
He died, on Feb. 26, 1770, in Padua, at the age of 77.
The town of Pirano (now ‘Piran’) has a statue of Tartini in the town square, previously part of the port, which is now named ‘Tartini Square’.
His birthday is celebrated each year in Piran with a concert of his music at the cathedral.
He has been mentioned in a story by Madame Blavatsky, entitled ‘The Ensouled Violin’.
His composition ‘The Devil’s Trill’ is featured in Daniel Silva’s ‘The English Assassin’ and in the anime ‘Descendants of Darkness’.
The 20th century Italian composer Luigi Dalapiccola wrote a piece based on Tartini’s themes, called ‘Tartiana’.
He is the first-known musician to have owned a violin created by Antonio Stradivari; the violin in question was made in 1715.
He never wrote the date on his compositions and regularly edited and rewrote old compositions, making it nearly impossible for musicians and music historians to determine the actual chronological order of his compositions.
Many myths have circulated about Tartini, including one in the 19th century that claimed he was born with six fingers on his left hands; another claims that his inspiration for the ‘Devil’s Trill Sonata’ came to him in a dream, in which he saw the devil playing a violin.