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Giuseppe Tartini


Giuseppe Tartini (April 8, 1692 – February 26, 1770) was an Italian composer and violinist born in Piran, a town of Istria, now in Slovenia. It appears Tartini’s parents intended for him to become a Franciscan priest, and in this way he received the basic musical training. He studied law at the University of Padua, where he became very good at fencing. After his father’s death in 1710, he married Elisabetta Premazore, a woman his father would’ve disapproved of because of her lower social class and age difference. Unfortunately, Elisabetta was a favorite of the powerful Cardinal Cornaro, who promptly charged Tartini with abduction. Tartini fled Padua to go to the convent of St. Francis in Assisi, where he could escape prosecution; while there he took up playing the violin.
There is a legend that when Giuseppe Tartini heard Francesco Maria Veracini’s playing in 1716, he was so impressed by it and so dissatisfied with his own skill, that he fled to Ancona and locked himself away in a room to practice.
Tartini’s skill improved tremendously and in 1721 he was appointed Kapellmeister at Il Santo in Padua, with a contract that allowed him to play for other institutions if he wanted to.
In 1726 Tartini started a violin school which attracted students from all over Europe. Gradually Tartini became more interested in the theory of harmony and acoustics, and from 1750 to the end of his life he published various treatises.
Arguably his most infamous 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 legend, 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 and violin sonatas. Unlike most of his Italian contemporaries, Tartini wrote no operas and no church music whatsoever. Tartini’s music is problematic to scholars and editors because Tartini never put dates on his manuscripts, and he also revised works that had been published or even finished years before, making it difficult to determine when a work was written, when it was revised and what the extent of those revisions were. The scholars Dounias and Brainard have attempted to divide Tartini’s works into periods based entirely on the stylistic characteristics of the music. 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 summation 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 (Padua, 1754). Luigi Dallapiccola wrote a piece called Tartiniana based on themes by Tartini.


Giuseppe Tartini
Date of birth
April 8, 1692