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Among the Great Masters of Music: Scenes in the Lives of Famous Musicians
Tartini
by Walter Rowlands


A few years ago the Istrian town of Pirano unveiled a statue, not exactly to one of its illustrious sons, but to the only one of its children who ever became famous, so far as we know. The pedestal of the statue is inscribed.

Istria to Giuseppe Tartini, 1896.

The admirably conceived figure which surmounts the pedestal represents the master standing, violin and bow in hand, at the moment of his accidental discovery of the curious acoustic phenomenon known as the "third sound," - i. e., the production of a third note in harmony when only two are struck with the bow. The statue was modelled by Dal Zotto, an able Italian sculptor, whose work found so much favour with those present at its inauguration that they enthusiastically carried him about the piazza on their shoulders, - a tribute we judge to have been well deserved.

The subject of Dal Zotto's statue was sent, while yet very young, from Pirano, (where he was born of a good family in 1692) to Capo d' Istria, to study at the college of the "Padri delle Scuole." It was here that he received his first instruction in violin playing, and in fencing, - two accomplishments that were to play an important part in his future life. In spite of the fact that Tartini's family had destined him to become a Franciscan, he had the strongest antipathy to an ecclesiastical career. His relatives fought in vain against his unbending resistance, and finally sent him to Pavia, to study law. Learning cost him little effort, and he still found plenty of spare time for fencing. Somewhat wild, and tired of serious study, he decided to take up his abode in Paris or Naples, and there establish himself as a fencing-master. A love-affair put an end to this project. Tartini having won the heart of a young and beautiful girl, a niece of the cardinal and Bishop of Padua, George Cornaro, the lovers were secretly married, but did not long succeed in keeping the knowledge of their union from their relatives. Tartini's family, enraged at his conduct, withdrew at once the support they had hitherto given him, and to cap the climax, the bishop accused him of seduction and theft. Warned in time, Tartini fled to Rome, leaving his young wife in Padua without confiding to her the direction of his travels.

Reaching Assisi, he ran across a monk in whom he recognised a near relation from his native city of Pirano. This good-natured brother, who was a sacristan in the monastery at Assisi, took pity on the refugee, and gave him an asylum in one of the cells. This is the time, and this is the cell in which the accompanying picture represents our hero. Two years he passed in this monastery, making use of his involuntary seclusion to carry on with great zeal his musical studies. The story of Tartini's dream, and his motive for writing the "Devil's Sonata" is told in various ways and with many additions. Tartini told the tale himself to the astronomer Lalande, who relates it in the following manner in his "Italian Travels." "One night in the year 1713," said Tartini, "I dreamed that I had made a compact with the Devil, and that he stood at my command. Everything thrived according to my wish, and whatever I desired or longed for was immediately realised through the officiousness of my new vassal. A fancy seized me to give him my violin to see if he could, perchance, play some beautiful melodies for me. How surprised I was to hear a sonata, so beautiful and singular, rendered in such an intelligent and masterly manner as I had never heard before. Astonishment and rapture overcame me so completely that I swooned away. On returning to consciousness, I hastily took up my violin, hoping to be able to play at least a part of what I had heard, but in vain. The sonata I composed at that time was certainly my best, and I still call it the 'Devil's Sonata,' but this composition is so far beneath the one I heard in my dream, that I would have broken my violin and given up music altogether, had I been able to live without it." The Paris Conservatory Library owns the manuscript of the "Devil's Sonata," which was published many years later (in 1805), under the title of "Il Trillo del Diavolo." This sonata has become one of the show-pieces of leading violinists, such as Joachim, Laub, and others. One writer speaks of it as a "piece in which a series of double shakes, and the satanic laugh with which it concludes, are so dear to lovers of descriptive music." Its title alone almost ensures its success beforehand. The listener is, however, less impressed by the hidden diabolical inspiration than by the wonderful technic.



Strange to say, this composition actually aided Tartini to obtain the position of director of the orchestra in the Church of St. Antony at Padua, in 1721. Before this time, however, he heard in Venice the famous violinist Veracini, whose achievements in bowing impressed Tartini so much, that he left Venice the next morning for Ancona, where he pursued the study of his art, unmolested, for seven years. It was here that he created a new method of playing, which, particularly as regards the bowing, was the one followed for half a century.

Let us, however, return to Tartini at Assisi, and tell how an unforeseen incident at last freed the young artist from his hiding-place and gave him back to his family. On a certain holiday, Tartini was playing a violin solo, during services, in the choir of the church, when a sudden gust of wind blew aside the curtains which had concealed him from the assembly. A man from Padua, who happened to be in the church at the time, recognised Tartini, and betrayed his hiding-place. Circumstances had fortunately changed in the course of two years, the anger of the bishop was pacified, and Tartini was allowed to return to his wife at Padua.

In the year 1723 he was called to Prague to perform during the festivities at the coronation of the Emperor Charles VI. He went with his friend, the violoncellist, Antonio Nardini, to Prague, where they both accepted a position in the orchestra of Count Kinsky. After three years in this service, they returned to Padua, which city Tartini never left again. Invitations flowed in from all the great capitals, but no terms tempted him to leave his native soil.

Among the first of these offers was one from Lord Middlesex, inviting Tartini to London, and hinting that a visit to England would probably bring him in at least three thousand pounds; but it was declined in the following disinterested language: "I have a wife with the same sentiments as myself, and no children. We are perfectly contented with our position, and if we wish for anything, it is, certainly, not to possess more than we have at present." The remainder of his long and famous career passed quietly, dedicated to study, composition, and teaching. The school founded by him in 1728 soon became famous all over Europe, and sent out some of the most noted violinists. Padua was then the place of pilgrimage for all violinists, and it was not without cause that Tartini's countrymen called him "il maestro delle nazioni."

This period of Tartini's labour is, above all, remarkable for his theoretic researches. Already, in 1714, he had discovered the combination tones (the so-called "third" or Tartini's tone). This discovery, a lasting and valuable acquisition to all later investigations into acoustics, led him further and further, but apart from the exact road of natural science into the nebulous regions of mystic philosophy. Tartini taught that with the problem of harmony would also be solved the mystery of creation, that divinity itself would be revealed in the mystical symbols of the tone relations. In these mystical investigations, the composer believed himself particularly favoured by the grace of God.

The German composer, Naumann, who became Tartini's pupil at an early age, and who enjoyed his favour as no other did, has written down many remarkable facts concerning the master. To be initiated into the last secrets of the art of tone and the universe was Naumann's most ardent wish, but he was always put off to some future time as not yet being quite mature and worthy enough. Naumann's illustrations of Tartini's teachings resemble more a mystic and ecstatic sermon than a musical theory. Tartini died without having spoken his last word. His character in this last period of his life appears to have been amiable, mild, and benevolent. The sharp and violent disposition of his wife did not make him happy, but he nevertheless always remained considerate and tender toward her. He died in Padua, at the age of seventy-eight, on the sixteenth of February, 1770, and lies buried in the Church of St. Catherine. He perfected the art of bowing, composed eighteen concertos for five instruments, as well as several trios and a number of sonatas, and left a treatise on music. Doctor Burney translated and published, in 1779, a long letter of instructions for playing the violin which Tartini wrote from Padua, in 1760, to "My very much Esteemed Signora Maddalena." It can also be found in the life of "Ole Bull," who had a very high opinion of what Tartini must have been as a teacher.

The splendid collection of modern German pictures owned by Count von Schack, at Munich, includes "Tartini's Dream," which was painted by James Marshall. He was born at Amsterdam in 1838, but studied in Antwerp and Paris, and at Weimar under Friedrich Preller. Most of Marshall's life has been spent in Germany.

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