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Spooky: Giuseppe Tartini met the Devil in his dream, which inspired the Violin Sonata in G Minor

Tijana Radeska
Devil's Sonata
Devil's Sonata

Tartini was an Italian violinist and composer born in 1692. He was musically educated since an early age but later he went to study law at the University of Padua where he also learned to fence.

His life turned upside down after the death of his father, Gianantonio.

Giuseppe Tartini

Giuseppe Tartini

Following the death of his father, Tartini married a woman of whom his father disapproved because of her lower status. Apparently, another man, Cardinal Giorgio Cornaro, was also interested in the woman and charged Tartini with abduction.

To escape prosecution, Tartini traveled away. He went to the monastery of St. Francis, in Assisi where with nothing much left to do, he turned to music and started playing the violin.

Monument in the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua. Photo credit

Monument in the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua. Photo credit

Tartini was content with playing the violin until he heard Francesco Maria Veracini in 1716. He was fascinated by Veracini’s playing and frustrated with his own.

With a desire to master the violin, Tartini locked himself in a room and practiced until he and the violin didn’t have any more secrets to share with each other.

Statue of Tartini in his birth town in the Republic of Venice - Piran, today in Slovenia. Photo credit

Statue of Tartini in his birth town in the Republic of Venice – Piran, today in Slovenia. Photo credit

In 1721, Tartini became the Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua. He became friends with the composer and theorist Francesco Antonio Vallotti.

Tartini appears to be the first known owner of a violin created by Antonio Stradivari in 1715 which he later gave to his student Salvini. It is the violin known as Lipinski Stradivarius.

And it is the same violin on which Tartini composed the “Sonata of the Devil.”

Devil's Trill Sonata. Photo credit

Devil’s Trill Sonata. Photo credit

The Sonata is notable for its technically difficult passages, originally lasting 15 minutes, and remains as Tartini’s best-known composition.

The story goes that in his dream, Tartini was asked by the Devil to be his servant. When the lessons ended, Tartini asked the Devil to play the violin himself.

Tartini had never heard a more touching sound from a violin or a greater musical genius than the Devil.

"Tartini's Dream" by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). Illustration of the legend behind Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill Sonata".

“Tartini’s Dream” by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). Illustration of the legend behind Giuseppe Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill Sonata”.

The complete story is told by Tartini himself in Lalande’s “Voyage d’un François en Italie”:

One night, in the year 1713, I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy.

I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain!

The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the “Devil’s Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.