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Hyperion Records

CDD22061 - Tartini: The Devil's Trill & other violin sonatas
Apollo pursuing Daphne (c1755-60) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
(Originally issued on CDA66430, CDA66485)

Recording details: Various dates
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: November 2007
DISCID: 13112F12
Total duration: 139 minutes 19 seconds

'Elizabeth Wallfisch's technical prowess makes all these sonatas sound easy—which they are not—and leaves room for innumerabe expressive nuances. Both this and a second collection of later sonatas are discs to treasure and enjoy through many a repeated listening' (BBC Music Magazine Top 1000 CDs Guide)

'Performances which compel us to listen, not merely to marvel at the virtuosity' (Gramophone)

'The Locatelli Trio rises brilliantly to the challenge … they convey great passion and warmth. Wallfisch is outstanding and the engineers have captured the balance perfectly' (Classic CD)

'Recommended? You bet! Get it now before the Tartini boom begins' (Fanfare, USA)

'This is without question one of the finest records of baroque music ever issued! … a revelation … enthralling and hugely important. A wonderful issue' (CDReview)

The Devil's Trill & other violin sonatas
Affettuoso  [7'55]
Presto  [2'40]
Allegro  [2'06]
Cantabile  [6'12]
Allegro assai  [3'08]
Allegro  [2'47]
Adagio  [1'44]
Allegro  [2'56]
Allegro assai  [3'22]
Grave  [3'23]
Allegro  [2'55]
Adagio  [3'37]
Allegro  [4'11]
Allegro  [7'38]
Tempo giusto  [5'43]
Adagio  [2'48]
Allegro  [7'58]
Andante  [4'20]
Allegro  [5'16]
Largo  [3'20]
Allegro  [2'04]
Affettuoso  [2'00]
Menuet  [1'43]
Allegro  [7'23]
Andante  [3'34]
Allegro  [4'48]
Minuetto  [1'12]
Affettuoso  [4'26]
Allegro  [7'21]
Andante  [8'43]
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Giuseppe Tartini was born in Pirano near Trieste (now Piran in Yugoslavia) on 8 April 1692. What little is known about his early life derives from a biography written by his friend, the cellist Antonio Vandini. It seems that his family intended him for the priesthood, and in 1708 he travelled to Padua to study law at the university. Instead, he married and turned to music, which brought him into conflict with the Church authorities and caused him to seek refuge in Assisi, where he is said to have studied with the Czech composer Bohuslav Cvernohorský.

Tartini lived a nomadic life working as a violinist in northern Italian towns until 1721, when he was appointed leader of the orchestra at St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua. The terms of his employment still left him free to travel, and he spent several years in Prague, attracted there by the coronation of Charles VI in 1723. Soon after his return to Padua he founded his famous violin school, which attracted pupils from all over Europe and caused him to write a number of treatises, including a work on ornamentation that was plundered by Leopold Mozart for his Violinschule. Tartini’s later career was largely taken up with the study of musical theory and acoustics, and he published several theoretical works in the 1750s and ’60s. They are a strange mixture of archaic theory, faulty mathematics and practical observation, and they were much criticized at the time by progressive writers; his sensitive and retiring soul found this hard to bear, and his last years were clouded by controversy. He died in Padua on 26 February 1770.

Tartini was a prolific composer for his instrument. There are more than 130 authenticated violin concertos by him, over fifty of which survive in his autograph, and about the same number of solo violin sonatas, as well as about forty trio sonatas. Many of them were published north of the Alps by Michel Charles Le Cene in Amsterdam, by John Walsh in London, and by Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc in Paris. Italian composers tended to publish abroad because the music publishing industry in their native land was in terminal decline—most music circulated there in manuscript—and because the market for instrumental music was most highly developed in the wealthy cities of northern Europe.

The music on the first disc comes, with one exception, from Sonate a violino e violoncello o cimbalo Opus 1 (Amsterdam, 1732), reprinted as XII Solos for a Violin with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord or Violoncello (London, 1746). Tartini’s publications are a minefield for the unwary bibliographer. There are no fewer than five collections with the label Opus 1, and it is not clear how authoritative the northern European editions are; it is difficult to believe, for instance, that the XII Sonatas for two violins and bass (London, 1750) were really ‘Printed at the Author’s Expence’, as the title page claims. The only work of Tartini that was generally known in the nineteenth century, the ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata, was not published complete in his lifetime, and eventually appeared in J B Cartier’s treatise L’art du violon (Paris, 1798). Cartier stated that it was ‘very rare’, and that he had acquired it from Pierre Baillot, who studied in Rome with a pupil of Tartini’s favourite pupil, Pietro Nardini.

Like most composers who lived through the central decades of the eighteenth century, Tartini’s style changed markedly during his career. Charles Burney, who arrived in Padua just after the composer’s death and met a number of his friends and colleagues, wrote that ‘he changed his style in 1744, from extreme difficult, to graceful and expressive’. It is not clear what event precipitated the change, but it is true that Tartini’s early sonatas are full of double and triple stops, florid passage-work and elaborate ornamentation. The last piece in the 1732 set of sonatas, the multi-section Pastorale, even uses scordatura, with the G and D strings of the violin raised a tone. By the early eighteenth century such devices, which had been developed to a high point in Germany and Austria during the seventeenth century, were distinctly old-fashioned in Italy. Corelli’s Opus 5 of 1700, the model for most subsequent collections of Italian violin sonatas, is relatively modest in its technical requirements.

Tartini followed Corelli in laying out his 1732 set of sonatas in two parts. The first six have fugues as their second movements and belong to the da chiesa tradition, while the rest are da camera works and have binary movements; they are cast as preludes, allemandes, courantes, gigues and so on, but are not labelled as such. Yet the collection also looks forwards as well as backwards. Both the da chiesa and the da camera sonatas have three movements rather than the four or five of Corelli, and they are disposed in the pattern slow-fast-fast, which reached the height of its popularity in the middle of the century. Tartini’s harmonic language, too, is much more modern than Corelli’s: the brilliant passage-work is often supported by simple, slow-moving cadential progressions, decorated and softened by appoggiaturas. Tartini’s habit of giving his sonatas enigmatic titles drawn from Metastasio’s Classical dramas also anticipates the Classical period, when composers wanted their instrumental music to have a dramatic, operatic quality. The title ‘Didone abbandonata’ for Sonata No 10 in G minor only became popular in the nineteenth century, but it is certainly appropriate to the mood of the work, pathetic and tempestuous by turns, and it may go back to the composer.

‘Il trillo del Diavolo’ is, of course, the most famous programmatic eighteenth-century violin sonata. Cartier wrote that Tartini ‘saw the Devil at the end of his bed playing the trill that appears in the last movement of the sonata’, and Tartini’s account of the circumstances that supposedly led to its composition appears in J G de Lalande’s Voyage d’un françois en Italie (Paris, 1769):

One night I dreamt that I had made a bargain with the Devil for my soul. Everything went at my command—my novel servant anticipated every one of my wishes. Then the idea struck me to hand him my fiddle and to see what he could do with it. But how great was my astonishment when I heard him play with consummate skill a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flight of my imagination. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted; my breath was taken away; and I awoke. Seizing my violin I tried to retain the sounds that I had heard. But it was in vain. The piece I then composed, the Devil’s Sonata, although the best I ever wrote, how far below the one I heard in my dream!

Lalande added that Tartini composed the work in 1713, which is impossibly early given the style of the music. It probably dates from the late 1740s or later. The trill appears in the driving Allegro assai that repeatedly interrupts a gentle Andante—representing, presumably, the sleeping composer. The work is played here from Cartier’s text; it differs in countless ways from the nineteenth-century edition that is still in widespread use.

Tartini’s Opus 5 appeared in Paris in the late 1740s in an elegant edition engraved by Le Huë and dedicated to Tartini’s pupil André-Noël Pagin. The implication is that the set had been acquired from the composer by way of Pagin, though it is not certain that all of the six sonatas are authentic works. The rest of the music on disc 2—and, for that matter, the bulk of Tartini’s later sonatas—remained in manuscript. Much of it comes from an autograph volume which Tartini used to collect his solo violin music from about 1745 until his death; it is now in the Biblioteca Antoniana at the Basilica in Padua. There are also many manuscript copies, including an important collection, now at Berkeley in California, that was assembled by members of Tartini’s Paduan circle.

Opus 5 No 6 is probably the earliest of the sonatas on this disc, despite its publication date, for it is similar in style to the Opus 1 Sonatas of 1732 (on disc 1). It is cast in a three-movemement pattern, with an opening slow movement followed by a lengthy, elaborate Allegro; the last movement, cast in the rhythm of a minuet, is a set of variations (or ‘divisions’, for the continuo part remains unchanged throughout) of ever-increasing complexity. The Sonata ‘in the style of the priest who plays the Portuguese guitar’ (a colleague, perhaps, of Tartini at Padua) is also taken up largely with virtuosic passage-work, though it is cast in the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern. The ‘Portuguese guitar’ can presumably be heard in the wild harmonic shifts and clashes of the first and third movements, reminiscent of Iberian folk music. In the slow movement the alternation of improvisatory arpeggios and simple chords is probably meant to represent the characteristic method of playing the Baroque guitar, which interspersed fingered passages with rasgueado (strummed) chords.

The Sonata in D major was probably composed a little later. The passage-work is still ‘extreme difficult’, but it is now mixed to a greater extent with melodic material. In the second movement, for instance, a fanfare-like idea alternates regularly with arpeggiated passage-work, and there is a prominent return to the opening theme and key halfway through the second section. To our ears such ‘recapitulations’ anticipate Classical ‘sonata form’, but the device was well established in the dance music of the Baroque period. Another ‘Classical’ feature of this Sonata is the simple, subsidiary nature of the bass part. The continuo parts of solo violin music tended to decline in importance as composers abandoned counterpoint and fast-moving Baroque harmonic patterns in favour of simple, slow-moving progressions founded largely on tonic and dominant chords. It became common to perform such sonatas with just a cello, or without any bass instrument at all. In a letter written in 1750 to the writer Francesco Algarotti in Berlin, Tartini pointed out that the bass line of some ‘short sonatas for solo violin’ he had sent to Berlin was only included ‘for appearance’s sake’, that he himself played them ‘without bassetto’, and that unaccompanied performance ‘was his real intention’.

The Sonata in B flat, bBb1, is a case in point. It is an excellent example of Tartini’s later ‘graceful and expressive manner’, with a melodious opening Largo (in the composer’s favourite siciliana rhythm), and a remarkably simple succeeding Allegro. Throughout, the double and triple stops are used not to display the virtuosity of the player (which is taken for granted), but to sketch in enough harmonies to make the expressive violin line more or less self-sufficient. We are not far removed here from the solo violin studies of the late eighteenth century, or even from the more expressive caprices of Paganini.

Peter Holman © 1992

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