Giuseppe Tartini: Fundamental Questions

by Gabriele Taschetti (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 318 Pages


The present volume, which inaugurates the series called Giuseppe Tartini and the Musical Culture of the Enlightenment, includes contributions presenting a wide range of materials and methodologies, revealing a rich multiplicity of perspectives on Giuseppe Tartini’s work, ideas, personality and reception history. By casting new light on some fundamental and unanswered questions, this collection of essays aims to increase our awareness of the vastness, complexity, and relevance of Tartini and his world, which inevitably will always inspire new research and new approaches to his music.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • The Tartini Moment (Sergio Durante)
  • Part I In the Age of Enlightenment
  • Classicism and Grace as Leading Aesthetic Principles for the Music of the Age of Enlightenment (Raffaele Mellace)
  • Tartini and the Enlightenment: Research Notes (Cesare Fertonani)
  • The Sonatas Op. 2 by Giuseppe Tartini: A Tribute to a Young Man from East Indies (Guido Viverit)
  • Tartini’s Musical ‘Canonization’ in the Italian Philosophical Thinking of His Time (Paola Besutti)
  • Bach, Tartini and Their Network (Pierpaolo Polzonetti)
  • Part II Images and Imagination
  • The Different Sides of Giuseppe Tartini: Iconography (Chiara Bombardini)
  • Tartini and the Psychoanalyst: Dreams and Musical Creation (Roberta Guarnieri)
  • Giuseppe Tartini and the Christian Faith: Obsequium or Pietas? (Fabio Dal Corobbo)
  • From the Dream to the Nightmare Investigator: Tartini between Literature and Mythography (Valentina Confuorto)
  • Giuseppe Tartini as a (Missed) Opportunity for Slovenia’s Cultural Diplomacy (Boštjan Udovič and Matevž Štepec)
  • Part III Sources and Editions
  • Giuseppe Martucci, Cesare Pollini, Oreste Ravanello and the Destiny of Tartini’s Paduan Manuscripts (Gabriele Taschetti)
  • Tartini’s Re-Formulation Strategies in Alternative Concerto Movements (Agnese Pavanello)
  • Giuseppe Tartini’s Trio Sonatas: Environment, Main Copyists and Main Sources (Juan Mariano Porta)
  • The Sonatas in Four Parts by Giuseppe Tartini: New Perspectives (Federico Lanzellotti)
  • Index

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The last few years have seen important occasions to revisit the life and work of Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770): 2020 was the 250th anniversary of his death and 2022 was the 330th anniversary of his birth. To mark the occasion, the Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies of the University of Padua, the Department of Musicology of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana and the “Giuseppe Tartini” Conservatory in Trieste joined forces and organized three international musicological conferences between 2019 and 2020, exploring topics related to Tartini’s life, work and legacy. The present three-volume series, Giuseppe Tartini and the Musical Culture of the Enlightenment, edited by Margherita Canale Degrassi, Paolo Da Col, Nejc Sukljan, and Gabriele Taschetti, presents a thematically organized selection of the expanded and revised conference papers.

Tartini left some 450 compositions, over 200 letters, and 3 substantial printed theoretical volumes, in addition to other minor published and unpublished texts, which represent a still active goldmine to scholars and musicians dedicated to expanding our knowledge of 18th-century music culture. This vast body of material was consumed, assimilated, and disseminated by listeners, correspondents, admirers, opponents and a surprising number of pupils. This heterogeneous corpus of works and letters, produced over a considerable span of time, has always been entangled in a complex and interactive net of relationships with other artists, intellectuals and their literary, philosophical, theoretical and musical texts. The resulting layers of direct and indirect exchanges have often produced new meanings in new contexts over time – a phenomenon that deserves to be explored in depth. The present volume, which inaugurates the series called Giuseppe Tartini and the Musical Culture of the Enlightenment, includes contributions presenting a wide range of materials and methodologies, revealing a rich multiplicity of perspectives on Giuseppe Tartini’s work, ideas, personality and reception history.

After an introductory essay by Sergio Durante, the volume is divided into three parts. The first, In the Age of Enlightenment, attempts to define the space (physical, philosophical, musical, cultural) occupied by Tartini within the 18th century. The first chapter, authored by Raffaele Mellace, sets out some aesthetic coordinates that help us understand some crucial features of the music of the Age of Enlightenment, namely the principles of classicism and grace. The contribution by Cesare Fertonani offers important insights into Giuseppe Tartini’s attitude towards contemporary culture. The chapter by Guido Viverit investigates Tartini’s sonatas op. 2, revealing his entrepreneurial skills and providing new information about the ‘Javanese’ dedicatee of the printed edition. Paola Besutti’s chapter focuses on Tartini’s reputation among contemporary intellectuals, illustrating how he and his work were perceived as a possible candidate to enter a new canon for the education and, more broadly, for the formation of a modern society. This first part concludes with ←7 | 8→Pierpaolo Polzonetti’s study of the complex network linking Giuseppe Tartini and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The second part, Images and Imagination, is dedicated to perceptions and representations of Tartini, on the basis of both period documentary traces (portraits, letters, perhaps even music), as well as the shifting image of Tartini in more recent times. Chiara Bombardini’s study offers a detailed account of Tartini’s iconography in the 18th century, while Roberta Guarnieri and Fabio Dal Corobbo’s chapters investigate Tartini’s psyche and spirituality. Valentina Confuorto collects a wealth of examples of literary, dramaturgical, choreographic and dramatic works inspired by Tartini up to the present day. Not surprisingly, all four of these contributions mention the eerie episode that supposedly inspired the Devil’s Trill sonata. In conclusion, the co-authored essay by Boštjan Udovič and Matevž Štepec examines the role and position of the image of Giuseppe Tartini in Slovenian culture through the lens of Slovenia’s cultural diplomacy.

The third part, Sources and Editions, explores controversial and problematic issues linked to music. In Tartini’s case, the problem is often rooted in the existence of a plurality of equally authoritative versions of his compositions, often produced over time, making it hard to establish one single authoritative text or to determine the exact chronology of his works. New sources continue to surface, posing new challenges from both a philological and historiographical point of view. Gabriele Taschetti’s contribution opens this section by giving an account of the beginning of inquiry into Tartini’s works in the late 19th century. In her chapter, Agnese Pavanello delves into the complex issue of alternative movements for concertos. Juan Mariano Porta then offers an up-to-date account of Tartini’s trio sonatas and the contexts for the production of their sources, now scattered all over the Western world. Finally, Federico Lanzellotti’s chapter addresses Tartini’s ‘quartets’ or sonatas a quattro, a corpus that, not unlike the others, still holds many surprises in store.

By casting new light on some fundamental and unanswered questions, this collection of essays aims to increase our awareness of the vastness, complexity, and relevance of Giuseppe Tartini and his world, which inevitably will always inspire new research and new approaches to his music.

Gabriele Taschetti,


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Sergio Durante
University of Padua

The Tartini Moment

It is in the mindset of musicologists to consider performance as the conclusion of a process that originates from a careful consideration of the sources, be they historical documents or properly musical texts. In the case of Tartini, however, the contrary might be honestly said: performers arrived before scholars and offered to their audiences, both in concert and in recordings, direct and effective musical experiences, notwithstanding that the scores in use were not necessarily up to the scholarly standard. We must then recognize that it is mainly the merit of practical musicians if Tartini is better known today than it was thirty years ago. A number of new recordings appeared before and/or in connection with the Tartini year 2020, marking a resurgence that is particularly noteworthy insofar as it does not depend on joint planning, on a major festival or institution but on the individual initiatives of performers. It is not only the quality of first-class performers in play but also the diverse concepts enlivening the projects. This is not the occasion for a complete discography but at least a selection of cases must be mentioned: in the first place the complete recording of the violin concertos published by Dynamic, a huge enterprise planned and achieved over the years with unmeasurable determination, energy and competence by the late Giovanni Guglielmo, his son Federico and Carlo Lazari with period instruments ensemble L’arte dell’arco.1 The fact of making available to the public 125 concertos in 29 CDs represents a turn in Tartini’s reception. After the edition was completed new concertos by (or attributed to) Tartini surfaced thanks to researchers but I suspect that a part of the newly found 30 works will need a prudent assessment of authenticity since the ‘Tartini’ label encouraged forgery as was the case with other 18th-century celebrated masters.2 Another interesting collection of 13 CDs encloses all of Enrico Gatti’s sonata recordings and nests the reprint of sonatas Op. I (Le Cène, 1734, the most circulated collection throughout Europe) and Op. II (Clèton, 1745, the only Italian print); this collection represents not only a homage to one brilliant violinist in historically informed performance but, more importantly, places Tartini within a frame of contemporary composers that stresses his peculiarity. Projects of lesser magnitude are equally important in that they offer original approaches to a music style that is appreciated more and more as its profundity is understood: David Plantier (with Annabelle ←11 | 12→Luis, cello) have published various recordings in what is probably the phonic arrangement closest to the Paduan practice of the time, that is, with cello solo rather than cello and harpsichord.3 The result is fully convincing for the emerging clarity of the contrapuntal texture no less than for the instrumental quality and interpretive sensibility. This apparently radical, certainly untraditional choice, anticipates and matches recent investigations of the sources (without of course excluding the possibility of a more traditional performance à tre). One of Plantier’s CDs is based on the careful use of the ms. FR-Pc 9796, and is devoted to Tartini’s last violin sonatas: the source itself directs the artist towards the choice of demonstrably late works of top quality, side by side with the early sonata D19. Yet another original approach is represented by Mathieu Camilleri’s CD titled Senti lo mare (one of the literary incipits chosen by Tartini as “creative prompter”):4 in addition to offering a stylistically convincing performance, the artist aims at reviving the improvisational manière by Tartini’s offering, besides diminutions and embellishments, a Prélude/Capriccio entirely original, and yet shaped according to the long-internalized style of Tartini. Among the artists who are presently demonstrating a special interest for the piranese virtuoso one should not forget Marie Rouquié, Leila Schayegh and Chouchane Siranossian,5 protagonists of diverse but equally convincing renderings of Tartini’s music. Of course one should not neglect the gratitude due to violinists of the old school, among whom Piero Toso, Uto Ughi, Salvatore Accardo and others, but I feel that only in the vast and yet diverse region of historically informed practices the peculiar greatness of Tartini will become fully transparent. This does not represent advocacy of a movement that does not need any but, more simply, the consequence of considering the foundations of Tartini’s fortune in his time, no less than his substantial oblivion during the 19th and most of the 20th centuries. First and more obviously he was a performer of exceptional skill who invented devices for the use of his instrument, sound combinations and effects that appeared new and surprising. His mastery of the bow on one hand and his expressive sound production on the other, appeared unprecedented to contemporary listeners. We can only imagine the quality of that impression 250 years after the facts, but Tartini himself provides a clue about the indispensable relation between his compositions and a specific style of performance. In 1749 he was commissioned a number of compositions by Frederick the Great through Francesco Algarotti and on the occasion he cautioned his intermediary about the risks (in a letter of 20 November 1749):

←12 | 13→[…] I must inform you (as a good servant) to limit my praises with this marvelous monarch. As on the one hand he is too wise in every matter, and on the other your love for me exceeds any merit and any talent of mine. And although this love is very dear and most precious to me, I could never allow it to be harmful to such a patron of mine, as could easily happen in the present case, in which I am obliged by your command to send my compositions there to be examined and judged by this monarch. I blindly obey you, as I shall always do, but may God assist you. The gamble in the performance adds to this, since it is equally as impossible that another man (whoever he may be) might match my character and my expression with precision, as it is impossible for another man to look exactly like me.6

We have no way to know whether Frederick liked the pieces or not but he was kind enough to Tartini with an original melody that was then used as a theme for a new concerto.7 The text stresses the crucial importance of adequate performance and conversely that, in absence of such, the composer himself could raise doubts about the outcome. After Tartini died and his compositional style became old fashioned, most of his music fell in oblivion for a long time. This does not diminish the value of Tartini’s compositions but calls for a suitable approach: this music needs an eloquent, superior performance or in other words, as Giulio Caccini wrote “non patisce mediocrità” (does not suffer mediocrity). One should add that it does not suffer equal temperament, poor intonation, constant vibrato, or lack of ←13 | 14→clarity. If it is true that (some) performers understood this first, the time has come for musicologists to provide musicians with critical editions of Tartini’s oeuvre, amounting to approximately 420 catalogue numbers according to the most recent count.8

However, in order to provide an orientation within this massive musical and theoretical output, we also need a more detailed, and perhaps less eulogistic, narration about Tartini’s life and ideas. Pierluigi Petrobelli, the most important Tartini scholar of the 20th century, believed in the image of Giuseppe as a “totally honest” man,9 but I would rather suggest that we inherited an uncritical self-representation of Tartini because a reliable portrait of any personality must be more complicated and contradictory. Tartini’s reputation was in reality not only the result of a candid devotion to music but also of a forward-looking career planning. He was hired at St. Anthony’s Basilica in 1721 and with the exception of the three Prague years (1723–26) he played there until his retirement in 1765 (30–35 performances each year). Not enough attention has been paid so far to the uniqueness of that position: how many violinists became the main musical attraction of a major sanctuary for the fascination of instrumental performance (and not of their liturgical compositions)? – none to my knowledge. By staying in Padua, rather than accepting the more prestigious positions that he was repeatedly offered, Tartini was assuring to himself a composite audience of local population and, much more importantly, of wealthy travelers on their Grand tour who became as many advertisers of their privileged musical experience at St. Anthony’s. When Burney reported in his Musical travel through Italy that he visited Padua with the attitude of “a pilgrim to Mecca” (months after Tartini’s death) he was characterizing the city as a music-shrine and Tartini (rather than St. Anthony) as the object of veneration: the overlapping of sanctuary and music venue was perfect in his imagination as it had been successfully functional to Tartini’s international image.10

It is not far-fetched to say that, consciously or not (I believe consciously), Tartini devised a lucid planning: it was not by chance that his first book of concertos was published in Amsterdam in 1726 or 1727, immediately after the opening of the school of violin and composition in Padua that was to become his main source of income. According to the report of Achilles Rhyner-Delon (and implicitly by more than 100 students who attended his lessons) he was a careful, charismatic and ←14 | 15→effective teacher;11 however his special teaching talent is not a sufficient explanation: opening a private school that attracted students from all over the continent (and beyond) was also a form of self-promotion. Some of them were exceptionally good, like Bini, Pagin or Nardini; many more were wealthy amateurs of diverse proficiency, all equally eager to boast of their studies with Tartini all trumpeting his virtuosity and his techniques, as witnessed in E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale recently reprinted as L’allievo di Tartini (Tartini’s student).12

Even the too often repeated story of the devil’s dream, reappraised from the psychoanalytical perspective by Roberta Guarnieri,13 can be seen with new eyes: what was for Tartini the use of insisting in the narration of that story? If we believe de Lalande’s report, the dream was the stimulus for the composition of a piece that he reputed “his best and yet inferior to the one heard in the dream”;14 we must also recall that, according to the visitor Christoph Gottlieb von Murr, a score of the Devil’s Trill sonata was hanging at the wall of the room where Tartini taught,15 like an emblem of his inspiration. The story of the dream must have been told time and again (as proved by its synthetic and variant version in Cartier’s l’Art du violon).16 We might then argue, with a degree of cynicism, that Tartini was using his dream as yet another element of self-mythography, possibly delineating a marketing strategy avant-lettre.17 Therefore, he might have been an honest man, in his own way, but he was neither a saint nor indifferent to finances or to artistic and intellectual glory.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (February)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 318 pp., 48 fig. b/w, 10 tables.

Biographical notes

Gabriele Taschetti (Volume editor)

Gabriele Taschetti is completing a PhD in musicology at the University of Padua, with a dissertation on early 17th-century sacred music. He has published on music patronage, compositional techniques, contrafacta, the creative process, and the circulation of music books in the early modern period. He is currently collaborating in the edition of the opera omnia of Tomaso Cecchini and Giovanni Battista Riccio.


Title: Giuseppe Tartini: Fundamental Questions