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The Trouble with Tartini...

September 7, 2006 at 1:16 AM

The Trouble with Tartini….
I have found one of the most satisfying things a violinist can do is deciding to spend some time exploring the life and works of a specific composer or genre. Hopefully one already doe sit to a certain extent when tackling any work IE read the life of, check out some other works and so forth. This kind of mini project can through up all sorts of different pathways to explore. For example, I began exploring Czech music on a whim, got interested in Martinu, explored all his violin music and now feature that composer regularly in concerts. Teachers who want a work for students at around the level of the Vivaldi a minor concerto might well check out the Sonatina as something different, musically challenging and a very powerful introduction modality to more eastern modalities. A useful precursor to the Dvorak Sonatina for example. Slightly more difficult and well suited to a regular recital is the Intermezzo.
Anyway, my recent locus of attention was Tartini, and a somewhat bizarre experience it turned out to be. I would guess that the main items that keep this composer floating around the landscape of violinists consciousness are the following:
1) Rosin.
2) Tartini Tones.
3) The Devils Trill and silly dreams associated with it.
4) A cute little Chinese girl (the cuteness may be a cultural trait) playing and then singing a sonata for Isaac Stern in Mozart to Mao.
5) The Art of Bowing (which everybody has heard of but not practiced….)
6) A very good short work called `andante Presto` which works beautifully in recitals as an encore (instead of all that blasted Kreisler)

Well, this is all jolly good stuff but somehow the dude remains something of an enigma and I wonder why this should be?
Consider first his life. In brief he was primarily interest in fencing and the law in his youth. However an affair with a rather young daughter of an important person (this may be a feature of human behavior that Italian culture has tended to emphasize) led to his running away to a monastery elsewhere where he got on with the more serious business of learning the violin. After that he didn`t do much else except play and write things so maybe his life was not ultimately the stuff of Hollywood movies.
However, he did write hundreds of concertos and sonatas and, assuming a priori that he was an important and interesting composer , how come they are so difficult to find with a few notable exceptions. I think the number of available concertos is about 15 if you scrabble around all the publishers and the sonatas even fewer, of which only two seem to get a look in anyway. Maybe lack of availability has done much to cause the relative rareness of hearing things other than the Devils Trill. On top of this, the majority of those editions are awful. They tend to belong in that category of `bowed fingered and pianoed by dead 19th century German violinist.` One honorable exception is a rather romantic version of a concerto done by Gingold (d minor I think) that is also available on video played by Szigeti way past his prime which does little to sell the work.
As a consequence, preparing even the well known `Didone Abbandone` sonata is not as straightforward as it might seem. Typically, I have seen this treated more as a beginners work with a lot of emphasis of good tone production and singing lines blah blah blah. Nothing wrong with that at all, but the end result has never really seemed to be what Tartini intended to me so after some thought I concluded that it suggests a misunderstanding of the historical position of the work. Tartini is not Handel. He comes from the land of impassioned flourish, embellishment, poetry and pizza and I think this work belongs very much in the improvisatory, ornamental flourish genre of Corelli, even at the expense of a big singing line. So, for example, I approached every cadence and large interval of the first movement with a view to adding ornamentation (research Geminiani`s book and pere Mozart). And, doing all the repeats which changes the substance of this work dramatically, I intensified the ornamentation even more, introducing rapid scale passages between intervals of an octave , converting 16th note passages into rapid 6 note patterns and so forth.
Furthermore, the most common Hermann edition has a ridiculous piano part where extensive pruning is necessary. Before anything else the double octaves have to go. Finally, in the same edition there is clearly -a bar missing-!!!!! The recapitulation of the opening subject is not the same. The second phrase is absent. The damn passage actually needs to be recomposed for both violin and piano.
The use of repetitions brings the work back into balance only if one then gets rid of the oft played 2nd movement which want written for this work. It was actually borrowed from another Tartini work in the 19th century and somehow the tradition stuck. It just doesn’t fit, beautiful though it might be. Incidentally, the dude who stuck it in is the same one who borrowed other bits and bobs from all over the place to put together the silliest baroque (?) work of all time : Nardini`s e minor concerto for bagpipe and roadkill combos. The last movement also required drastic pruning in the violin part. Instead of the romantic double stopped passages which I suspect are 19th century I substituted trills on every note (great effect) . I also pulled the g string filigree work up the octave where I am damn sure it was original written as part of the musical line, not as some 19th century editor going `Okay, lets bang out some triplets on the G string for show!`
In conclusion I think Tartini is both severely misrepresented and underutilized as a violinist’s resource. Hopefully this situation will improve before the guy slides into obscurity, rememberd only as a selling point for gooey stuff violinists rub on a horses appendage found remarkably near the botty.

From Maura Gerety
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 2:26 AM
Great blog Buri! I love getting obsessed with composers....I'm really stuck on Bartok right now. :)
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 3:04 AM
you play the Duos, yes? Those are just crazeeeee.
From Nicholas Tavani
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 6:58 AM
Why isn't this on the front page?...
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 7:05 AM
becuase it`s old news?;)
From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 8:18 AM
Tartini rhymes with martini.
From Ben Clapton
Posted on September 7, 2006 at 2:40 PM
I like martini's - and it kinda sounds like martinu, which was mentioned earlier in the blog. How things turn around.

I love buri's blogs - especially his way of describing bow hair.

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