Piran – Sonata for flauto traverso and continuo in G major by Giuseppe Tartini

by ada

I was planning to do a Travel Series ever since I visited Burano island, the birthplace of Baldassare Galuppi, father of the musical genre opera buffa, uhm, well, one and a half years ago. My original plan was to complete my poor, abandoned Salzburg Series which, I’m afraid, will remain unfinished (just like some other great works of music history, like Schubert’s Unvollendete Symphonie, haha) and start other new, shiny series (I am bursting with ideas. Jewish Baroque liturgical music! Female Baroque composers! The Devil in music! La Folia! The seasons! Death! Love! Animals!). Oh well. I’m slowly losing all my illusions regarding My Own Self lately and it is time to acknowledge the – rather obvious – fact that I do not have that perseverative, ambitious personality that leads to quick (or rather, any) success. And that I need more time than other, healthy people to accomplish less than other, healthy people. But it’s the will that matters, isn’t it?

So let’s make at least one of my ideas happen and start the Travel Series with Giuseppe Tartini. He was born in 1692 in Piran as the son of the director of the still existing Piran salt mines. He, like most of the musicians of his time, was a man with a thorough education. Besides music he also studied humanities and law. Because he was quite the rebel, he defied the will of his parents who wanted him to become a priest and got married at the age of 18. After this he was forced to flee to Assisi without his wife for three years. That’s where he began to play the violin in an autodidact way and where that memorable encounter with the Devil happened, which resulted in his most famous work, the sonata Il trillo del diavolo (The Devil’s Trill). After years of travelling, he settled in Padua where he spent his life teaching the violin, composing and writing his main and heavily criticised theoretical work, Trattato di Musica, based on (mostly erroneous) mathematical calculations. One of his ideas (or rather observations) proved to be right though and so he discovered the existence of the “terzo suono”, the “third tone”. These are the additional tones that you can hear when an interval of two tones are played at the same time. They are also called combination tones (sum tones or difference tones, depending on if it’s the summation or the difference of the frequencies of the original two tones). This is the basic phenomenon behind the medical examination used to evaluate the hearing capacities of newborn babies and to diagnose tinnitus. So after 300 years, Tartini’s discovery has found a practical use other than tuning the violin. Oh well. A late recognition is better than no recognition at all.

The Piran people are rather proud of the “maestro della nazioni”, as Tartini was lovingly called by his contemporaries for his extraordinary teaching skills (you can read his educational letter to his pupil, Maddalena Lombardini, translated to English by one of my favourite people, the travelling music historian of the 18th century, Charles Burney, here), so they named Piran’s main square after him:

Piran Tartinijev trg

Here is he conducting the Piran roofs, tourists and pigeons in eternity:

Piran Tartini sculpture 1

There is a small exhibition in the house Tartini was born, but it is not allowed to take pictures, so here is the photo of my (rather worn) sandals on the stairs that lead to the exhibition room. Just to prove I was in fact there, haha. (Okay, so these could be any stairs anywhere but believe me. They are real Piranian Tartini stairs. Even if they are neither old nor historical enough to be original.)

Tartini house Piran 1

I was tempted to post a recording of the The Devil’s Trill, because it is a piece of music everybody has heard of, and also because although it is a piece of music everybody has heard of, it is also a melody nobody can actually recall; but mainly because I have a lot to say about the Devil and His deeds. Unfortunately I am a very picky audience and am also very hard to please. Of all the recordings YouTube has to offer I only found one that makes my standards and it abruptly ends a few tacts into the third movement. The other recordings are mostly that middle 20th century kind of crap with overused vibrato and symphonic settings I get nightmares from (while I am an honest admirer of both David Oistrakh and Itzakh Perlman when playing Romantic repertoire, I refuse to listen to them playing Baroque. It hurts so much). So I took comfort in being (or rather having been, once upon a time? Depression really sucks) a traverso player and picked the flute sonata performed by Jed Wentz whom I was Facebook friends with during my carefree, pre-depression times (okay, so during the times I was slowly, painfully slipping into depression over the period of long, long years). It is a nice sonata even if it’s nothing spectacular. Tartini was a great teacher but, obviously, not a very exciting composer.

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