Tartini’s Pact: The dream behind the diabolical sonata

Given the choice between heaven and hell I’ve always said I’d opt for the latter for the music if nothing else. Three centuries before me, the the renaissance composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini must have felt similar sensibilities. In 1713, the angular musician told the French writer and astronomer Jérôme Lalande about a peculiar vision he had, in which he lent the devil his violin. The fallen angel turned out to be quite the musical virtuoso.

… to his great astonishment, he heard him play a solo so singularly beautiful and executed with such superior taste and precision, that it surpassed all he has ever heard or conceived in his life. So great was his surprise and so exquisite his delight upon this occasion that it deprived him of the power of breathing.

(As quoted by author Gerald Elias.)

Tartini purportedly woke up and tried to recreate the piece, which became the “Devil’s Trill: sonata, considered to be the composer’s best but by his estimation inferior to the one he heard with his sleeping mind.” Listen and judge for yourself: could such exquisite sounds be the product of a Faustian bargain?




  • On January 21, 2017

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