How the devil crafted the most impressive violin composition
Is it not an overstatement to say that the devil himself created a musical piece and that too with such feeling and perfection that it has remained one of the most difficult compositions in the history of music? As baffling as this may seem, it inspired Giuseppe Tartini to create the best work of his life, ‘ The Devil’s Trill Sonata’.
Giuseppe Tartini was a violinist and composer in eighteenth-century Italy. Having composed a plethora of sonatas and concerti, he was a popular figure in the musical circles of his age. But what makes him remain popular even after 300 hundred years, is the fantastical story of his meeting with the devil in his dreams, who played the fiddle beautifully, much to Tartini’s amazement.
Now, what was that dream which influenced Tartini?
Tartini had dreamt that he had made a pact with the devil. The devil, now his faithful servant, complied with all his commands. He gave his violin to the devil and asked him to play it believing it to be an insult to the evil one. But the devil’s performance on his violin left Tartini awe-struck. The devil sat at the foot of his bed and played mesmerizing notes with ease, which entrapped Tartini in layers of enchantment. It was a tune so profound and pleasing that Tartini had never conceived before. With an ardent desire to preserve the memory of the devil’s music, he woke up and fervently tried recreating the magic from his dreams. But Tartini believed what he composed in his senses was much inferior to the melodies of his dream. In Tartini’s own words,
“ The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the “Devil’s Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.”
And this is how the Devil’s Trill Sonata became a masterpiece born from the figment of Giuseppe Tartini’s imagination.
The Enthralling Sonata
The sonata was proof of Tartini’s musical prowess. It was composed in G minor in four movements. It is regarded as one of the most difficult musical arrangements even in modern times. Experts agree that Tartini had displayed his brilliance and bravura through this sonata. This fifteen-minute sonata sometimes requires the violinist to play on two adjacent strings simultaneously, making it extremely challenging to perform. People were so bemused that they believed Tartini had gained a sixth finger in one hand from the devil. Technically superior and masterfully crafted, this composition garnered praise as well as doubts arisen from superstition. But the brilliance of the sonata continues to enthrall listeners even now.
The painting by Louis-Leopold Boilly
Louis-Leopold Boilly was a French painter, a contemporary of Tartini.
With his artistry, he captured the image of that eventful dream on paper. This painting has become as famous as the sonata itself.
Three hundred years after the devil’s visit to Tartini’s realm of fantasy, the sonata entrances and transports us into the misty magic of its melodies. And thus the devil produced the most magnificent set of notes ever written!