Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor ”Devil’s Trill Sonata”
Tartini allegedly told the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande that he had dreamed that the Devil had appeared to him and had asked to be Tartini’s servant. At the end of the lesson, Tartini handed the devil his violin to test his skill, which the devil began to play with virtuosity, delivering an intense and magnificent violin performance. So singularly beautiful and executed with such superior taste and precision, that the composer felt his breath taken away. The complete story is told by Tartini himself in Lalande’s Voyage d’un François en Italie:
One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! 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.
Mesmerized by the devil’s brilliant and awe-inspiring playing, Tartini attempted to recreate what he had heard. However, despite having said that the sonata was his favorite, Tartini later wrote that it was „so inferior to what I had heard, that if I could have subsisted on other means, I would have broken my violin and abandoned music forever.” While he claimed he composed the sonata in 1713, scholars think it was likely composed as late as the 1740s, due to its stylistic maturity. It was not published until 1798 or 1799, almost thirty years after the composer’s death.