Tartini-Sonata Piccola No 18 D major

Posted on June 5th, 2014 by


Tartini: ‘The essence of Harmony is Unity, which divides itself into multiples, only to return to unity as its basic principle.’ 

Tartini, pictured at the beginning of his career in Padua-interestingly holding a vola d'amore

Tartini, pictured at the beginning of his career in Padua-interestingly holding a vola d’amore

Sonata XVIII  D major

Andante Cantabile lascia ch’io dico addio

Whenever I play or hear this movement, I think of Tartini saying:’‘The essence of Harmony is Unity, which divides itself into multiples, only to return to unity as its basic principle.’ There’s a balance in this playful movement, across the instrument, top to bottom, high to low, between singing and dancing, that recalls the maxim-the movement has to sound sprung, natural, whilst including some of his most challenging writing.

Allegro assai

This simple binary movement sets up double stop playing in the just the register to set low resultant tones popping around the room and the player, and this are balanced by ripping string crossings, Tartini (devil’s)t Trills, and quasi-orchestral double stopping. In his Hortulus Cheliculus (1888), Johann Walther, referred to this kind of three part chord writing as ‘chori di violini’ (violin choirs).

Siciliana

This is one of the movements where Tartini makes most use of his idiosyncratic experimental harmony, based on symmetrically arranged chords,  aiming to a resolution on a unison-that is, the same note played on two adjacent strings-that is, one note, that should sound like two notes. The result is a harmony that sounds at once rustic and sophisticated. It would have sounded far more radical to Tartini’s listeners, and this the kind of writing that might have lead some of his ersrtwhile disciples, such as, in the UK, Benjamin Stillingfleet, to attack the work (musical and theoretical of his later years). In the 20th century, it would inspire composer/theorist such as the American George Rochberg to complex symmetrical harmonic experiments, which would find great expression in his Violin Concerto.

Menuets 1 & 2

Like the minuets in J S Bach’s last Partita (E Major) these movements are designed to be played in ABA layout. It was common practice, and both Bach and Tartini play this game, to make the ‘A’ minuet courtly, the ‘B’ rustic. That is very much the case here-the first one puffs itself up like a Versailles court court composer, the second is very much in the fields, with lots of dudelsaks, and skylarks!

Aria

Tartini always resisted writing  opera, protesting that he knew, (and Vivaldi did not) that the neck of the violin was something very different from the throat of a singer. However, his maxim ‘per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare’ makes it how clear he felt the understanding of the voice should be for a violinist. This is really aria with variations, with some wonderful consecutive harmonies in the more colourful virtuosity as the movement builds!

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