Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) – ‘l’Arte dell’Arco, o siano Cinquanta Variazioni per violino sopra alla piu bella Gavotta del Corelli Opera V
(workshop recordings, in hotel rooms and ship’s cabin, summer August 2016)
Seattle, 14th August 2016: Over the past week or so, I have been beginning a long postponed exploration of Tartini’s epochal exploration of the left and right hand. Over the next few days, I will upload workshop recordings of the variations, with commentary, technical and fanciful. To begin with, here I am in a hotel room in Seattle, after a day of inspiration, from natural beauty to the wonder of the Seattle Art Museum.
Much of this has been inspired by the fantastic copy of Tartini’s bow, made for me by master Archetier, Antonino Airenti of Genova. What I love is what is happening right now, when an instrument teaches me about a piece of music, and the piece of music teaches me about an instrument. It’s a simple, and profound exchange of ideas and knowledge which I benefit from, every time that it happens.
Working on the variations, over this summer, I have come to appreciate, and celebrate, Tartini’s enormous self-discipline in the work, which in some ways is the most intimate revelation we have of his technique, and one where he explores the limits of what he calls Corelli’s ‘most beautiful’ Gavotte, with extraordinary restraint and vigour.
We do not speak enough about the intricate relationship between the discipline of rhetoric and instrumental technique. It is very clear from this set of variations that the exploration and understanding of the ‘rules’ first coherently articulated in Marcus Fabius Quintilianus’s (c. 35 – c. 100 CE) Instituto Oratoria, is an important aim of this set.
Theme (recorded on deck, MS Maasdam, near Vancouver, 28th August 2016)
Seattle, 29th August 2016: I found that I put off playing Corelli’s theme, until I had studied all of Tartini’s variants on it. There’s no question, that, in this, I was influenced by George Rochberg’s ‘Caprice Variations’ (also a set of 50), which ENDS with the Paganini them (the 24th Caprice). Tartini and Rochberg seemed to have much in common, but most of all, that the act of varying, was an exploration of the scope of the material itself, maybe even of it’s ‘inscape’.
Variation 1 uses the down-up F’-E’-F’ semitone of the second line of Corelli’s theme, as a jumping off point. Five of its eight bars are the same rhythm, which is a syncopation drawing attention to the 5:3 division of 8 semiquavers-the ‘golden section’. The remaining bars divide up in ‘Vitruvian’ proporations, such as 1:3 1:3 2:2 4. This tension, which is irreconcilable, is the well-spring of 18th Century art, what Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), writing at the same time that Tartini was perfecting these variations, said, should be:
“…not just Nature at her most beauteous but also something beyond, being particular ideal forms of nature’s beauty, which, as an ancient reader of Plato teaches us, come from pictures formed in the mind alone”.(Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1750)
Variations 1 and 2 explore pretty much exactly the melodic trajectory of Corelli’s theme. Variation two sets its upper melody (it’s a ‘leaping theme’-I will come back to that), against a buzzing slow-fast-slow semitone trill. This is the first hint of what Tartini writes about practising trills in his famous letter to Maddalena Sirmen-without doubt, the most important text on the art of violin playing ever written, as valuable today, as when it was written:
“…incominci il trillo adagio adagio, e a poco alla volta per gradi insensibili lo vada al presto,…” (Tartini, March 5th 1760, Padua)
This variation is based on the quaver-crochet-quaver syncopation. It steps away from the lower voice of Corelli’s melody, to concentrate on the rising and falling scale of the top. It’s interesting, that whilst this set is called the ‘Art of the Bow’, it is also a primmer for the variety of Tartini’s most ‘classical’ ornaments. His ‘Caprices’ explore something very different, fundamentally Roccoco/Rocaille in nature. This variation offers a model of accented trills with upper-note approaches-effectively extended mordents. It’s worth noting, that the Italians never developed the kind of sophisticated notation of the ‘graces’ used by the Couperins and C P E Bach; Tartini prefers to write them out. A mark of his ‘enlightened’ classicism, is that (unlike Corelli), the note values always add up. in this, he was of one mind with Johann Sebastian Bach.
Variation 4 takes the approach to the trill of Variation 2, and makes it more sophisticated, by dint of a written out accelerando, from duplet to triplet semi-quavers (American readers, I apologise for the UK notation). In effect, Vartion 4 is a variation of Variation 2. This leap-frogging technique occurs at a micro- and macro- level across the set, and functions in a way which reflects both conventional rhyme-schemes, such as the first 8 lines of a Petrachian sonnet which are organised thus: ABBAABBA. On the large scale, there’s an element of ‘prolepsis’ or dramatic irony at work, which is particularly fascinating given the rigour with which Tartini ‘sticks’ to Corelli’s melodic form over the hour of the work.
But there’s a new element/layer, which Tartini has waited three variations to introduce, and that is the ‘stressed’ notes, marked with ” ‘ “. These increase the sense of hierarchy within each foot. In addition, they gather energy, and tension, before being released, with the first separate bow scale of the work, with every note marked with a stress, in the last bar. I like to think of these kind of articulations, marked thus, as tongued notes on the oboe. But that’s just me.
Apologies to composers; I need to observe the obvious here. This variation is the first to find variety through inversion. This is an example of tonal inversation, where a the initial ascending C’F’ Perfect fourth, is delayed, and inverted to C”F’, but at the same moment mimics the descending 4th F’C’, of Bar 1 in the theme. Whilst this variation in many ways ‘rhymes’ with the melodic contour of the theme, more than any previous variant, it also introduces a new element, which is the (somewhat pompous) feeling of ‘French Overture’. This is the first instance of a ‘double-dotted’ upbeat being used in the set (it reappears, along with the ‘overture’ style) in Variation 8. Note the dashing slurred ‘run’ in the pemultimate bar, emphasising the feeling of a cadenza. It reminds me (just me) of Rameau.
Interestingly, the ‘brilliant’ moment in this variation (a descending run in demi-semiquavers, ornamented with rapid trills) is to be found in the middle of this variation. It’s also the only place where Tartini has ensured that the trills should be played with the 4th finger, which he referred to as the most ‘feeble’ of the fingers. In the letter to Maddalena Sirmen, he wrote:
“…e anche col quarto [dito], su cui bisongan far esercizio particolare, perche e il pui picciolo de’ suoi fratelli”(Tartini March 5th 1760)
The remaining 7 bars of the variation are all rhythmically identical, and explore a series of leaps, across intermediate strings, of octaves, elevenths.tenths, twelfths and fifths. He wrote:
“Per acquistar questa legerezza d’arco giova infinitamente il saltar una corda di mezzo”
Working with Antonino Airenti’s copy of the Tartini bow in Trieste, it is clear that this bow is ideally suited to this ‘saltar una corda di mezzo’, most particularly when the bow is held a little way along the stick, close to the ‘pivot point’, and most importantly, remaining touching the strings at all times. The bow pivots on theh ‘corda di mezzo’. A little elementary physics is enough see, that if the intermediate string is used as a fulcrum, no sound should result. This leaping is the fundamental of variation 7.
The ‘leaping’ motion of Variation 7 is derived from the figures in the second of half of bars 5 and 6 in Corelli’s theme (see above). Tartini recommended practising such figures extensively:
“…di questa ella se ne puo fare a capriccio quanto vuole, a per qualunque tuono, e veramente, sono utili, e necessaire.”
Indeed, practising such figures is not only ‘useful’ but ‘necessary’!
Variation 8 develops the ‘overture’ style of Variation 5, although with dashing dotted semiquavers and flashing mordents. It’s interesting to observe the range, the tessitura, of each variation. Variation 5 was confined to Bflat’ to C”. Variation 8 stretches from the low B flat to C”-an octave further. The virtuoso run in the penultimate bar is effectively an inversion of the Variation 5, but continues, over the barline, a fully fledged, vocal cadenza.
Variation 9 is almost entirely syncopated, but not in order to give a ‘swung’ feel. Over the years, I have become aware that Tartini loved the odd-number symmetry that resulted from displacing material, whilst still reiterating the beat. In this case, it results in five notes per beat. After the heavily accented variation that preceded this, he seemed determined to induced a queasy, almost sea-sick feeling, by balancing the rising or falling slur which begins each half bar with trills on lifted or off beats. Whether you play these lightly or heavily the result is bizarre.
Variation ten divides the ‘feet’ of the variation into half; and each half is a ‘couplet’ of two semiquavers. The attack on each stroke is ‘marked’ with a trill and there are finger replacements on every quaver. There’s a hint of a ‘slithering’ chromaticism in bar three, and the variation peroates with a descending chain of appogiatura-demisemiquavers . This ‘rhymes’ with the gesture which was initiated at the end of Variation 5 (but elaborated)
This is the first conventionally virtuosic variant. The profile of the melody has almost completely disappeared, and is replaced by broken chords, with a ‘bass line’ (sic) profile of AGAF and its transpositions. I would hesitate to say this in front of Maestro Tartini, but we are on Vivaldi’s turf. He was always a little cruel about Vivaldi’s aesthetic choices. The moving quavers are articulated in demi-semiquavers (‘biscrome’) bowed, 2-1-1. This ensures that each event numbered group begins on an up bow, which emphasises the down bow crochet tread across the variation. There are a number of occasions, where the bow needs to leap (‘saltar’) across an intermediary string at speed (‘saltar una corda di mezzo’). Interestingly Tartin has orgainsed this so that it is on an up bow (which is much easier!). This variation is truly about the ‘art of the bow’.
It’s fascinating to see how Tartini follows the apparently straightforward patterns of Variation 11 with ornate and sophisticated syncopated trills and finials in the following variation. Each half ends with ‘Scotch Snaps’, to set up the cadence, though I doubt that Tartini would have seen them thus! It’s also an exercise in ‘grace notes’, all rising, in groups of three and four, setting up the syncopated mesa da voce
another version of Variation 12, recorded after the month of work on the whole cycle:
Variation 13 explores a ‘1-3’ bowing combinations-that is one short note on downbow, followed by three slurred into an upbow. The down bows are all ‘marked’ with a staccato/emphasis stroke, which invites the played to exaggerated the ‘rule of down bow’ with a stabbing gesture. It is to be presumed that the one down-bow in each quaver figure will require the same amount of bow length as the following three notes slurred together; so they will, be by dint of this, lighter. Each group of slurred notes are played on one string (there’s no ‘bariolage’ in this variant). The majority of the four-note (1-3) groupings require a string-crossing (up or down) on the bow change. The three-note groupings are all written out ‘inverted mordents’.
One way of ‘reading’ this variation is as an exploration of the tetrasyllabic foot know as a ‘First Paeon’-where the first syllable is stressed. In his Instutio Oratoria, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35- c. 100 CE), wrote about the Paeon:
‘… it is necessary to conceal the care expended upon it so that our rhythms may seem to possess a spontaneous flow, not to have been the result of elaborate search or compulsion.’ (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 9:5;147)
A more fluid reading of Variation 13, recorded on deck on the 28th August
Much of Tartini’s innovatory work was in the field of chords; their execution and of course the physics of harmonics and overtones. So it’s very interesting, that he chose to eschew the technique until 14 variations into his Corelli cycle. In addition, when he did, it was imitative. The chords here are clearly horn-calls, in two parts, save for the finials. These converse with higher lying, trilling birds, with quite fussily, and precisely, notated slurring. I suspect that Paganini knew this well; it seems to have been the source for his 9th Caprice, which of course, sets horns against flutes. Notice that the final chords of each half are open fifths. In all of Tartini’s 30 Sonate Piccole, nearly 6 hours of solo writing, there’s not a single movement which ends with a major or minor chord.
Variation 15 is very aqueous, running slurred triplets. Each off beat bow change involves a finger replacement or a string change. Bars 3 and 6 change to dancing groups of 1:2, which set up a virtuosic slurred staccato in the last bar of each half. I woudl suspect that this is not a down bow staccato, which is (in my hands) not so effective with the Tartini bow. I suspect that he bowed it 1:5. But that’s just a hunch, and my just be my excuse for laziness!
I have been thinking what to write about this exquisite variation for a couple of weeks. How is it, that Tartini, without changing key, or even thinking of going into the minor, can offer such expressive, emotional riches? It’s not just that the music is inherently sunny; more that by setting himself such austere limits of harmony, tessitura, and form, Tartini shows, effortlessly, that worlds are available to us int he commonplace. Of course, the one device that he uses sparingly, is silence. Each of the four, notated, silences in this variation, is rhetorically rich in its own way.
…another version, recorded late in August
Variation 17 is a variant of the ‘accented down bow-light up-bow grouping’. In this version the semiquaver down bow is ‘answered’ by seven slurred. (This pattern is not carried into the two cadential bars, which are each descents into ‘accented appogiatura’ trills, which release onto a light (up bow) dominant and tonic resolutions. Bars 1-2, and 5-6 answer the accented down-bows with descending scales perorating with ‘turn’ finials. Bar 3 brings the ‘ turn’ into the middle of the 8 note group to increase its symmetry with a rising fifth at the end. Bar 7 brings the turn early in the group to emphasise the rising scale at the end.
To point out the obvious, the source for this material, is the every more virtuosic runs which appear as finials in a number of the variations up to this point. Not all variations in the 18th century do this; there are many where the order could be changed. However, there’s a real sense, that whilst Tartini was not aiming at accumulating ‘heft’, he was, none the less, inspired by the material which emerged in the process of exploring and embellishing the Corelli theme, and treated that as material, which grew sequentially. This constant shifting, of decoration to foundation, is fascinating.
Up to now, I have not spoken about Tartini’s conscious effort to write in a manner which Corelli would have recognised. He achieves this, whilst offering a primmer for the relationship of the bow to expressive and rhetorical devices that were absolutely of his time; indeed, I would say that the advice that he offers regarding the regular practice of Corelli could be applied to the his own works for today’s violinists. I can certainly vouch for that:
“…sara cosa ottima, che suoni ogni giorni fuga [‘chase’] del Corelli tutta di semicrome…”
Variation 19 is, effectively, a variation on Variation 11. Each foot is divided into 1-2-1. The middle two semiquavers are further divided in thus 1-1-2. But there are two levels of extra accentuation. The first semiquaver of each food is marked with an ” ‘ ” articulation, but this is balanced by the following two demi-semiquavers being slurred, effectively one iamb nestling in another.
Like Variation 19, Variation 20, explores one pattern, in this case, semiquavers grouped 1-3. In terms of bowing, the ‘leaping techinque’ returns, low to high, over an intermediate string. The left had explores a written out trill figure (coming from abover), which is clearly intended to be played with the same fingering (321-or 123, when it is reversed) wherever it occurs.
Variation 21 reminds me of the classical Greek sentence structure, ”Ho men …. Ho de’ – on the one hand, and on the other. So the two halves work (motivically) thus: a-b, a1-b1. This will seem very simplistic, but it exerts a nice balancing force on the tonic-dominant’tonic structure of the variations. Effectively, the a and b motives have to serve different functions in each half. This simple paradigm can tell us just as much about the role-swapping nature of themes and motifs in Sonata form movements later in the century.
Playing this variation with Antonino Airenti’s copy of the Tartini bow in Trieste, is a revelation. I think that two much emphasis is placed on a notion that pre-Tourte bows do not/ did not function well across all the length of the bow-hair. It is precisely this kind of writing which would later inspired the disciples of Viotti to perfect their syntactically intricate bow-division, in both direction. However, it is the imaginative use of ‘rule of down-bow’ which reveals the intricacy of this variation. All the emphasised four-note groupings of demi-semiquavers are down bows, except in the ‘development’ (I know, I know); in the two bars after the double bar, Tartini invites us to explore a whole bar as a reverse-bow version of the one before. Adhering to ‘rule of down bow’ in the rest of the variation isolates these two bars, as a gesture of fantasy, and technical impishness.
Trills, it hardly needs saying are very important to Tartini ( I can’t talk about him in the past tense). Most of this variation uses an iambic foot made up of a leaping downward octave followed by an accented trill and a ‘written-out’ turn. The end of the variation uses a climbing ‘bird call’ chain of trills which occurs many times in the solo sonatas.
I practised and recorded this outside, as the ship slipped North through Stephens Passage. There was an increasing number of small iceberg outside, each one a more miraculous combination of iridescent, translucent blues and turquoise. I need Tennyson to help with that. But it’st he never-repeating, miraculous simplicity of form; the result of crystallization, lines of cleavage, melting, snow, wind and water erosion, that moves me the most. This variation is that most common of things, a double-time 12/8, which is playing with being an 8/16. There are many reason that composers are drawn to this, but I am struck today, but the simple mathematic one, that like the icebergs, ‘6’ is a perfect number, the product of all its integers (1.2.3) constantly revealing them, in turn, or at the same time. When is a foot of 3:3, also a foot of 2:2:2? When it’s Bach or Tartini, that’s when, it can always be both. That’s the fun, the point!
Variation 38 invites a complicated ‘double’ attack on the repeated syncopations, a ‘landing’ with no stress, but the possibility of a mesa da voce. It’s rather like a dancer landing from a leap, with a long bend of both knees. The second half of each bar, plays with a ‘miniature march’ swagger.
This variation is mimetic, imitating a pair of horns; nearly the whole variation is in two parts-a style of writing for solo violin, which would become increasingly popular at the end of the 18th Century in France and Italy. The progressions that begin the second half hint at Tartini’s ‘symmetrical’ harmonic procedures (found extensively in the Sonate Piccole). However the harmony remains conventional diatonic.
It’s not entirely clear, whether Tartini is requiring this variation to be played with retaken down bows, for the rapid demi-semiquavers. It works equally well with the ‘reverse bowing’ that results without the expressive hop back down to the heel of the bow in each foot. However, using the ‘Tartini Bow’ made for me by Antonino Airenti. the leaping version works very well.
In all the years of studying and playing Tartini’s solo works, Giovanni Tiepolo has been a constant source of inspiration. They were close to being exact contemporaries, and both died in the same year. But its the dialogue between their respective lyricism and invention which excites and fascinates me, and I today, in the glorious environment of the Seattle Art Museum, this preparatory oil sketch offered a powerful counterpoint to my gradual exploration of Tartini’s variation/etudes.