Viotti and Tartini. St Bartholomews 3!

Posted on June 6th, 2010 by

The Well Spring. Per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare!
Concert 3 (16th June) 730pm

Tartini-Sonatas (Padua Manuscript)

  1. Sonata in E major        Il vento Mai
  2. Sonata in G major       Aria del Tasso Listen: Tasso Aria
  3. Sonata in D major
  4. Sonata in G major       Se senti spirarti sul volto lieve fiato che lento s’aggiri/di son questi gli alterni sospiri del mio fido che muore per me.
  5. Sonata in C major


Judith Bingham                                    The Lost Works of Paganini 3

David Matthews                                  Duos & 3 Chants (With Marius Skaerved)

Listen! Chants 1 , Chants 2

Giovanni Battista Viotti                      Suonata ‘Duo for one violin without accompaniment’

(for information on the whole series, go to:


The Opening of Viotti's 'Suonata'. This Manuscript is housed in the Foyle Menuhin Archive at the Royal Academy of Music. PSS, Kathy Adamson and Frances Palmer discovered this in the collection in 2005. PSS gave the modern premiere in Nashville in 2005, and played it at the Library of Congress in 2009

 Pierre La Houssaye, professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1796 until 1796, spoke eloquently of the impression that Tartini made on him. As a young artist, he had travelled to Padua to listen to Tartini give his regular church performances, and to seek his counsel. La Houssaye’s words encapsulate the elements which became fundamental to the post-revolutionary French school, of which Tartini was the unwitting pro-genitor:

“It is impossible for me to express the astonishment and admiration which the purity and fine quality of his tone, the rare beauty of his expression, the magic of his bowing-in a word, the very completeness of this artistic capabilities-aroused in me, “

Viotti’s Sol Suonata 

Giovanni Battista Viotti idolised Tartini.  Perhaps the most potent revelation of this was his single solo sonata for violin, his Suonata: coll’accompagnamento d’un basso per esser ambedue parti suonate par un violino solo or  Suonata/With basso accompaniment/to be played by Violin Solo, playing both of the parts’:This work is the most significant solo sonata between the works of Bach and the masterpieces of the 20th Century. Serious contrapuntal writing for solo violin, was alive and well in the revolutionary era. 

“Viotti did not search for his ideas. They came to him from the disposition of his soul. He was the ‘man of nature’. From there came that naïveté which is the charm of all his works, and which he imprinted with his most personal stamp. He adopted the maxim of Tartini –per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare-.” (Miel Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne 1811-1862)

The violinists of the revolutionary generation produced a large number of works for solo violin without basso continuo or chamber accompaniment.  They provided the impetus for the composition of the studies and caprices which accompanied the various méthodes.  These solo works have been ignored in the last hundred years, resulting in a curious disjunct, and the birth of an idea that, between Bach and Bartók, there were no really serious works written for the violin alone

Viotti’s Suonata: coll’accompagnamento d’un basso per esser ambedue parti suonate par un violino solo is in three movements.  The first functions as a big-boned prelude to the second, a two part fugue.  This is followed by a miniature march.  The structure of the complete work is extraordinary, as the outer movements, which are both in D major, are dwarfed by the large scale fugue, which is in D minor.  This fugue itself is Bach-ian, in more ways than one, and begs the question as to whether Viotti was familiar with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.  It is clearly based on the melodic material from Bach’s unfinished masterpiece, the Art of Fugue and is also in the same key.

There was increasing awareness in post-revolutionary Paris of the importance of baroque chamber works.  Antoine Reicha (1770-1836) wrote of the solo violin works of Bach and various other baroque composers in the treatise that prefaces his brilliant and innovatory 12 Duos for violin and cello.  These duos provide an inventory of the chamber techniques and musical styles current in Paris in 1814, the year of its publication, and certainly stray far beyond the ‘sight-readable’.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)came to study with Pierre Baillot in 1816; perhaps his enthusiasm for Bach, was in some way stimulated by the seriousness with which pedagogues and contrapuntalists treated his music in the French capital.  It was Bach’s Art of Fugue that the young Mendelssohn, perhaps influenced by his encounter with the Parisian theorists, would transfigure into the second movement of his String Symphony No.9, which was written four years after his first encounter with the Parisian musical world.   Mendelssohn’s later enthusiasm for Bach was in some way stimulated by the seriousness with which the Parisian pedagogues and contrapuntalists treated such material.  Returning as a 16 year -old nine years after his first visit in 1816, he appalled his sister Fanny by suggesting that he was “trying to teach Onslow and Reicha to love Beethoven and Sebastian Bach.

Far from being unknown in the early 19th century, Bach’s solo violin  works were studied and appreciated, if not heard, like many ‘unaccompanied’ works, on the concert platform.  However,   it would take the advent of Paganini in 1831, to reintroduce solo string playing to the general concert-going public. So it is hardly surprising that solo Bach had absent from the concert stage.  In fact, Baillot noted that “the study of chords has been too neglected”, so “we have put exercises…in order to make more familiar one of the most beautiful effects of the violin-chords-and to put students more quickly into condition to perform all the fugues and sonatas of Corelli, Tartini, and Geminiani, and the Sonatas of [Johann] Sebastian Bach.  Bach’s Fugue in C major….would in itself demand that the student apply himself to this type of study into order to succeed in rendering all its beauties.”

However, the technical disposition of Viotti’s Fugue makes no attempt whatsoever to utilise the contrapuntal techniques utilised in the three fugues that figure in Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.  But this was perhaps unsurprising.  Viotti was writing in the modern style, and little of the solo music of his period makes any use of the complex voice-leading and contrapuntal felicities brought to such a high point by Bach and Telemann.  Like the solo works by his French-based contemporaries, Lorenziti, Bruni, and Michel Woldemar, many of which are predominately in two parts, Viotti tends to use similar motion and to avoid explicit or implied bass-lines.  In this, he seems to be following the example set by his teacher, Tartini, who put into practice his discovery that close two-part writing will produce low resultant tones, which as L’Art du Violon reveals, can, and should be used as bass lines.

Viotti’s Suonata might betray an affinity with some of the 26 Piccole Sonate a Violino solo, some of which his  inspiration Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) sent to the Court Chamberlain of King Frederick the Great, the philosopher Count Algarotti (1712-1764), in February 1750.

Tartini’s increasing fascination with the resultant tones of two lines played in double stops led to burgeoning notion of the violin as sufficient unto itself.  Naturally, this manner of writing stood at a sharp angle to Bach’s solo works, but certainly had a greater impact on the following generation; indeed, Baillot specifically recommends it in L’Art du Violon, suggesting that the effect of the resultant tones can be enhanced through the agent of “a key of about 4 à 5 pouces (ca. 11-13 cm)” on the belly of the violin.

The construction of Viotti’s Suonata also reflects Tartini’s Piccole Sonate; in a number of ways, this can be read as evoking his model’s tyle and ideals.  The outer two movements are essentially military, both dominated by dotted rhythms, both essentially marches.  It has been observed many times that the most tangible musical gift which was offered by the age of revolution was just the military tone.  Viotti’s two outer movements might be read as gentle parody of this, the first drawing a connection between the archness of a baroque overture, the second, affectionately littered with ‘scotch snaps’, offering a gentle, almost domestic alternative to the sound and fury of the first, almost more akin to the ‘farewell’ march played at the end of a Mozart ‘serenade’.

Another violinist who produced ‘duos for solo violin’ was Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni (1759-1823), like Viotti, a pupil of Pugnani, and a mason, a member of the ‘Loge Olympique’. In 1789, Bruni was leading of the orchestra of the Théâtre Monsieur, and upon Viotti’s departure in 1792, took over the musical direction of the theatre, but proved so ineffectual in this post, that he was compelled to resign, upon which his place was taken by Tartini’s student, Pierre La Houssaye (1735-1818), who shared the duties with Giuseppe Puppo (1749-1827), who had lived in London until 1784.   He was however, more successful as an operatic composer, and no fewer than twenty-one of his stage pieces were produced between 1786 and 1815.



Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni (1759-1823) was leader of the orchestra at the Théâtre Monsieur , and produced a series of ‘duos’ for solo violin.


Perhaps the composition of Niccolò Paganini’s (1782-1840) Sonata a violino solo, better known as Duo Merveille for solo violin was as a result of the French vogue for such two part solo works. This was written in 1805, whilst he was in service to Napoleon’s sister Elisa Baciocchi (1777-1820), in Lucca, and was in constant touch with the latest French trends.

Although the revolutionary generation clearly had the technical know-how to write in more than two parts, it is clear that this basic virtuoso stunt, which could not only easily be communicated to an audience, but around which there was certain idealism.  After all, the music cult that emerged from the generation of Rousseau and Gluck was one of simplicity celebrated.  Even though the revolution sought to place music, on the largest scale possible, at the centre of public life, of public events, this was matched by a corresponding clarification of material, and egalitarian use of technical means, which sought to render music less exclusive.

In 1821 Viotti presented a revised version of the central Allegro, the fugue, to his oldest friend, Luigi Cherubini.

Viotti’s impact in France resulted in a break in the line of Italian violinism.  The Genoan violinist and latterday pedagogue, (1914- )Giuseppe Gaccetta (1914- ), is one of many Italian violinists today, who resent the fracturing of the Italian pedagogical tradition, masterminded in Paris.  He endeavours to show that a line of continuity survives from the generation of Pugnani, Viotti’s own teacher, through Paganini, his student Cammillo Sivori (1815-1894), through to Gaccetta’s own teacher, Francesco Sfilio.  Though he does not articulate his frustration explicitly, he is one of a number of Italian pedagogues endeavouring to rectify this situation, to extricate Italian string teaching from the Paris Conservatoire tradition, to sidestep, Viotti, and  avoid the Parisian ‘pedagogical bottleneck’..

The original Méthode described the ideal which the Italian school represented for Kreutzer, Rode and Baillot;

“…the first tone, like the first glance, casts the spell and makes and impression so deep it is never forgotten.  We remember the tone that Tartini and Pugnani drew from their violins well enough to distinguish them and to keep in mind the type of expression that characterised their playing…Let those who desire a beautiful quality of tone being to prepare for it by the technical means we have indicated.  But let them not seek elsewhere than in their own feelings, which they must draw out from their soul, for it is there that they will find its source.”

Pierre Baillot was determined to underline the importance of Viotti’s Italian forbears. His own Op 36 is a set of variations, for violin and piano, a Menuet de Pugnani varié, of which Tartini would certainly have approved.

Perhaps the Italian irritation, has been intensified over the years, because the ‘first framers’ of the  Paris Conservatoire  Méthode , Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre Baillot, and Pierre Rode,  were from candid in their use of source material for their masterwork, much of which was Italian.  Their cageyness contrasts to the approach of their colleague Michel Woldemar, who always advertised himself as élève de Lolli ,setting himself at a sharp angle from the Viotti school.  In Woldemar’s revision of Leopold Mozart’s teaching manual, he included many references to both Italian and German violinistic forbears.  His approach would later be mirrored by Ferdinand David; David’s own Violinschule pointedly brings together caprices by both Italian late baroque and German  Virtuosi.

There was certainly no lack of sagacity in the work of the ‘first framers’; but,  just like the American Constitution, the accreted ‘amendments’, with the benefit of experience and hindsight.  Pierre Baillot’s L’Art du Violon might be read as a delayed and large scale ‘2nd Amendment’ to the Méthode.  The wisdom of Rode, Kreutzer and Baillot, their radical appeal to the emotions of their students, can be felt in the writing throughout.  “Aspirants should search no further than their own Sensibility which they should try to draw out from the depths of their Soul, for it is there that they will find its source.”

In 1864, L’Art du Violon was reviewed in England as “one of the best sets of instructions for the instrument.”

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) was the ideal from which much of Viotti’s approach to the violin sprung. Tartini’s Arte del’Arco, was written as a letter to a Mme. Sirmen, though not intended for publication. This tract was perhaps the greatest single influence on the ‘revolutionary’ approach to the right hand, innovated by Viotti and his followers.  Pierre Baillot carefully articulated the limitations of this work for the modern player, noting that it “…is filled with details which contribute more to variety of expression than to variety of bowing, with regard to what is understood today as ‘feeling’.  It leaves everything to be guessed at by the student, since no sign, no marked accent, appears to help him or her, render either the sense of the music or very often event the notes.”

Tartini’s ‘variety of bowing’ was the quality which the sought most energetically to communicate.  The last set of excercises in the Méthode aims specifically at developing this skill in the violinist. These are prefaced with the following:

“On cannot only speak of sustained and detached notes as separate from each other, but whilst it is indispensable to make joins between notes, if one wishes to sing on the instrument, there are certain characters which might acquire, throught the use of a variety of bow strokes, expression and character, which they might hardly have without this resource, which must not be abused, so long as it is not to fatigue  the ear, or harm the true expression which always knows how to husband its effects.”

Baillot, frustrated by the difficulty of communicating the beauty  of Tartini’s music to audiences, remarked in 1798: “I had made up my mind to risk it, in spite of those servants of bad taste, who never want to hear what is beautiful, because the idea of beauty is not accredited by fashion.” In his youth, Baillot studied with the violinist the somewhat obscurePollani, a disciple of Pietro Nardini (1722-1793); he cited Nardini’s Sonate Enigmatique in L’Art du Violon.   Nardini’s own maxim, a refinement of Tartini’s dictum  was “Bisogna spianarare l’arco”. This imprecation to ‘spin’ with the bow anticipated Baillot’s poetic remark about Viotti, that he was a ‘Hercules with a bow of Cotton’.

The following year, Friedrich Rochlitz (1769-1842), editor of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, complained of the fickleness of ‘public opinion’. In his opinion, this upredictable entity had replaced the firmer certainties  of ‘good taste’; what he calls ‘harmony of opinion’ seems to have been swept away, and replaced by those that ‘hold the opinion that De gustibus non est disputandum (there is no arguing with taste) to be a lie’ . Some audiences, according to Rochlitz, listen to “music only out of vanity and a desire to be fashionable, They have a seat and a voice at the Opera and concert-a seat, so that they may display themselves, and a voice, so that they may chat.  During an enchanting solo by Viotti, which they don’t know, they extol one by Kreutzer which they haven’t heard…The performer’s most stirring passage merely moves them to whisper more furtively…” Clearly, not only Baillot was encountering problems with the new fashion-conscious public; even by the end of his German exile, Viotti was unable to hold the attention of audiences, although Rochlitz is clearly amused that the audiences of mode might prefer an unheard concerto by Viotti’s disciple, to the man himself.

The young Viotti shortly after his arrival Paris. Private Collection

Tartini’s dictum, per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare can be applied to everything that Viotti brought to the French school, his vocal revolution of the bow, the move away from the chattering ornamentation and short-breathed brilliance of the violinistic descendants of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).  Suddenly a new union was born, between the violin and the voice, and as the sound of the castrati began to fade in the memory, the violin virtuosi stepped forward from the coulisses and conquered all with the qualities of their long single notes just as the castrati had.  They no longer simply dazzled with high wire virtuosity, they sang.  The association with the voice was so important to the disciples of Viotti, that they took every opportunity to learn from it.  The last of the  Observations with which the Méthode de Violon  begins, is taken directly from the Conservatoire’s Méthode de Chant:

“It is proposed to accustom the student to judge for themselves whether a note is ‘just’ or ‘false’; and in the case that it is false, if it is not too high or too low, with the aim that he might correct the it without help, by the use of his own ears which will become the more perfected using this method.”      

This new skill, of sustaining and shaping long phrases, was central to Viotti’s innovations.  He examined the ability of a violinist simply by testing their bowing. Using a watch, he checked the player could sustaing one note for fifteen seconds, without any unevenness or imperfections.  This type of playing would make little sense with the shorter, pre-‘transitional’ bows, but ideally suited the longer Tourte model which Viotti popularised.  He had painfully systemised per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare!

Pierre Baillot waxed lyrical on the subject of Viotti’s bowing:

“the violin has never been greater or more beautiful than under the bow of Viotti…”

In 1810, Les Tablettes de Polyhymnie articulated impact this change in bowing phiolsophy wrought:

“Today (1810) these disadvantages no longer exist; each of the principal teachers at the Conservatoire-Messrs Rode Kreutzer and Baillot-has without doubt a school of bowing peculiar to himself, but on the whole, these three manners very much approximate the manner of the greatest master of them all, the famous Viotti…the pupils of the three classes all have his broad energetic manner of playing; this results in such unity of performance in the symphonies that from a distance one would believe that there was only one violin on each part.”

The German expression, “Viott’sche Schule”, seems to have first appeared, in publications such as the Allgemeine Musicalische Zeitung.  In 1811, the periodical offered one of the first great definitions of this ‘school’:

“ Around that time we heard Eloy, Rode, Lamarre and Durannovsky….All of these, if not actually Viotti’s pupils, are nevertheless, as the painters say, ‘of his school’. They play in his style and handle their instruments according to his principles, just as he took these from Pugnani’s school, and developed them further through his genius.  It is well known that the leading characteristics of this school derived from the following principles: first, big, powerful, full tone; secondly, the union of this with powerful, impressive, beautifully connected legato; thirdly, variety, charm, the used of the most varied bowing patterns.  Through these patterns, the school differs completely from that of Lolli and the newer Italian School and which is distinguished by a preference for pleasant tone, for great facility and dexterity, for elegance, charm and various so-called tricks (Hexieren).”

However, it was as a serious composer that Viotti’s influence was first felt internationally.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had been impressed enough with Viotti’s 16th Concerto in 1785 to add additional trumpet and timpani parts (K.470a), not to mention writing a new Andante (lost) for the work. Although this concerto was not published until 1788, manuscript sets of parts were clearly in circulation-the bane of composers trying to avoid piracy.  Well into the century into which he died, his idealistic lyricism and muscular brand of virtuosity where casting their shadow.  Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) adored his 22nd Concerto, also a favourite of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), who provided his own ornamentation of the slow movement-revealing a deep understanding of the ornamenting practice of Viotti’s time.  Joachim’s teacher Joseph Böhm (1795-1876) might have told him of his experiences hearing the Viotti improvise , and he determined to reanimate the practise. Joachim played this work at the opening concert of the Philharmonic Society’s 1862 season, alongside, appropriately enough, Cherubini’s overture to Faniska.  Joachim’s love of this music made itself felt in both the violin concerti written for him by Brahms and, most interestingly of all, Schumann. Schumann’s suppressed violin concerto is modelled on the Parisian post-revolutionary conventions, both in structure and instrumental approach, despite the composer’s obsession with Paganini.

In 1803, the Musikalisches Taschenbuch reviewed Viotti’s symphonies, and  averred that they were “full of Pomp and Power”, listed alongside those of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and his friend and colleague, Clementi. From the moment of his first arrival in Paris, Viotti was celebrated as a composer.  Reviewing his first concerts in May 1782, the   Journal de Paris remarked that it had “…talked here about his technique, but we do not believe that we would truly have done due justice to his talents, if we were not to give the just praise to his works.  His concerts are all brilliant, with a very pure harmony and a ravishing vocal qualitysong.  We can only wish that our young virtuosi take them as a model , as they were listening to them with much interst.”

However wary Viotti was of making a school, it grew around him, whether he liked it or not, rendering it difficult to decide where the limits should be set of his disciples.  Obviously, Libon, Rode, Pixis, Mori and Robbrechts count; these were young boys that he actually taught at various times.  The remaining members of the Paris Conservatoire Troika, Pierre Baillot and Rodolphe Kreutzer, became known as his disciples, although they did not actually study with him, in the modern sense of the word. It is then difficult to exclude his two most influential foreign disciples, Ludwig Spohr, and Charles de Bériot.  These two virtuosi  were individually responsible for founding the first international schools rooted in Viotti’s work, despite their frustration at both having failed to persuade him to teach them.

With Viotti’s adherence to Tartini’s maxim, per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare,  it is no mystery why the post-revolutionary generation of violinists came to idolise singers.  In his 12th Concerto Rodophe Kreutzer immortalised Angelica Catalani, who took inspiration from Pierre Rode’s Airs Variés.  By 1831, the influence had become so mutual that a concert for the Société des Concerts  given by Nicolo Paganini, directed by Habeneck, could include just such a Rode Air . Despite the presence of the greatest living  violinist, the Rode was be sung by Mlle. Dorus, not played.  This concert, announced for the 17th April 1831, ‘…pour les pauvres’, aside from Paganini’s own works, was dominated by Paris based composers.  These included Rossini, Boieldieu, who had been in Russia with Rode, Catel, who wrote the Conservatoire’s first compostion Méthode , and Rode, whose ‘Variations’, which preceded Paganini’s showstopping Carneval de Venise.

The practice of singing Pierre Rode’s Airs Variés had a signal effect on the development of early romantic vocal virtuosity.  Angelica Catalani sung them, and Carl Czerny published a piano transcription of her version of Rode’s virtuoso works.  Paganini was so impressed with Catalani’s technical command after hearing her at La Scala in 1823 that he wrote out one of her Cadenzas, conveniently rendered in idiomatic violinistic style, in a letter written to his lawyer Guglielmo Germi (1786-1870).

Henri Herz (1803-1888), virtuoso pianist, and ‘duelling’ duo partner of Charles Philippe Lafont, made a solo transcription of Angelica Catalani’s transcription of a Pierre Rode air varié.  He was far from being alone; J.  B.  Carmer published his own set of Variations as “Rode’s celebrated Air  sung with the greatest applause by Madame Catalani  with an Introdution and Variations for the Piano Forte.”  This has clearly come a long way from violin playing, but still retains the kernel of violin virtuosity, even the memory of the bowing combinations with Viotti had innovated.

An idea of the popularity of these transcriptions can be gleaned from a silk programme for a concert of vocal and instrumental music given at Buckingham Palace on the 22nd June 1866. This concert featured the great sopranao Dame Adelina Patti (1843-1919).  It included the Weber overture to his 1826 ‘London’ opera, Oberon, God Save the Queen , and ‘Ah, dolce Canto, aria con variazione’, sung by Zelia Trebelli.  This last,  of course, was a Rode Air, his most famous, in G major, in the vocal form which had become the most popular of all, its orgin as a violin piece, all but forgotten.

The implication is subtle and exciting.  Rode’s variations only made a real public impression, not as violin pieces, but when a new generation of virtuoso sopranos made them their own.  It is very likely that, by the time Charles de Bériot (1802-1870), married to Maria Malibran (1808-1836), the greatest singer of the age, began writing his eponymous variations, the influence had become reciprocal; the genre, and the notion of a lyrical virtuosity, had become shared between singers and string players.

Twenty-six years after the first Champs de Mars, the first geneations of musicians trained by the conservatoire had an opportunity to demonstrate their success at the last great revolutionary spectacle, the Champ de Mai, held on the 1st June 1815.  A mass and Te Deum were played alongside a parade of 50,000 soldiers, and salutes from 600 guns. Such a grandiose spectacle would have been impossible without the revolution in teaching méthodes brought about by disciples of Viotti.  His clarity of purpose and ideals had enabled them to formulate a clear-sighted revolution in pedagogy which enabled the training of large numbers of versatile performers.

Pierre La Houssaye was named professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1796, a position that he held until 1796. He spoke eloquently of the impression that Tartini made on him. As a young artist, he had travelled to Padua to listen to Tartini give his regular church performances, and to seek his counsel. Lahoussaye’s words encapsulate the fundamental elements of the post-revolutionary French school, of which Tartini was the unwitting pro-genitor:

 “It is impossible for me to express the astonishment and admiration which the purity and fine quality of his tone, the rare beauty of his expression, the magic of his bowing-in a word, the very completeness of this artistic capabilities-aroused in me, “

The authors of the violin Méthode were confident in their belief of superiority of the violin. They co-opted Rousseau to support their argument:

“There is scarcely an instrument, says Rousseau, which can produce more varied and universal expression than the violin.  This admirable instrument forms the foundation of all the orchestras, and is sufficient from which the great composer can draw forth all the effects which the bad composer can only search uselessly in a motley multitude of diverse instruments.”

Tartini's great admirer, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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