Thursday, February 2, 2012

Back to the Phantom Concert Hall

Again, we assemble in our best bohemian finery; we've scored good seats at the concert hall for rare treat. There aren't many violinists up to the challenge of this piece: Tartini's Violin Sonata in G minor, better known as "The Devil's Trill"!

Legend has it that Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), himself a famed violinist and composer, had a dream in which Old Scratch himself showed up, playing the violin, playing a fantastically difficult piece, and when he woke, he quickly scribbled down the parts he remembered and built this sonata around them. Not sure how true it is, but the piece is notoriously devilish to play, requiring lots of difficult acrobatics with the fingers that even by modern standards it's hard to perform. One story has it that Tartini himself had a sixth finger on one hand that enabled him to play these fiendish trills!

Of course, the Prince of Darkness has always been associated with the violin; "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is but a more modern example. Paganini himself was rumored to have infernal connections, an image which he undoubtedly cultivated. Satan is often depicted playing the violin, and there have been many macabre works around the instrument, short works like Sax Rohmer's "Tcheriapin" and Madame Blavatsky's "The Ensouled Violin," and novels like J. Meade Falkner's "The Lost Stradivarius" and Anne Rice's "Violin" which I've never read and may never get to, having lost my taste for her work some years ago.

If you can get hold of Rachel Barton's CD "Instrument of the Devil," a collection of diabolical string works, the liner notes have good stuff about Old Nick and the fiddle. Plus there's another version of this piece, done as a chamber work with only a harpsichord for accompaniment.

So sit back, relax, and let the Devil have his'll be none the worse for wear...or will you?

No comments: