30 Days of Tartini-‘Piccole Sonate’

Posted on January 20th, 2012 by

30 Days of Tartini-‘Piccole Sonate’

Introduction: Improvising on Tartini’s Tasso 

Tartini's bows today, in the Conservatorio di Trieste

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

Tartini in the last years of his life, by George Dance

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1698 (Joachim)

Studio outtakes-Engineer Jonathan Haskell

Giuseppe Tartini

Day 32 Sonata 13 B minor

AndanteAllegroAssaiGiga-allegro affetuoso

Tartini: ‘My Piccole Sonate  have a bass line merely as a courtesy…I play them without bassetto, and that is my true intention’ (Autograph letter to Algarottie 24-2-1750)


Day 31 Sonata 14 G major

Andante cantabileAllegro assaiAndante cantabileAllegroAria del TassoAllegroAllegro

Isaac Disraeli: ‘In Venice the gondoliers know by heart long passages from Ariosto and Tasso, and often chant them with a peculiar melody. Goldoni, in his life, notices the gondolier returning with him to the city: “He turned the prow of the gondola towards the city, singing all the way the twenty-sixth stanza of the sixteenth canto of the Jerusalem Delivered.’

Day 30 Sonata 15 C major

Andante CantabileAllegroGigaMenuetAllegro

Working with the Manuscript. At the bottom of the page, Tartini's MS for a movement based on Mestastio's 'Demofonte'




Day 29 Sonata 16 D Major

Andante CantabileAllegro assaiTassoFurlana

 I loved all solitude-but little thought/to spend I know not what of life….(Byron-The Lament of Tasso, Verse 7)

Day 28 Sonata 17 C major

Andante Cantabile AllegroAllegro assaiGravi(per CSolFaUt)Giga

The line between the staves in C, which, in medieval times, was called c sol fa ut, is today called middle C. Ut queant laxis reson?re fibris/Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,/Solve polluti labii reatum,/Sancte Iohannes.(The Hymn of St. John-Paulus Diaconus) -So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John!

C Sol Fa Ut - find it on the Guidonian hand-Middle C is the top of the middle finger.

Day 27 Sonata 18 D major

Andante Cantabile lascia ch’io dico addioAllegro assaiSicilianaMenuets 1 & 2Aria

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

Day 26 Sonata 19 E minor

Andante Cantabile Non ti piacqueAllegroAllegro assaiMenuetAllegro assai l’Onda che

This is the second Suonata in E minor, and is fantastically emotionally ambiguous, just like the hints to Petrarch and Metastasio which are half-scattered across it ‘it doesn’t please you much’, shortened enough to allude to several poems and madrigals. In the 4th movement. The whole thing revolves around dissoance-most particular that of leading note and tonic, which begins the piece.


Day 25 Sonata 20 F major

GraveAllegro non presto Ombra cara qui d’intornoAllegrro se il cor mi palpitaPresto

Yet more riffing on Tasso’s ‘Jerusalem…’ writings, this time, his little known Geruasleme Distrutta, to which work Milton owed much. “Ombra cara a te d’intorno spieghero contenta il volo deh t’arresta” is the full line alluded to in  Tartini’s second movement.

Torquato Tasso, whose poetic 'confinement' resonated with Tartini.

Day 24 Sonata 21 A minor

Andante cantabile deh serbate amiciAllegro tra l’orror della tempestaPrestoAllegro assaiSenti la fonte, Senti lo mare

Tartini spent all of his life near the sea, and the Mestastio quotes which underpin this sonata reflect that. Unlike Vivaldi (cf. La Tempesta…)Tartini does not indulge in mimesis. These are reflective works, states of mind which dialogue, as I see it, with the idea of the weather. It would not be so long before Wordsworth wrote his Intimations of Mortality: ‘Waters on a starry night/Are beautiful and fair.’

Day 23 Sonata 22 E major

Andante Cantabile  Lascia ch’io dica addio al caro albergo mio al practicelloPrestoAria Se tutti i mali miei to ti potessi dirMenuetGravePresto

The ‘Presto’ finale of this E major Sonata reappears in a shorthand indication in the 30th ‘last page’ sonata. Tartini gives the most cursory instructions to himself, no more than a memo, to play it, in the minor

Day 22 ‘Bridge movement’ A major

Giga Cantabile

Burney: [Tartini] ‘…in his early youth, having manifested an attachment to a young person who was regarded as being unworthy of being allied to his family, his father shut him up ; and during his confinement, he amused himself with musical instruments in order to divert his melancholy…’

Day 21  Sonata 23 D major

Andante CantabileAllegro assaiAria Cantabile Alla stagion novello fin dall’opposto lido torna la rondinella il nido a rivederAmico fato guidami in porto ne un cor fedele lascia perir 1)2)

Burney: [Tartini] soars above the reach of my conceptions ; and in this case I am ready to apply to him what Socrates said to Euripides, upon being asked by that poet how he like the poetry of Hercalitus – ‘What I understand is excellent, which inclines me to believe that what I do not understand is excellent likewise.’

Day 20 Sonata 24 D minor

Andante CantabileAllegroAllegroassai

Tartini equated the the quest for musical truth, for its spiritual essence, with an attempt to reach inwards, to the heart. In his  Annual Register ( 1766), Edmund Burke reported on how this was manifest in the aging violinist’s teaching:  ‘That’s fine,’ says he, or ‘that is very difficult, that is brilliantly executed; but,’ adds he, putting his finger to his heart, ‘it did not reach hither.’

Day 19 Sonata 25 G  Major

Cosi amara che mi fa delirar MenuetGigaAndante

Charles Burney on Tartini: ‘…his patience upon the most trying occasions was always Socratic.’

Day 18 Sonata 26  B Flat Major


The movements of this Sonata are scattered across 70 pages of the MS. The Menuet movement is particularly fascinating-Tartini offered two possible perorations. So we took the opportunity offered by the recording studio and merged them. This seemed to set up the hopefilled finale beautifully.


Day 17 Sonata 27 D minor 


This Sonata is closest to the solo style of Tartini’s great disciple,  Viotti. He was only 15 years old when Tartini died, and there is no evidence that they met. However, his teacher Gaetano Pugnani, passed on the vital tenet of Tartini’s style – per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare. Link here to Viotti’s own D minor Solo ‘Suonata‘.


Day 16 Sonata 28 A minor part 1


Michael Kelly in Padua 1780: ‘…I had a strong desire to see that learned city…interesting to me as the birth-place [sic] of Tartini. … We went to see his church, a very large old building: the inhabitants call it Il Santo. The interior is superb, crowded with fine paintings and sculpture. There are four fine organs and a large choir, consisting of celebrated professors, voacal and instrumental. … There seemed to be a great number of students, native and foreign, in the university; but altogether, I did not like the place, and a the the end of three days I left it with great pleasure, in the common boat, filled with passengers of all sorts, for Venice.’

Day 15 Sonata 28 A minor part 2


This is the last and largest set of variations in the set, which comes very close in spirit to Tartini’s pedagogical masterwork, l’Arte del’Arco.


Day 14 Sonata 29 G major

[Andante Cantabile]GigaMenuet Cantabile

This Sonata is a group of G major movements, in various versions, clustered on pages 100-106 of Tartini’s amazing manuscript. The Giga exists in two forms, on pages 100 and 104, which  are identical save some decoration on 4 phrase repeats. This performance incorporates both ornamental solutions. The last movement includes some heraldic demonstrations of the composer’s theories of symmetrical harmony-5ths to diminished 7ths-Diminished 3rds to Unisons.



Day 13 Sonata 30 E minor (working backwards from the end now!)

GraveAllegro CantabileGigaMenuetto ScherzandoPrestoAriaMenuetto[Allegro]

Tartini’s ‘last page’ Sonata: All eight movements are contained on one dazzling page of manuscript. Two of them are short-hand mnemonics of movements from the earlier E minor Sonata (No. 6). One of them is an indication to render a movement from the 11th Sonata (in E Major) in E minor. The second ‘menuetto’ is simply indicated by a cursory indication how to unfurl the material from the previous movement in 3/4. The rest are just written almost illegibly small. Let’s not forget, this was a composer writing material for himself to play-these pages could even be ‘read’ as a prompt for improvisation, for realtime composition if you like, used in Tartini’s daily musical office in the Basilica S. Antonio, Padua. 

Statue of Tartini in Piran, his birthplace, on 'Tartini Trg'


Day 12 Sonata 12 G major

TassoGrave il tormento di quest’animaCanzone VenezianaQuesto maiVariations

“I have,” [Tartini] said…“been asked to work for theatres in Venice,and I have never wanted to, knowing full well that a throat is not the same of the neck of a violin. Vivaldi, who tried to compose in both genres, was always booed in one, while he was very successful in the other.”


Day 11 sonata 11 E major 

Andante cantabileAllegroSicilianoMenuetAllegro assai

Day 10 Sonata 10 B flat major

LargoAllegroSubito AffetuosoMenuet

 ‘Subito Affetuoso’?- It struck me, appropriately enough, suddenly, that this seemed to refer to the appearance of love in ‘Gerusaleme Liberata’,  the truly Arthurian moment when the hapless Tancredi catches sight of the warrior Clorinda, who, later, he will kill. This tragedy, of course, is itself informed by many typologies, not least that of of Achilles and Penthelisea. Perhaps this could be the reason for Tartini’s bizarre indication ‘Subito Affetuoso’. As a performer, it struck me that ‘perhaps’ is plenty good enough for me. 


‘O wondrous force of love’s resistless dart,

That pierc’d at once, and rooted in his heart!’


Day 9 Sonata 9 A major

Largo AndanteAllegroAllegroAllegro assaiMenuet

Jean-Jacques Barthélmy:‘Plutarch says that the musician of his time would in vain attempt to imitate the manner of Orpheus. The celebrated Tartini expressed himself in the same terms when speaking of the ancient chants and hymns of the church- “It must be confessed that there are some so full of gravity, majesty and sweetness, conjoined with the most perfect musical simplicity that to equal them would certainly cost our modern composer prodigious labour.”’

Day 8 Sonata 8 G minor


‘In addition there is the hazard of proper execution: for it is impossible for another man (whoever he may be) to match my character and expression perfectly, just as it is impossible for another to perfectly resemble me. All the same, in all order to make my character and my intentions clear, I should say that I seek the greatest possible affinity with nature and am least at home in matters of art: for if I possess any art at all, it is that of imitating nature.’ Tartini to Algarotti. Nov 20 1749

Day 7 Sonata 7 A minor

Andante CantabileAllegroVariationsAllegro

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

Day 6 Sonata 6 E minor

Andante cantabile ‘senti lo mare’Allegro cantabileGiga

Charles Burney: “The day before my departure from Padua, I visited Signor Tromba, Tartini’s scholar and successor. He was so obliging as to play severalof his master’s solos, particularly two which he had made just before his death, of which I begged a copy, regarding these last drops of his pen as sacred relics of so great and orginal genius.”

Day 5 Sonata 5-F major

Andante CantabileAllegroAllegro assaiIl tormento di questo cuore

 Tartini:‘A dissonance should be prepared with a melodic unison: the dissonant note and dissonant interval should be prepared by a similar consonant interval.’

Day 4  Sonata 4- C major

Cantabile Andante Allegro AssaiGravePresto

Tartini: ‘It is also necessary to observe consistency in performance. So, if one were to find a passage moving by gradation, or leaping which is repeated two or more times, if at the start it is played cantabile, then it follows that it is always cantabile, if suonabile, then always suonabile; if it is decorated with ornamentation, then it should be always played with the same ornaments, to the end that it might have perfect consistency’.

Day 3 Sonata 3 – D Major

Andante Cantabile Allegro Giga Allegro Assai

Tartini’s Italian critics were scornful of his literary fascinations. Francesco Milizia was particularly cutting: “The celebrated Tartini never composed a sonata that did not express some composition by Petrach, nor did he ever lose sight of his intended subject. These sonatas, however, although rich in meaning, are only half alive, as they lack the expression of song, which is the very soul of music.”

Day 2 Sonata 2-D minor

SicilianaAllegroAllegro Affetuoso 

Benjamin Stillingfleet, writing soon after Tartini’s death:‘ One cannot without some impression of compassion, see him wandering in the perplexing labyrinth of abstract ideas, almost without guide, or at best with one which it is most likely would mislead him.’

Day 1  Sonata 1 – G major

Molto AndanteAllegro CantabileAllegro(Siciliana)

Jean Jacques Rousseau on Tartini: “All this purely instrumental music, without design, without purpose, speaks neither to the mind nor to the soul: one might as well ask….Sonata, what do you wish of me? The composers of instrumental music will make nothing but an empty noise as long as they do not have in their heads, like the celebrated Tartini, as they say, an action or an expression to be represented. Some Sonatas, but rather as small number, have this quality, so desirable, and so necessary to commend them to persons of taste. Let us take one entitled Didone Abbandonata. It is a charming monologue; Sorrow, Hope and Despair appear in rapid succession, and very distinctly, in varying degrees and in different nuances; and one could easily make a very lively and very touching scene of this sonata. But such pieces are rare.”



Giuseppe Tartini died in 1770, his companion and student Pietro Nardini at his

side. It does not seems as if his impact or productiveness at this time

had ebbed. Judging by the lengths to which musical explorers such

as  Charles Burney went to seek out his legacy, his was not an anachronistic



His mature works embody something far more than transition

between two forms of classicism. Just because Tartini was old does

not exclude him from contributing to the impulse that led Horace

Walpole to design ‘Strawberry Hill’ (1748), or Goethe’s Werther (1774).

They, along with Blake and Fuseli, were all ‘looking at the moon’,

struck by sudden moments of subito affetuoso, whispering ‘Klopstock’ to

each other. This was the generation who re-animated the voice of

Torquato Tasso, who saw something particular in his Keats-ian moments

of ‘sentimental’ Verklarung, in battle, in the religion, among the



In February 1750 Tartini sent a set of Piccole Sonate a Violino solo to the

Court Chamberlain of King Frederick the Great, the philosopher Francesco

Algarotti (1712 – 1764). Algarotti, sometimes known as the ‘Swan of

Padua’ sought a musical refinement, and compositional modesty. Perhaps this idealism inspired

Tartini. Algarotti wrote:


‘Another reason for the present decadence of music is the peculiar

dominion it has taken upon itself to found, and which today has reached

such a height. The composer behaves like a despot, doing exactly as he

likes, concerned solely with musical matters. There is no way in the

world to make him understand that his role has to be subordinate, and

that music produces its best effects when it ministers to poetry. Its

proper function is to subordinate the mind to receive the impressions

made by the verses, and so to stir the emotions that analogous to the

precise ideas that the poet is to elicit, in a word, to give the

language of the Muses greater vigour and energy.’


Tartini’s Sonate Piccole are variously scored for violin alone and

violino e violoncello o cembalo. However, in the

accompanying letter that Tartini sent to Algarotti, the cello part was a



“I have played these without bassetto, and that is my true intention.”


This eschewal of a bass-line had another underpinning. Tartini’s ever-increasing fascination with the ‘resultant tones’ of two lines played in double stops led to a new notion of the violin, sufficient

unto itself. Tartini’s pioneering exploration of the ‘resultant tones’ that result from such writing, enabled him to systemise the bass-lines, the forms en l’air, that resulted.  Tartini’s

later sonatas were constructed in just such a way, harmonically and

perhaps more importantly, philosophically, so that they would function

as solo works. The pioneering Tartini Scholar, Paul Brainerd, wrote:


“The whole tendency of the Piccole Sonate, as compared to Tartini’s

sonatas with obliggato bass of the same period, is toward the utmost

stylistic simplicity…a consequence of Tartin’s recent and avid espousal

of the aesthetics of ‘Nature-imitatio’n.”


Tartini built this idealist ‘nature-imitation’ around, something very

real, and very ‘natural’, the phenomenon of the ‘third sound’, or what

would come to be known as ‘Tartini’s notes’. In 1754, he wrote:


“The 3rd Sound is the real physical fundamental bass of any given

interval, and of any given pair of melody lines; the successive 3rd

sounds produced by the combination constitute the true fundamental

basso of melody. Any extra bass would be ridiculous, or at best, a



By 1754, it was clear that in Tartini’s heart, the true music was that

in which the true bass was ‘in the air’-thus, to compose music with a

written bass would be a betrayal of this ideal . The eventual

manifestation of the Piccole Sonate was proof of this thesis, one which

few of Tartini’s contemporaries accepted in toto.


Such writing stood at a sharp angle to Bach’s solo

works, but arguably, had a greater impat on the following generations;

Viotti’s disciple, Pierre Baillot  recommended it in his L’Art du

Violon (1834), suggesting that the effect of the resultant tones might be

enhanced through the agent of “a key of about 4 à 5 pouces)”, placed on the belly of the violin.


What source material do we have for these works? In terms

of publication, there is the two volume edition of 26 Piccole

Sonate, in two volumes, by Editio Suivini Zerboni. Then there is

a very uninformative edition of a D major Sonata, by



Luigi Dallapiccola’s Tartiana Seconda (1955-6) , culled

material, with merely cosmetic changes, directly from four of the the

Sonate Piccole. Dallpiccola’s ‘transformations’

of these movements marked the first publication of any of this

material. As my fascination with this set of pieces grew,

I had my moments of doubt. Was this

huge work worth my time? At that moment, Dallapiccola stepped in.

Listening to his own performance of the first movement of his Tartini

Seconda convinced me to go on. If he could produce an omaggio of such

delicacy and beauty, simply by framing, echoing and garlanding

Tartini’s enlightened restraint, clearly there was something there.


There is no a critical edition of this work, no

doubt arising from the perception that Tartini is not a ‘first-rate’

composer, or that the sources for this work are problematic. But they

are not – we have a wonderful manuscript. This document, MS.1888, is

held in the Library of the Basilica of S. Antonio in Padua, Tartini’s

home for most of his life, and also his employer.


This source  is the only substantial sampler of Tartini’s own

handwriting. And what a sampler! Any composer’s approach to the page is

instructive, and offers clues to any number of aspects of their

output. The Piccole Sonate provide the richest array

ranging from the painstaking experimentation, composition, editing and rewriting, familiar to any

writer, through to the ‘white heat’ of inspiration, instrument close

by, when, caught up in the moment, the composer forgets the number of

beats in the bar and writes on furiously, improvising, as it were, pen

in hand, until he catches his mistake, and rewinds the two or three

errant bars, and goes, on correctly.


At first glance, it appears that there are 26 sonatas, as published.

However, the Sonata numbered ‘26’, in the source, is actually 27th in

sequence. The Zerboni publication avoided this anomaly by ignoring the

last sonata in the numbered sequence, perhaps hoping that no

one would notice. But even that ‘extra’ sonata finishes on Page 88 of

the MS-there are 18 more pages, not of notes, but finished works,

numerous extra movements, second and third versions, and vocal

material, scattered across the whole sequence of pages.

There are tantalising hints, at the beginning of the 19th Century, that

something, or even some of these works were known, by Tartini’s Parisian disciples,  violinists who had the capacity to understand and play them. The great pedagogue-virtuoso, Pierre Baillot, hinted at as much

in his l’Art du Violon. He wrote:


“The study of chords has been too neglected…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.”


This passage has usually been quoted as evidence, that Baillot

was teaching and performing unaccompanied Bach. It

also serves notice is that he was also very aware of Tartini’s

contrapuntal writing, not a feature of his ‘continuo’ sonatas. Was a

copy of the Piccole Sonate in circulation in the circles of the

‘revolutionary ‘generation of violinists? There is another reference in

a treatise published in Paris by Antoine Reicha in 1814; this work,

dealing with two-part writing, allludes to Tartini’s unaccompanied

works. Tartini’s Arte del’Arco was the greatest

single influence on the ‘revolutionary’ approach to the right hand

innovated by Viotti and his followers.


There was a practice of obtaining samizdat copies of Tartini’s

unpublished works, both during and after his life. Visiting Padua in

the months after his death in 1770, the indefatigable Charles Burney

sought these out. He wrote:


“The day before my departure from Padua, I visited Signor Tromba,

Tartini’s scholar and successor. He was so obliging as to play severalof his master’s solos, particularly two which he had made just before

his death, of which I begged a copy, regarding these last drops of his

pen as sacred relics of so great and orginal genius.”


Burney was not alone in this; the copying of music

was a large scale industry. Most orchestral parts were hand copied, even

when there was a parent printed part, so any active music centre in late

18th century Europe was well supplied with copyists ready to work

This was particularly the case with works which were

unlikely to be published. Tartini’s Piccole Sonate strayed beyond the technical

reach of all but the most ambitious amateur. This and their sheer scale

machinated against an imprint being made. Hence the need for copies


Tartini’s dictum, per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare, can be applied

to everything that Giovanni Battista Viotti brought to the French

school, his revolution of the bow, his move away from the chattering

ornamentation and short-breathed brilliance of the violinistic

descendants of Jean-Philippe Rameau. 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.


Tartini averred that he had preserved his vocal approach to the violin

by avoiding writing for the voice:


“I have,” he said to me, “been asked to work for theatres in Venice,

and I have never wanted to, knowing full well that a throat is not the

same of the neck of a violin. Vivaldi, who tried to compose in both

genres, was always booed in one, while he was very successful in the


Tartini believed that, it was only by directing the attention of

everyone involved in the musical act-be they composer, player, or

listener, to the simplest, most refined detail, was there a hope that

music might reach beyond the page, beyond sound, the material plane:


‘Music is but the act of combining sounds; nothing now remains of it

but is material part, divested of all that spirited with which it

formerly was animated. By neglecting the means which directed its

operation to a single point, its object is now vague and general. If I

experience from it impressions of joy or grief, they are wild and

indefinite, for the effect of the art is perfect only when it is

specific and individual.’


Indeed, he seemed most of all to equate the quest for musical truth,

for its spiritual essence, with an attempt to reach inwards, to the

heart, the Annual Register of 1766, Edmund Burke reported on how this

was manifest in the aging violinist’s teaching:


‘That’s fine,’ says he, or ‘that is very difficult, that is

brilliantly executed; but,’ adds he, putting his finger to his heart,

‘it did not reach hither.’


Tartini was not unaware that his music, like his ideas, would be

unpalatable to many:


“The obligation of those who long for knowledge is to examine whether

the author has told the truth, and when he has, both the author and he

who loves knowledge must adjust to the truth, whether it be by nature

easy or difficult.”


However, he was also aware that his apparent brusqueness was as much an

advantage as a hindrance:


‘The present author, however, is not ashamed to show himself as he is,

rough and uncultured; indeed, it works to his advantage, as he is both

pleased and anxious that the naked truth be seen. On the other hand, he

is sorry if he appears arrogant when, in order to contradict them, he

names and refers to those of whom he I unworthy of being either a

disciple or a servant.’


Tartini’s works for solo violin are unknown to the majority of

violinists. The very quality that caused him to be lionised during his

long life, his thoughtfulness, has caused the greater part of his

music, and his ideas, to slip from view. His music does not repay quick

listening, or quick study. It demands time, from the listener, and from

the performer. In order to take time to really study, we musicians need

to be convinced that the time invested will be worthwhile. We are

already persuaded of the personal benefits of taking time with Mozart,

with Bach, with Beethoven; my experience is that the riches of

Tartini’s solo sonatas repay a similar ‘long view’. Having spent the

better part of 4 years studying, performing and recording them, I am

ever more fascinated, and ever more enchanted.