Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find the devil at your bedside. It actually happened to 21-year-old composer Giuseppe Tartini in 1713. This encounter brought him eternal success. And, also, terrible doom. But we’ll get to that later.
The story behind Tartini’s Devil’s Trill
Tartini waited to tell anyone about this remarkable incident until he was 78. So he might have been mistaken about a few details. But there’s no reason to doubt his story.
The short version is that the devil wanted to buy Tartini’s soul. In exchange, he would perform some – strangely unspecified – services. Tartini jumped at this chance. And indeed, his horned servant ‘anticipated’ his ‘every desire’.
“The devil really does have the best tunes.”
When his desires were fulfilled, Tartini handed the devil his violin. Satan started to play a sonata ‘so wonderful and so beautiful […] as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy.’
Tartini woke up and immediately wrote down – as well as he could remember – what the devil had played for him. Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as good as what he had heard in his dream. Nevertheless, it was the best thing he ever wrote and Tartini’s violin sonata in g minor or devil’s trill sonata remains today one of the most beloved showpieces for the violin.
A trilling and thrilling piece of music
The first two movements of Tartini’s devil’s trill sonata – a slow introduction and a dance – are beautiful. But it’s in the third movement that all hell breaks loose.
Everybody always talks about how this piece is so hard to play. In fact, the rumor is that Tartini had six fingers on his left hand. But does that really matter – unless you’re a violinist? Above all, it’s a freakish and haunting composition. You can hear the devil putting on all his moves: taunting, seducing, and overpowering you. He really does have the best tunes.
Tartini devil’s trill: the backlash
So: Satan gained another soul, Tartini got immortal fame, and we have a wonderful violin sonata to listen to.
Not quite. It may take some time, but if you make a deal with the devil, you will always pay a terrible price.