New album of Maria Krestinskayahe "L'arte del Violino Solo" is an entire journey taking the listeners from the early baroque trough to the romantic era. Its essence lies in gradual movement from the early days through to the development and golden age of the virtuoso style that originated in Italy around the first third of the 18th century and has steadfastly survived to this day. This style inspired the great composers and violinists of the past to search for new approaches and master most intricate violin techniques. As a result, we are able to enjoy compilation albums of virtuoso Capriccios (meaning “a fantasy” or “a fancy frill” in Italian), each of them being a self-sufficient piece helping musicians of all times perfect their performance and skill. Every Capriccio has its main theme, a sophisticated element gradually going from simple to complex throughout the piece. Hence, there is no choice but to master and perfect the technique while playing. In 19th century such form of music became widely known as études. It should be noted that in the 17th century Capriccios were mostly viewed as fantasy pieces with little or no focus on complexity.
The program aspires to take the listeners through the development and evolution of the form and substance, the choice of music focuses on continuity with all the pieces having something in common and combining into a dramaturgic and meaningful action. Metamorphoses emerge as we move from piece to piece, a longer bow, a higher pitch, more and more demanding and emotionally elevated performance; however, the main character remains the same – her majesty the violin.
Three different violins with bows to match have helped to maintain the performance authentic throughout the program. The first one is an authentic baroque violin made in 1627 by Jovanni Paolo Maggini and tuned to 415 Hz. This violin is the best for performing Locatelli’s Capriccio and Tartini’s Devil Trill. The second violin is a classic instrument made in 2019 by Alexander Rabinovitch, one of the best violin makers of our time, and tuned to 430 Hz. The instrument has a deep and vibrant tone required for classical music and it sounds perfect with gut strings and in tandem with a bow to match made by Eugene Ivanov in 2017. The third violin is a modern instrument carefully assembled by Alexander Rabinovitch in 2011 and tuned to 440 Hz. Being extremely demanding in terms of sound quality and intonation, Paganini’s music dictates some delicate attention to the instrument, especially when one uses gut strings. This violin is perfectly capable of demonstrating all the illustrious brilliance of Paganini’s variations while also keeping its own gentle and romantic tone. For the "Nel Cor piu non mi Sento" variations I have chosen a bow after Tourte specifically made by Alexander Rabinovitch in 2019. All the three violins complement each other flawlessly creating varied and complex acoustic effects.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
The composer is believed to be the originator of the Italian violin virtuoso music as most of Vivaldi’s concertos and sonatas are indeed technically demanding and complex. Contemporaries mention that the composer himself played a violin with elongated neck enabling him to reach as high as the 12th position (one of Vivaldi’s cadences boasts a four-line octave F sharp). This level of complexity in baroque music of that time is unique for it required a great mastery and practice not to mention control of the instrument up to the 15th position and quality of sound associated with gut strings. On the whole, Vivaldi’s biography seems to be so widely known that there is no good reason to provide a detailed description here, and yet I would like to draw the listeners attention to the fact that the first cadences reminding us of capriccios in their style and manner of performance should probably be attributed to Vivaldi and not Locatelli. The master’s cadence to the final part of Grosso Mogul (The Great Moghul) concerto is in fact a genuine and most virtuoso capriccio. The exact year of the composition is unknown, but in 1710 Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed the piece for pipe organ (BWV594 C-Dur) incorporating this cadence as a part. It is known that Vivaldi played full-scale cadences with a great number of passages, the form later used by Locatelli. Bearing in mind Vivaldi’s popularity in Europe at the time, the master’s influence on his younger contemporaries such as Locatelli and Tartini appears to be certain.
As to Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764), a brilliant virtuoso musician and composer, his “L'arte del Violino” cycle of 12 Concerts with 24 Caprices-Cadenzas Op. 3 (published in 1733) remains one of the most difficult and intricate pieces to perform up to the present day. Locatelli was born in Bergamo and we know little of his childhood years apart from some evidence of his playing in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and taking classes from the famous Carlo Antonio Marino. Locatelli is believed to move to Rome in 1711 aspiring to learn under the guidance of Arcangelo Corelli. Corelli’s passing in 1713 made this period of learning shorter than expected; and yet Locatelli viewed himself as Corelli’s student and follower and his influence unmistakably runs through Locatelli’s compositions. In Rome Locatelli lived and worked at Сomptia Accademia di Vari Instrumenti, an establishment instituted and financed by prince Michelangelo I of Gaeta, and was received by the families of the highest social class. Locatelli made his debut as a composer in 1721 with his Concerto Grosso Op.1.
In 1723 Locatelli was invited to Mantua as a chapel master but he did not stay there long and soon departed on a tour across Italy and Germany. Venice, Munich, Dresden, Berlin, Kassel and Frankfurt, this tour brought him fame and glory. His performance was universally declared to be unforgettable, he was offered once again a chief chapel master’s position. However, Locatelli declined the offer and in 1729 settled in Amsterdam assumably starting his own classes for amateur musicians. The city provided ample opportunities to publish his compositions, which Locatelli cordially embraced. The musician was viewed with respect and esteem by both his students and society but being rather proud by nature Locatelli never wished to succeed in court or spend his life as a church or court composer and he was indeed enjoying quite an unusual level of independence at that time.
And what could better illustrate Locatelli’s varied interests and pursuits than a substantial collection of musical instruments, paintings, printed and handwritten music and books on philosophy, theology, ornithology, topography and history left behind after his death.
My program features the famous Caprice No.23 known as “The Harmonic Labyrinth” from the “L'arte del Violino” cycle that can later be recognized as an echo in Niccolò Paganini’s “Nel cor piu non mi sento” variations.
An equally prominent successor of Corelli’s style Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) deserves full credit for developing a new approach to virtuosity focusing on various combinations of right-hand techniques. We can find almost every technique subsequently encountered in violin music of the 19th and 20th centuries in his “L'Arte del Arco”. Contemporaries praised Tartini for his unprecedented bowing techniques, the composer never stopped to search for new possibilities and hidden options of the violin. In addition to violin sonatas and concertos, Tartini also wrote some vocal music. His Stabat Master, for instance, was immensely popular at that time.
Tartini was originally from the town of Pirano but his elopement with a daughter of the local cardinal and marrying her against her family wishes forced the young musician to flee to Padua to escape the cardinal’s vengeance. His own family was also disappointed with his choice of law over theology studies. Tartini started playing the violin when he was already a grown-up man and this fact makes his achievements infinitely more impressive. In 1721 he was appointed the chapel master of San-Antonio basilica in Padua. In 1726 Tartini founded his own school attracting young and aspiring violinists from all over Europe. Moreover, I undoubtedly should mention Tartini’s fascinating outlook and comprehensive study on harmony, consonances, dissonances, combination tones (later known as “Tartini tones”) and acoustics.
This manuscript also demonstrates his great mathematical skill, as the calculations he makes are quite complex at times. Moreover, Tartini is the author of a manuscript on ornamentation that was later translated into French, thus helping us understand the differences between the French and the Italian approach to ornamentation in music and distinguish the styles. Yet another of Tartini’s world-known works is his letter to Maddalena Lombardini, his student and one of the finest violinists of that time.
"Tartini's Dream" by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). Illustration of the legend behind Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil’s Trill Sonata "(1824)
My album will feature the famous "Devil's Trill" sonata associated with the next popular legend. In 1765, several years prior to his death, the composer had a meeting with Jerome de Lalande, a French astronomer and scientist. During this encounter Tartini mentioned a strange dream he had had, and Lalande later included this story into the printed account of his travels “Voyage d’un François en Italie, fait dans le années 1765 and 1766”.
"One night I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the "Devil's Trill", but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me".
However, Tartini continued working on his Sonata trying to reproduce the melody and finally succeeded in putting it to music quite close to the original he had heard in his dream. This is admittedly one of the most popular baroque violin sonatas up to date. It was first published in Paris 1799 by Jean Baptist Cartier in a compilation of violin music “L’Art du Violon” thirty years after Tartini’s death. There are some speculations associated with the original script as Cartier refers and expresses his gratitude to a famous violinist Pierre Marie François Baillot (1771-1842) for bringing the manuscript to light. However, the manuscript itself has never been found. Still, the experts and researches agree that this Sonata was written by Tartini and only question the exact year of its composition – 1713, 1740s or 1760 not long before his death. Apparently, Tartini continued working on this Sonata nearly all his life since composition or refinement of this music was still in progress at the time of Tartini’s meeting with Jerome de Lalande.
I would like to present to the listeners my variation of the Devil’s Trill sans basso. This variation can leave you wondering whether it was Niccolò Paganini that Tartini could have seen in his dream.
Pietro Nardini (1722-1793) one of the key and favourite pupils of Giuseppe Tartini, who took care of the master during the months of his grave illness and stayed with him till his dying day. Nardini himself was a very well-known violinist, tutor and composer. He is the creator of many sonatas, concertos and at least 90 caprices for solo violin. Modern performers fully appreciate Nardini’s skill and execution mastery. His fugues are technically demanding, and caprices have amazingly challenging double stops and fingerisation, thus helping us to shed a new light and reverse our views on the limitations and possibilities of a baroque violin.
Nardini was born in Livorno and in 1732 moved to Padua to practice under the guidance of the great Tartini. In 1760s Nardini worked at the court chapels in Stuttgart (under the leadership of Niccolò Jommelli) and Brawnsweig and was received and performed at the Austrian imperial court on several occasions. In 1769 Nardini was offered and accepted a position of chamber-virtuoso of the Chapel of Princes in Florence. Leopold Mozart was a chapel master there at that time. This is what he wrote about Nardini: “Nardini’s beauty, purity and balance of sound are impossible to surpass, his cantabile is unprecedented, and yet there is a certain lack of more sophisticated skills. His compositions are vivid and elegant, they excel in delicacy and sweet sentimentalism; however, there is no depth of feeling nor the intense energy of Tartini’s”.
Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart acknowledged Nardini’s style and manner of performance during his Italian tour of 1770-1771.
Nardini also had an extensive teaching experience, his students include such famous violinists as Giovanni Francesco Giuliani, Gaetano Brunetti and Bartolomeo Campagnoli.
Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751-1824)
Campagnoli was born in a small Italian town of Cento and started playing the violin in his early childhood days. He began his studies in Modena under the guidance of one of the Tartini’s pupils, leaving in a short while for Venice and Padua where he was offered a place in an orchestra. Having moved to Florence, he started taking lessons from Pietro Nardini.
Campagnoli became a well-known violinist and tutor. He travelled a lot around Europe giving concerts and teaching. During one of his trips Campagnoli was introduced to Rudolph Kreutzer and Louis Spohr who later commented that Campagnoli school represented a comprehensive academic approach to violin mastery even though one could find it a bit lacking in terms of substance and novelty by comparison with his teachers. Campagnoli expresses his ideas on violin music in his “New Approach to Violin Technique” (“Neue Methode der Violon-technik”) published in 1797 with second edition following in 1803.
Campagnoli’s Preludes for violin in all the 24 keys are most intriguing, even though on a larger scale his ideas might not be so interesting as the ones developed by his teacher, Pietro Nardini. I have selected Campagnoli’s Capriccio No. 24 in F-minor for the program.
Probably the first name that occurs to everyone when it comes to virtuoso violin performance is Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), the most prominent and widely known violinist of all times and a legendary figure up to now.
Being a popularly accepted child prodigy, Niccolò never stayed long in one place to study travelling from one Italian town to another with his father and taking classes from famous musicians of the time. Young Niccolò had a chance to practice different styles with such prominent masters as Alessandro Rolla, Rudolph Kreutzer and Padre Martini to name a few. Later Niccolò took an interest in the old school styles concentrating his self-studies on works of old school masters Locatelli, Tartini, Nardini and French composers. For instance, he studied string harmonic technique by Mondonville’s “Le Songs Harmoniques” where the composer gives a theoretical explanation of natural harmonics. Paganini used this as a base to create his famous double harmonics. Breathtaking double stops and passages covering the whole length of a violin neck, magnificent staccato and spiccato, all these embellishments and techniques were not so much a goal in themselves but rather a means for celebrating world’s diversity in his music.
Contemporaries believed his performance to be so intricately perfect as to be nearly frightened by it assuming Paganini’s great skill had come through a deal with the devil. There hardly has been or there ever will be a musician whose life is so enwrapped in legends.
Not only do his 24 Caprices for solo violin dedicated "alli artisti" (to the artists) represent model examples of the virtuoso style in music but they are also thrillingly interesting pieces to play. I have chosen variations for violin based on Giovanni Paisiello’s "Nel Cor piu non mi Sento", more widely known as “The Fair Maid of the Mill” or “La Molinara”. This piece contains all the major Paganini’s techniques for solo violin as if presenting his 24 Caprices in 7 variations.
Let me now express my sincere hope that this journey into the world of solo violin music will strike a chord in your heart and soul as I have greatly enjoyed brining this fantastic music to life and revealing its secrets that I am happy and proud to share with you.
Translation by Alexandra Rodionova