Born at Lucca, he received lessons in music from Alessandro Scarlatti, and studied the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati in Milan and afterwards under Arcangelo Corelli. From 1707 he took the place of his father in the Cappella Palatina of Lucca. From 1711, he led the opera orchestra at Naples, as Leader of the Opera Orchestra and concertmaster, which gave him many opportunities for contact with Alessandro Scarlatti. After a brief return to Lucca, in 1714, he set off for London, where he arrived with the reputation of a virtuoso violinist, and soon attracted attention and patrons, including William Capel, 3rd Earl of Essex, who remained a consistent patron. In 1715 Geminiani played his violin concerti for the court of George I, with Handel at the keyboard.
Geminiani made a living by teaching and writing music, and tried to keep pace with his passion for collecting by dealing in art, not always successfully. Many of his students went on to have successful careers, such as Charles Avison, Matthew Dubourg, Michael Christian Festing, Bernhard Joachim Hagen and Cecilia Young.
After visiting Paris and residing there for some time, he returned to England in 1755. In 1761, on one of his sojourns in Dublin, a servant robbed him of a musical manuscript on which he had bestowed much time and labour. His vexation at this loss is said to have hastened his death.
He appears to have been a first-rate violinist. His Italian pupils reportedly called him Il Furibondo, the Madman, because of his expressive rhythms.
Geminiani's most well-known compositions are three sets of concerti grossi; his Opus 2 (1732), Opus 3 (1733) and Opus 7 (1746), (there are 42 concerti in all) which introduce the viola as a member of the concertino group of soloists, making them essentially concerti for string quartet. These works are deeply contrapuntal to please a London audience still in love with Corelli, compared to the galant work that was fashionable on the Continent at the time of their composition. Geminiani also reworked his teacher Corelli's Opp. 1, 3 and 5 into concerti grossi.
Geminiani's significance today is largely due to his 1751 treatise Art of Playing the Violin, published in London, which is the best known summation of the 18th century Italian method of violin playing and is an invaluable source for the study of late Baroque performance practice. The book is in the form of 24 exercises accompanied by a relatively short but extremely informative section of text, giving detailed instructions on articulation, trills and other ornaments, shifting between positions, and other aspects of left- and right-hand violin technique. The instructions in this treatise are famously opposed to those expressed by Leopold Mozart in his Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing (1756) on several issues, including on bow hold, use of vibrato, and the so-called "rule of the down-bow", which states that the first beat of every bar must be played with a down-stroke.
His Guida harmonica (c. 1752, with an addendum in 1756) is one of the most unusual harmony treatises of the late Baroque, serving as a sort of encyclopedia of basso continuo patterns and realizations. There are 2,236 patterns in all, and at the end of each pattern is a page number reference for a potential next pattern; thus a student composer studying the book would have an idea of all the subsequent possibilities available after any given short bass line.
Geminiani also published a number of solos for the violin, three sets of violin concerti, twelve violin trios, The Art of Accompaniment on the Harpsichord, Organ, etc. (1754), Lessons for the Harpsichord, Art of Playing the Guitar (1760) and some other works.
Geminiani's compositions are noted for their imagination, expression, and warmth, but also for their lack of discipline and for under-development. Charles Burney took Geminiani to task for irregular melodic structure.
- Halbreich, Harry. Concerti Grossi, Op. 7 (LP Record). I Solisti Veneti conducted by Claudio Scimone. New York: Musical Heritage Society. MHS 1142.
- This entry incorporates corrected and expanded material originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Vita of Francesco Geminiani
- Free scores by Francesco Geminiani at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free scores by Francesco Geminiani in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)