Violin Sonata in G minor (Tartini)

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Devil's Trill Sonata
Violin sonata by Giuseppe Tartini
Le Songe de Tartini par Louis-Léopold Boilly 1824.jpg
"Tartini's Dream," by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1824)
Key G minor
Catalogue Bg 5
  • 1799 (1799) in L'Art du Violon by Jean-Baptiste Cartier
Movements 4

The Violin Sonata in G minor, Bg 5, more familiarly known as the Devil's Trill Sonata (Italian: Il trillo del diavolo), is a work for solo violin (with figured bass accompaniment) by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770). It is the composer's best-known composition,[1] notable for its technically difficult passages.[2] A typical performance lasts fifteen minutes.


Tartini allegedly told the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande that he had dreamed that the Devil had appeared to him and had asked to be Tartini's servant. At the end of their lessons, Tartini had handed the devil his violin to test his skill, which the devil immediately began to play with such virtuosity that the composer felt his breath taken away.[3] The complete story is told by Tartini himself in Lalande's Voyage d'un François en Italie:

One night, in the year 1713 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.[4]

Despite having said that this sonata was his favorite, Tartini later wrote that it was "so inferior to what I had heard, that if I could have subsisted on other means, I would have broken my violin and abandoned music forever."[5] While he claimed he composed the sonata in 1713, scholars think it was likely composed as late as the 1740s, due to its stylistic maturity. It was not published until 1798 or 1799, more than thirty years after the composer's death.[6]

The sonata would become the basis for Cesare Pugni's 1849 ballet Le violon du diable,[7] as well as Chopin's Prelude No. 27.[8]


The sonata, written for violin with basso continuo (figured bass), is written in four movements:

  1. Larghetto affettuoso
  2. Allegro moderato
  3. Andante
  4. Allegro assai — Andante — Allegro assai

The first movement, in 12/8 time, begins gently and reflectively, with languid double stops and a flowing violin melody line filled with tasteful embellishments.[9] The melody, which moves from the tonic to the dominant key in the middle of the movement includes several deceptive cadences, before returning once again to a tonic theme similar to the beginning.[10] A crisp, quick, highly decorated bravura follows, preceding a brief cantabile slow movement, said to signify Tartini's dream state.[3] The last movement, technically difficult, begins fast, before dissolving into repeated, modular violin melody over an intensifying accompaniment. This leads to a slow chromatic theme, followed by more sequences of the two themes, before a bravura cadenza begins, with trills outlining the main theme. This cadenza is the source of the sonata's nickname. The accompaniment joins the violin again for the last few dramatic measures.[10] The trill in the last movement is one of the earliest examples of a trill illustrating a musical theme.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cramer, Marc. "The Devil's Trill and Other Violin Sonatas". Renaissance Magazine. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  2. ^ Beggerow, Alan. "Tartini - Violin Sonata in G Minor 'Devil's Trill'". Musical Musings. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Henken, John. "Sonata in G minor for Violin and Continuo ("The Devil's Trill")". LAPhil. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Holmen, Peter. "Sonata in G minor 'Il trillo del Diavolo', Bg5". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Gómez, Mario. "The legend of Tartini's "Devil's Trill Sonata"". Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  6. ^ Sminthe, C. "Giuseppe Tartini". A Violin's Life. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Latham, Alison (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of Musical Works. Oxford University Press. p. 40. ISBN 9780198610205. 
  8. ^ Rense, Rip (12 May 2002). "MUSIC; Deciphered: A Demonic Prelude by an Ailing Chopin". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  9. ^ Schwarm, Besty. "The Devil's Trill". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Palmer, John. "Sonata for violin & continuo in G minor, B. g5 ("The Devil's Trill")". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  11. ^ Bachmann, Alberto (2013). An Encyclopedia of the Violin. Courier Corporation. p. 191. ISBN 9780486318240. 

External links[edit]