Music has been filled with lore and legend since there were famous musicians and composers. From Faust and Mephistopheles to the Phantom of the Opera, music and the supernatural go together as well as the written word. One of the most fascinating legends surrounds an Italian Baroque composer named Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) and the Devil.
One night in 1713, Tartini dreamed he met the Devil. He made a compact with the evil one to be the best violinist in the world, but he grew curious in the dream. He handed the Devil his violin to see how well he could play.
The song that he heard forever changed him. The new melody took root deep within his mind and stayed with him. It haunted him even while he listened. As soon as he woke, he pushed himself to recreate both the song and the sound. He met with disappointment after disappointment. He couldn’t achieve the complexity, the delicate precision, or the same tone he’d heard from the Devil.
He made it a life goal to replicate the beautiful melody he heard in his dream. The work, The Devil’s Sonata, also called The Devil’s Trill in modern times, became his most famous piece. Sadly, Tartini was never able to make it sound as he wished. Those closest to him stated his perpetual frustration was so severe that he wanted to destroy his instrument and abandon music forever, but he had no other way to support himself.
Other variations of the legend state that the compact was real and Tartini enchanted his audiences via the bargain, but it wasn’t a particularly satisfactory deal. The one song Tartini most longed to play was utterly unattainable.
Famous psychic and medium Madame Blavatsky wrote “The Ensouled Violin,” a short story featured in her collection Nightmare Tales. In her version, Tartini actually drew the majority of his inspiration from the Devil, and was in long-term league with him. The proof was the way he excited and mystified his audiences.
In her version, the sonata was supposed to be some kind of bonus or perk for following him. His inability to reproduce the desired sound is not mentioned in her version.
- The Ensouled Violin- http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/nightmar/night-9.htm
- Giuseppe Tartini- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Tartini#Fictional_portrayal
- The World of Wonders– Cassell & Company, Ltd. London, Paris, New York, 1883.