Biography in the 1911 Encyclopędia Brittanica
[Source: The Encyclopędia Britannica, Vol. XXVI (New York, 1911), pg. 436-7.]
GIUSEPPE TARTINI (1692-1770), Italian violinist, composer and musical theorist, was born at Pirano in Istria on the 12th of April 1692. In early life he studied, with equal want of success, for the church, the law courts, and the profession of arms. As a young man he was wild and irregular, and he crowned his improprieties by clandestinely marrying the niece of Cardinal Cornaro, archbishop of Padua. The cardinal resented the marriage as a disgraceful mesalliance, and denounced it so violently that the unhappy bridegroom, thinking his life in danger, fled for safety to a monastery at Assisi, where his character underwent a complete change. He studied the theory of music under Padre Boemo, the organist of the monastery, and, without any assistance whatever, taught himself to play the violin in so masterly a style that his performances in the church became the wonder of the neighbourhood. For more than two years his identity remained undiscovered, but one day the wind blew aside a curtain behind which he was playing, and one of his hearers recognized him and betrayed his retreat to the cardinal, who, hearing of his changed character, readmitted him to favour and restored him to his wife.
Tartini next removed to Venice, where the fine violin-playing of Veracini excited his admiration and prompted him to repair, by the aid of good instruction, the shortcomings of his own selftaught method. He left his wife with relations and returned to Ancona, where he studied for a time. In 1721 he returned to Padua, where he was appointed solo violinist at the church of San Antonio. From 1723 to 1725 he acted as conductor of Count Kinsky's private band in Prague. In 1728 he founded a school for violin in Padua. The date of his presence in Rome does not seem to be clearly established, but he was in Bologna in 1739. Afterwards he returned to his old post in Padua, where he died on the 16th of February 1770.
Tartini's compositions are very numerous, and faithfully illustrate his passionate and masterly style of execution, which surpassed in brilliancy and refined taste that of all his contemporaries. He frequently headed his pieces with an explanatory poetical motto, such as "Ombra cara," or "Volgete it riso in pianto o mie pupille." Concerning that known as Il Trillo del Diavolo, or The Devil's Sonata, he told a curious story to Lalande, in 1766. He dreamed that the devil had become his slave, and that he one day asked him if he could play the violin. The devil replied that he believed he could pick out a tune, and thereupon he played a sonata so exquisite that Tartini thought he had never heard any music to equal it. On awaking he tried to note down the composition, but succeeded very imperfectly, though the Devil's Sonata is one of his best productions.
Tartini is historically important as having contributed to the science of acoustics as well as to musical art by his discovery (independently of Sorge, 1740, to whom the primary credit is now given) of what are still called "Tartini's tones" (see Sound and Hearing), or differential tones.
The phenomenon is this: - when any two notes are produced steadily and with great intensity, a third note is heard, whose vibration number is the difference of those of the two primary notes. It follows from this that any two consecutive members of a harmonic series have the fundamental of that series for their difference tone - thus, ?, the fourth and fifth harmonic, produce C, the prime or generator, at the interval of two octaves under the lower of those two notes; G, the third and fifth harmonic, produce C, the second harmonic, at the interval of a 5th under the lower of those two notes. The discoverer was wont to tell his pupils that their doublestopping was not in tune unless they could hear the third note; and Henry Blagrove (1811-1872) gave the same admonition. The phenomenon has other than technical significance; an experiment by Sir F. A. G. Ouseley showed that two pipes, tuned by measurement to so acute a pitch as to render the notes of both inaudible by human ears, when blown together produce the difference of tone of the inaudible primaries, and this verifies the fact of the infinite upward range of sound which transcends the perceptive power of human organs. The obverse of this fact is that of any sound being deepened by an 8th if the length of the string or pipe which produces it be doubled. The law is without exception throughout the compass in which our ears can distinguish pitch, and so, of necessity, a string of twice the length of that whose vibrations induce the deepest perceivable sound must stir the air at such a rate as to cause a tone at an 8th below that lowest audible note. It is hence manifest that, however limited our sense of the range of musical sound, this range extends upward and downward to infinity. Tartini made his observations the basis of a theoretical system which he set forth in his Trattato di Musica, secondo la vera scienzia dell' Armonia (Padua, 1754) and Dei Principij dell' Armonia Musicale (Padua, 1767). He also wrote a Trattato delle Appogiature, posthumously printed in French, and an unpublished work, Delle Ragioni e delle Proporzioni, the MS. of which has been lost.