As part of the recital of “I am Carreño” that I’m currently working on, via German pianist Babette Hierholzer a musical curiosity has been programmed in this concert which I perform this coming August 14th at The Sembrich in upstate New York; its a composition by Belgian composer Charles August de Bériot (1802-1870). De Bériot was a virtuoso violinist who was married to the 19th century operatic super star, soprano María Malibran. The piece in question is a composition for voice, piano and violin called “Il sogno di Tartini”. It is labeled as a “Ballata” and formed part of the musical program in what was to become Malibran’s last concert in Manchester, England on September 15, 1836. Programmed to be performed by Malibran and De Bériot in the second half of the concert, Malibran became too ill that evening to appear in the second half of the recital (she died 8 days later). “Il sogno di Tartini” in effect would of been the very last piece that La Malibran would of sung, had she gone on stage that evening after the intermission. (From “Malibran – the Final Concert”, Peter Sheppard Skaerved blog https://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2012/06/malibran-the-final-concert/ ).
Such a curious story propelled me to investigate further as to who was Tartini, and what story this off the beaten path, early romantic concert piece was all about.
Considered one of the God Fathers of the modern violin and famous for the invention of “The devil’s trill”, the story of Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1731) is very much at the center of the De Bériot “Ballata”. The musical piece “Il sogno di Tartini” describes the tale of how the Devil come to him in a dream; the Devil plays a sonata that Tartini tried to write down when awake; he is quoted as saying:
“One night I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I desired: my new servant anticipated my every wish. I had the idea of giving him my violin to see if he might play me some pretty tunes, but imagine my astonishment when I heard a sonata so unusual and so beautiful, performed with such mastery and intelligence, on a level I had never before conceived was possible. I was so overcome that I stopped breathing and woke up gasping. Immediately I seized my violin, hoping to recall some shred of what I had just heard; but in vain. The piece I then composed is without a doubt my best, and I still call it “The Devil’s Sonata,” but it falls so far short of the one that stunned me that I would have smashed my violin and given up music forever if I could but have possessed it.”
Hyper romantic in theme and in its story telling, “Il sogno di Tartini” can be seen as a duel between the violin player (the Devil) and the voice (Tartini himself). The vocal part is in a second soprano range (similar to Dona Elvira’s vocal range in Mozart’s Don Giovanni). It has a recitativo section, followed by three strofas (the first two in minor key, the third in major) with text that relates the tale of Tartini’s Devil dream (the author of the lyrics is unknown to me). The melody is somewhat simple, no doubt to give ample space for La Malibran to interpolate in defiance, the highly ornamented violin gestures, glissandos, trills and dramatic tesitura shifts.
For this first time that we are performing the piece, we have cut strofa 2; with all the strofas the piece clocks at about 11 minutes total. I researched a couple of cadenzas in the Marchessi book to embelish one of the cadential points near the end of the piece.
Could be fun to record this one day on 19th century era instruments. I wouldn’t say this is musical masterpiece, but it is certainly a composition that can thrill and entertain. Extroverted, exuberant and extreme in expression, its a wild ride for everyone involved. Can’t wait to see the reaction of the audience on August 14th at The Sembrich. My colleagues in this piece are pianist Babette Hierholzer and violinist Yana Goichman. The recital “I am Carreño” is the conception of bass baritone Robert Osborne and August Ventura.
For more information about the concert on August 14 at The Sembrich in Bolton Landing, NY: https://www.thesembrich.org/events/i-am-carreno-the-extraordinary-life-of-teresa-carreno/