{Yù Yī} The Devil's Trill Sonata

Giuseppe Tartini was an Italian composer, violinist, and music theorist. His work helped establish the modern style of bowing for violin. He was born 8 April 1692 in Pirano, Italy, and died 26 February 1770 in Padua, Italy.

Before he was 20, Tartini had studied divinity and law at Padua, had a reputation as a fencer, secretly married a protégée of the archbishop of Padua, was arrested for that, escaped and fled from Padua while disgusted as a monk, and sought refuge in an Assisi monastery. While there, his violin playing started to attract attention and was ultimately what influenced the archbishop to allow him to return to Padua for his wife.

In 1721, he was appointed the principal violinist at the Church of San Antonio. Between 1723-26, he directed the orchestra of the chancellor of Bohemia in Prague. He returned to Padua and in 1728 founded a school for violin playing and composition. In 1740, he played a tour of Italy.

Tartini composed more than 100 violin concertos, a number of sonatas, quartets, trios, symphonies, and religious works, including a five-part Miserere and a four-part Salve Regina. He also discovered the difference tone, or the Tartini tone. The difference tone is a third note that is heard with two other notes are played steadily and with intensity. Some of his theories on music are Trattato di musica (Treaties on Music) in 1754, which was expanded into Dissertazione dei principi dell'armonia musicale (Dissertation on the Principles of Musical Harmony) in 1767.

One of Tartini's most well known sonatas is Violin Sonata in G Minor, or as it is more commonly called, The Devil's Trill Sonata. The legend of this sonata is that, Tartini had a particularly vivid dream of the Devil asking him to teach him violin and then Tartini being blown away by the skill and technique the Devil acquired from his teachings. When Tartini woke up, he tried to write down the piece of music the Devil had played, and ended up with The Devil's Trill Sonata. Of course, Tartini would later claim that his sonata paled in comparison to the Devil's intensity, and 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."

The Devil's Trill utilizes tritones, which have historically been referred to as forbidden intervals, diabolus in musica or devil in music, and which were strongly discouraged in compositions and labeled as evil during the Middle Ages. Today, tritones can be heard from Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check by Busta Rhymes to Walkin by Miles Davis to Even Flow by Pearl Jam to Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns and Enter Sandman by Metallica.

Even to this day, The Devil's Trill Sonata is notoriously difficult to play and there isn't a better explanation of how Tartini came up with it other than his dream story. During his lifetime, the rumor that he had six fingers which helped him play those difficult trills, was a popular theory. Another theory is that the Devil was really Tartini's idol, Francesco Maria Veracini. Having a dream of the Devil is just as plausible as having a vision of your idol because their abilities have such a great effect on you that you isolate yourself for years to do nothing but practice. 

The dream story wasn't revealed by Tartini until a few years before his death to the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande. The sonata itself wan't published until about 30 years after Tartini died. So, the actual date the sonata was written isn't even known. While Lalande claims Tartini recounted the date the dream and when the sonata was written to be 1713, it seems most scholars believe it to have been written in the 1740s because of the stylistic maturity. The sonata seems to be enveloped in mystery, either by ingenious design or by happenstance.