Dreams are a powerful form of inspiration and when the devil appears and shocks you with his magnificent playing, how can you ignore it? Venetian Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini describes what led to his best-known work, “Devi’s Trill Sonata” (which sounds so much better in Italian: “Il trillo del diavolo”):
“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.”
Tartini’s intense frustration with not being able to re-create something he heard so clearly in his dream is something all serious music students, performers, and composers alike can identify with. I’ve had those feelings, whether it was a piano piece not coming together the way I heard it in my head, or less urgent matters such as a recipe I was fiddling with, that didn’t turn out the way it should taste, or an outfit I put together in my mind’s eye that looked ridiculous upon putting it on.
Anne-Sophie Mutter coolly performs the “Devil’s Trill” with pianist Lambert Orkis. The piece builds and gets more and more exciting and intense as it goes.
Giuseppe Tartini was born April 8, 1692 in the Republic of Venice (now Slovenia) and died February 26, 1770 in Padua, Italy.