Today I thought about writing something a bit more folkloric, and in fact, the possible origins behind a common urban legend theme. Hold your tea cup tight, and let’s talk about music and the Devil.

I guess most of you are familiar with the common theme of the Devil playing the fiddle, or with the infamous “deals” between musicians and daemons, where talent and fame is exchanged with lost souls and hellish torment.

There are many theories as to how this originated. Some go back to ancient Greece and the frenzied musical orgies for Dionysus and Pan, some in the Middle Ages, where music and dancing was thought to lead to sin, and some speak of “Faust”.

There was a musician, though, who managed to combine all the fine details of this myth. Meet Giuseppe Tartini (8 April 1692 – 26 February 1770). He was born in a town called Piran, that used to belong to the Republic of Venice, but is now part of Slovenia. He studied Law but following accusations of kidnapping his wife, he took shelter in a monastery where he started playing the violin.

He wasn’t satisfied with his skills, and he started practicing harder- in fact, he locked himself up! Clearly he did something right, as his work improved to the point where he was given the first Stradivarius violin. He was appointed Maestro Di Capella in Padua, he ran his own violin school, and the city of Piran now has a square dedicated to him.

His masterpiece is called “Devil’s Trill Sonata”, and it is an extremely difficult piece, even for modern violinists. It is so complicated, that there were rumors that Tartini had six fingers. Tartini on the other hand, shared a different story with the world. According to the legend, he claimed that he heard the sonata in a dream, played by the Devil himself, at the foot of his bed, as a gift for settling the deal.

Hmm, Giuseppe, a one-hit wonder for an eternity of damnation? Not a good deal, my friend…

First published: 15/12/2016