The Devil’s Playground




Giuseppe Tartini Devil's Sonata

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. – Giuseppe Tartini

How did the devil become a fiddle-player? He has a long history of association with this instrument, going back hundreds of years and across several continents. The short answer is that fiddling is linked to dancing, drinking, and general frivolity. But I have discovered another detail where the devil lies.

Does Not Play Well With Others

Fuessen was a town of violin makers (as the German center of violin making in the baroque period, over 80 craftsmen lived there making violins. The population of Fuessen during that time was only 1500.) Their violins were exported all over Europe. So if anyone understands the connection between society, folklore, and the violin, it’s the people of Fuessen.

At the Fuessen Heritage Museum in Fuessen, Germany, I discovered this explanation:

By 1750 the violin had replaced older instruments almost completely because solo music was  more popular than polyphonic music. This change in music style reflected the difference in the mentality of the period in which the individual was considered more important. These new demands were revealed in the constructional changes of the instruments.

So to summarize, people by the 18th century were much more interested in a musical instrument they could play alone, instead of needing a group of other people and instruments to strike up a proper tune. The acoustic characterisitics of the violin allow for that. You could be the sole musician at that dance or party and have no need to take a band along.

And it’s here the devil lurks. The devil also symbolizes the ego, the self-sufficient, go-it-alone, non serviam mentality, which was growing by the Renaissance, but which was foreign to the cooperative and interdependent society of Europe in earlier times.

I have also written on this trend in the visual arts here: Panoptical Illusions

So I think this means the devil also sings karaoke!



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