George Dubourg.

The violin : some account of that leading instrument and its most eminent professors, from its earliest date to the present time : with hints to amateurs, anecdotes, etc. online

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cruel disappointment, however, attended him in each of
these cities ; in the latter of which, he died, at the age
of SO, in a state (as far as it could be discovered) of
poverty and wretchedness.

It is certain that the wayward and splenetic cha-
racter evinced by this brilliant artist, was his bane
through the greater part of his life. To enquire how
much of that character was indigenous to the man, and
how much the evil fruit of the private-patronage system,
were, perhaps, to consider too curiously. That he was
careless of his own interest, and that he quarrelled
with some of his most valuable friends, can excite little
surprise, when we note the furor of favoritism, the per-
versity of petting, that were thrust upon him. We
must not expect, in the morale of the musician

" Made drunk wilh honor, and debauch'd with praise,"
that " sterner stuff," which we look for in the philosopher.


As a composer for the instrument on which he shone,
Giardini is not entitled to rank very high. His Solos
and Concertos, numerous, pleasing and of neat effect,
were not of so marked a character as to ensure any
great duration to their popularity ; nor did they admit
of any severe analysis as to science in their structure.
It is from his playing that his high reputation is de-
rived ; and he confirmed into triumph, by more than
thirty years of brilliant performance, the previously
growing favour of the instrument in England, where
indeed he may be said to have completely reformed the
Violin system. A living testimony to the excellence of
his playing, with a few words as to its manner, has been
given, not long since, by Parke, the oboist, who heard him
in 1776, and states that he displayed a fund of grace
and expression that his tone united sweetness with
power and fan odd addendum) that he made use of
strings so large as to give rise to the idea that his fingers
must have been blistered by the necessary pressure he
gave them.

ANTONIO LOLLI, born at Bergamo, in 1728, attained
eminence in his own country, and afterwards (from 1762
to 1773) became Concert-Master to the Duke of Wur-
temburg. Subsequently he went to Russia, where he
obtained, from the Empress, Catherine II, a signal token
of her admiration, in the shape of a violin-bow, made
for him by her order, and bearing on it an inscription in
her own potential autograph : " Archetfait par ordre
de Catherine II y pour lincomparable Lolli" In 1785,
he visited England, whence he proceeded to Spain, and
thence to Paris, where he performed at the Spiritual
and other Concerts. In 1 788, he returned to Italy,
where he glorified his own name with the title of Con-
cert-Master to the Empress of Russia; and in 1794, he


was at Vienna, ascribing himself under the same
character to the King of Naples. He died, after a
lingering illness, at Naples, in 1802. His excellence in
practice was chiefly evinced in quick movements : he
was rarely inclined to exhibit in an adagio.* An anecdote
in proof of his professional assiduity is recorded by
Gerber. "When he entered on his engagement at Stutt-
gardt, in ] 762, he found a superior there, in the person
of Nardini. This circumstance roused all his energies,
which speedily took a settled purpose. He requested
the Duke to allow him a year's leave of absence, to
travel ; instead of which, he retired, diligent, but dis-
ingenuous, to a secluded village, and applied himself in-
defatigably to his instrument. At the end of the accorded
absence, he returned from his pretended journey, " clarior
e tenebris," and shone forth with such effect, that Nardini
gave up the contest, and returned to Italy.

With regard to the compositions of Lolli, it is known
that he never wrote more than the theme, and obtained
from other hands the bass, or the parts for the several
instruments : yet it is curious to note that he gives dif-
ficult passages, of considerable compass, to be executed
on the fourth string only. There are extant various
sets of his Solos, a Preceptive Treatise on the Violin, &c.

GAETANO PUGNANI, first violinist to the King of
Sardinia, was born at Turin, in the year 1728. At a
very early age, he began to practise the instrument on
which he was destined to excel. His first tutor was
Somis, his countryman, already named as one of the
most distinguished scholars of Corelli. After displaying

* It was remarked, while he was in England, that his execution
was astonishing, but that he dealt occasionally in such tricks as
tended to excite the risible faculty, rather than the admiration, of
his auditors.


his extraordinary abilities at the Sardinian Court, Pug-
nani went to Paris, and received the highest applause
at the Concert Spiritual, as an admitted rival of J. Sta-
mitz, Gavinies, and Pagin.

Pugnani afterwards visited many parts of Europe,
and remained a considerable time in England. It was
here that he composed a great portion of his violin music.
In 1 770, he returned to Italy ; and, at Turin, founded a
school for violinists, as Corelli had at Rome, and Tar-
tini at Padua. From this practical academy issued the
first performers of the latter part of the eighteenth cen-
tury ; among whom were Viotti, Bruni and Oliveri.
Pugnani's style of execution is recorded to have been
broad and noble, and characterized by that commanding
sweep of the bow which afterwards formed so grand a
feature in the performance of Yiotti ; the germs of whose
high qualities are clearly traceable to his master. It
has been remarked, that all the pupils of Pugnani proved
excellent leaders. To lead well, was his most distin-
guishing excellence ; and he possessed the art of trans-
mitting it to others. In the orchestra, says Rangoni,
he commanded like a general in the midst of his soldiers.
His bow was the baton of authority, which every per-
former obeyed with the most scrupulous exactitude.
With a single stroke of this bow, he could correct the
erroneous, or animate the lethargic. He even indicated
to the actors the tone and sentiment in which they ought
to deliver their respective melodies, and brought every
thing to that harmony of expression, without which the
operatic scene fails of its most powerful charm. His
strong and acute mind possessed with the great object
to which every leader ought to attend, he promptly and
powerfully seized all the grand points, the character,
the style and taste of the composition, and impressed it


upon the feelings of the performers, both vocal and in-

Pugnani, in addition to the display of brilliant and
powerful abilities as a performer, gave, in his compo-
sitions, evidence of a free and elegant imagination. His
several instrumental pieces, which consist of solos, trios,
quartetts, quintetts and overtures, were published va-
riously, in London, Amsterdam and Paris. On the
Continent, they are still in some request, but are become
very scarce. They display an eloquence of melody, and
an animated and nervous manner. The ideas are na-
tural, both in themselves and in their succession ; and,
however pointed and striking, never desert the style of
the motivo. The operas of this distinguished master,
seven or eight in number, were all highly successful ;
and there is scarcely a theatre in Italy, at which some
of them have not been performed.

Amongst the anecdotes that have been related of
Pugnani, are the following. In his early youth, but
when already much advanced on the violin, feeling far
from satisfied with the degree of excellence he had
attained, he resolved to quit Paris for Padua, in order
to see Tartini, to consult him on his playing, and to im-
prove himself under his instruction. Desired by that
great master to give him a specimen of his performance,
he requested of him, beforehand, to express frankly his
opinion of his style and manner. Before he had played
many bars, Tartini suddenly seized his arm, saying,
" Too loud, my good friend ; too loud !" Pugnani be-
gan afresh ; when, arriving at the same passage, his
auditor again stopped him short, exclaiming, " Too soft,
my good friend ; too soft !" He immediately laid down
his instrument, and solicited Tartini to admit him among
his scholars. His request was granted ; and, excellent


violinist as he really already was, he began his practice
de novo, and, under the guidance of his new instructor,
soon became one of the first performers of his time.
Not long after this, at the house of Madame Denis,
Pugnani heard Voltaire recite a poetical composition, in
a style that enchanted him ; and he, in his turn, at the
lady's request, began to perform on his violin ; when,
vexed at the interruption and ill-breeding of Voltaire's
loud conversation*, he suddenly stopped, and put his
violin into the case, saying, " M. Voltaire fait tres-bien
les vers, mais, quant a la musique, il n'y entend pas le
diable." Once, in performing a concerto before a nume-
rous company, he became so excited, on arriving at an
ad libitum passage, and so lost in attention to his play-
ing, that, thinking himself alone, he walked about the
room, " turbine raptus ingenii," till he had finished his
very beautiful cadence.

Pugnani died at the city of his birth, in 179S. The
violinist, Cartier, has written his eulogium in few words,
but of strong import : " He was the master of Viotti."

Jaraowick, as he has been variously called) was born at
Palermo, in 1 745, and had Antonio Lolli for his precep-
tor. Resorting to Paris for his first public display, he
appeared at the Concert Spiritual, with indifferent suc-
cess, but, by perseverance, soon turned the scale of
opinion in his favour so effectually, that, during a space
of ten years, the style of Giornovichi was in fashion in

* Voltaire's contempt for bad playing seems to have equalled
his indifference towards good, as may be evidenced in the following
lines from his caustic pen j

toi, dont le violon
Sous un archet maudit par Apollon
D'un ton si dur a rdcle, &c.


the French capital. His sway there was terminated by
the superior power of Vjotti, and he quitted France
about the year 1780, proceeding to Prussia, where, in
1782, he was engaged as first violin in the Royal Cha-
pel of Potsdam. He was, subsequently, for some time in
Russia*. Between the years 1792 and 1796, he was
in high vogue in various parts of England, but lost his
popularity through a dispute with an eminent professor,
in which the sense of the public went against him. A
residence of some years in Hamburgh, a shorter stay at
Berlin, and then a change to St. Petersburgh, brought
him to the end of his career. He died of apoplexy, in

The eccentricity which marked the character of this
artist, is shown in various anecdotes that have been
current respecting him. On one occasion, at Lyons, he
announced a concert, at six francs a ticket, but failed to
collect an audience. Finding the Lyonnese so retentive
of their money, he postponed his performance to the fol-
lowing evening, with the temptation of tickets at half
the price. A crowded company was the result ; but
their expectations were suddenly let down by the dis-
covery that " the advertiser" had quitted the town sans
c6remonie. At another time, being in the music-shop
of Bailleux, he accidentally broke a pane of glass.

* Michael Kelly, who heard this artist at Vienna, on his return
from Russia, makes the following mention of him :

" Giornovick, who was on his way from Russia to Paris, had
been many years first concerto-player at the court of Petersburgh.
He was a man of a certain age, but in the full vigour of talent :
his tone was very powerful, his execution most rapid, and his taste,
above all, alluring. No performer, in my remembrance, played
such pleasing music. He generally closed his concertos with a
rondo, the subject of which was some popular Russian air, to which
he composed variations, with enchanting taste."


" Those who break windows must pay for them," said
Bailleux. " Right," replied the other ; " how much is
it ?" " Thirty sous." " Well, there's a three-franc
piece." " But I have no small change." " Never
mind that," Giornovichi replied ; " we are now quits !"
and immediately dashed his cane through a second
square thus taking double panes to make himself dis-

The authoress of the " Memoirs of the Empress
Josephine" has furnished an anecdote connected with
his sojourn in London. He gave a concert, which was
very fully attended. On the commencement of a con-
certo which be had to perform, the company continued
conversing together, while their whispering was inter-
mingled with the clattering of tea-cups and saucers
for it was then customary to serve the company with
tea throughout the evening, during the performance as
well as in the intervening pauses. Giornovichi turned
to the orchestra, and desired the performers to stop.
" These people," said he, " know nothing about music.
I will give them something better suited to their taste.
Any thing is good enough for drinkers of warm water."-
So saying, he immediately struck up the air, " J'ai du
bon tabac." The best of the matter was, he was over-
whelmed with applause : the second piece was listened
to with great attention, and the circulation of the tea-
cups was actually suspended until its conclusion.

" Giornovick," says Michael Kelly, again, in his
" Reminiscences," " was a desperate duellist, quarrelled
with Shaw, the leader of the Drury Lane orchestra, at
an oratorio, and challenged him. I strove all in my
power to make peace between them. Giornovick could
not speak a word of English*, and Shaw could not speak
* Apropos of this deficiency of English, I find an anecdote in


a word of French. They both agreed that I should he
the mediator between them. I translated what they
said to each other, most faithfully ; but, unfortunately,
Shaw, in reply to one of Giornovick's accusations, said,
" Pooh ! pooh !" " Sacre !" said Giornovick, " what
is the meaning of dat ' pooh ! pooh ?' I will not hear a
word until you translate me 'pooh ! pooh !' " My good
wishes to produce harmony between them, for some
time, were frustrated, because I really did not know
how to translate 'pooh! pooh !' into French or Italian.
I, however, at last succeeded in making them friends ;
but the whole scene was truly ludicrousf."

The mettlesome vivacity of this strange being was
further shown in his intercourse with the Chevalier St.
George, who was expert at the sword, as well as the
bow. Giornovichi often disagreed with this formidable
master of fence, and, one day, in the heat of a dispute,
dealt him a box on the ear. Instead of resenting it,
however, by means of his " so potent art," St. George
turned round, with laudable self-restraint, to a person
who was present, and said, " J'aime trop son talent
pour me battre avec lui .'" (" I am too fond of his
talent, to fight him.")

the book of Parke, the oboist. He is describing the return from
a dinner-party. " When we arrived at Tottenham-court Road,
there being several coaches on the stand, one was called for Jarno-
vicki, to convey him home ; but, on its coming up, although he
had been in London several years, he could not muster up English
enough to name the street in which he lived; and, none of the
party knowing his residence, it produced a dilemma, in which he
participated, till, suddenly recollecting himself, he broke out sing-
ing, Marlbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre, which enabled his English
friends to direct the coachman to Marlborough Street."

t Parke, also, mentions the occurrence of this dispute, and the
challenge stating, as the occasion, that Shaw had refused to leave
his proper station in the orchestra, to accompany Giornovichi.


" Jarnowick," says a recent critic, " was a sort of
erratic star or meteor, which cannot be brought into the
system of the regular planets of the violin. Slightly
educated, and shallow as a musician, his native talent,
and the facility with which he was able to conquer me-
chanical difficulties, rendered him so brilliant and power-
ful a player, that, for a time, he was quite the rage,
both in France and England. We have been told, by
a gentleman who knew him well," adds this writer,
" that he has seen him, with his violin in his hand,
walking about his room, and groping about on the strings
for basses to the melodies he was composing. His con-
certos are agreeable and brilliant, but destitute of pro-
fundity and grandeur, and are, therefore, totally thrown
aside. His performance was graceful and elegant, and
his tone was pure. He was remarkably happy in his
manner of treating simple and popular airs as rondos,
returning ever and anon to his theme, after a variety of
brilliant excursions, in a way that used to fascinate his
hearers. But, both as a composer and a performer, the
effect he produced was ephemeral, and has left no trace
behind it. He contributed nothing either to the pro-
gress of music, or to that of the instrument which he

In giving the reverse side of the picture, there ap-
pears to be here a little exaggeration of its defects.
That so eminent a performer should have contributed
nothing to the progress of his instrument, is scarcely to
be held probable. The crowds he drew, and the admi-
ration he excited, must surely have been the means of
diffusing some increased regard for the instrument of
whose single powers he made such brilliant exhibition.
To the steady advancement of the art, through the form-
ation of pupils, he might contribute nothing ; but he


must have added something to its success, by stimulating
the public disposition to encourage it. To create ad-
mirers, is of less importance than to make proficients ;
and yet it is an achievement of some value, inasmuch
as it promotes the demand for proficients. Even when
the public, for personal reasons, withdrew their pa-
tronage from Giornovichi, they only transferred, in favor
of others, the admiration for violin solo-playing, which
he had been one of the agents to instil into them : and
thus it is that no performer of great abilities, unless, by
introducing a vicious style, he corrupts taste (which has
not been charged upon Giornovichi), can be justly said
to be destitute of advantageous influence upon his art.

GIOVANNI BATTISTA VIOTTI, the first violinist of
his age, and the enlightened originator of the modern
order of violin-playing, \vas born in 1755, at Fontaneto,
a small village in Piedmont. Possessing the happiest
dispositions for his art, the progress he made under Pug-
nani was so rapid, that, at the age of twenty, he was
chosen to fill the situation of first violinist to the Royal
Chapel of Turin. After about three years' residence
there, he proceeded on his travels, having already at-
tained maturity of excellence. From Berlin, he directed
his course towards Paris, where he displayed his talents in
the Concert Spirituel, and speedily obliged Giornovichi,
who was then figuring as a star of the first pretensions,
to "pale his ineffectual fire." The concertos of Giorno-
vichi, agreeable and brilliant as they were, and supported
by his graceful and elegant playing, lost their attraction
when brought into rivalry with the beauty and grandeur
of Viotti's compositions, aided by the noble and powerful
manner in which he executed them.

Yiotti's fame very soon drew on him the notice of
the French Court ; and he was sent for to Versailles by


Marie Antoinette. A new concerto of his own compo-
sition, to be performed at a courtly festival, was to
afford a treat worthy of Royalty ; and every one of the
privileged was impatient to hear him. At the appointed
hour, a thousand lights illumined the magnificent musical
saloon of the Queen ; the most distinguished symphonists
of the chapel-royal, and of the theatres (ordered for the
service of their Majesties) were seated at the desks
where the parts of the music were distributed. The
Queen, the Princes, the ladies of the royal family, and
all the persons belonging to their Court, having arrived,
the concert commenced. The performers, in the midst
of whom Viotti was distinguished, received from him
their impulse, and appeared to be animated by the same
spirit. The symphony proceeded with all the fire and
all the expression of him who conceived and directed it.
At the expiration of the tutti, the enthusiasm was at its
height; but etiquette forbade applause; the orchestra
was silent. In the saloon, it seemed as if every one
present was forewarned by this very silence to breathe
more softly, in order to hear more perfectly the solo
which he was about to commence. The strings, trembling
under the lofty and brilliant bow of Viotti, had already
sent forth some prelusive sounds, when suddenly a great
noise was heard from the next apartment. Place d
Monseigneur le Comte d'Artois ! His Highness entered,
preceded by servants carrying flambeaux, and accom-
panied by a numerous train of bustling attendants. The
folding-doors were thrown open, and the concert was
interrupted. A moment after, the symphony began
again ; " Silence ! Viotti is going to play." In the mean-
time, the Comte d'Artois cannot remain quietly seated :
he rises, and walks about the room, addressing his dis-
course loudly to several ladies. Viotti looks round with


indignant surprise at the interruption, puts his violin
under his arm, takes the music from the stand, and
walks off, leaving the concert, her Majesty and his
Royal Highness, to the reproaches of all the audience
and leaving his biographers, afterwards, in some douht
whether a just independence of spirit, or a petulance
beyond the occasion, should be regarded as the motive
to this premature^wafe. Of those who read the anecdote,
some may associate it with the story of " the bear and
fiddle," while others, siding with "Viotti, may consider
the interruption that provoked him as something parallel
to Beranger's ironical summons of

Bas, bas !

Chapeau bas !

Place au Marquis de Carabas !

It has never been satisfactorily discovered what were
the reasons which induced Viotti, at an early period of
his life, to relinquish all idea of ever performing in
public. Some have referred to the incident above nar-
rated, as the cause of this ; but they who pretended to
be well acquainted with his character, have asserted
that he disdained the applause of the multitude, because
it was afforded, almost indiscriminately, to superiority
of talent, and to presumptuous mediocrity. It is well
known that he rejected the solicitations of people who
were termed of the great world, because he would have
no other judges than such as were worthy of appreciating
him ; and that, notwithstanding the pretensions asserted
by the great and fashionable persons of his day, on the
score of knowing every thing, and of being the supreme
arbiters of arts, of artists, and of taste, he observed
that it was very rare to find among them men capable
of a profound sentiment, or who could discover in others
any thing beyond their exterior, and judge of things


otherwise than by the same superficial admeasurement.
He, however, yielded again to the eagerness which was
evinced for hearing him, but on two occasions only ;
of which the one did honour to his heart ; and the other,
as it serves to acquaint us more intimately with his
character, may be here related.

On the fifth story, in a little street in Paris, not far
from the Place de la Revolution, in the year 1790,
lodged a deputy of the Constituent Assembly, an intimate
and trusty friend of Viotti's. The conformity of their
opinions, the same love of the arts and of liberty, an
equal admiration of the genius and works of Rousseau,
had formed this connection between two men who thence-
forward became inseparable. It was during the exciting
times of enthusiasm and of hope, that the ardent heart
of Viotti could not remain indifferent to sentiments
which affected all great and generous minds. He shared
them with his friend. This person solicited him strongly
to comply with the desire which some of the first
personages in the kingdom expressed to hear him if
only for once. Viotti at last consented, but upon one
condition namely, that the concert should be given in
the modest and humble retreat of the fifth floor ! La
fortune passe par tout > We have,' said he, 'long enough
descended to them : but the times are changed ; they

Online LibraryGeorge DubourgThe violin : some account of that leading instrument and its most eminent professors, from its earliest date to the present time : with hints to amateurs, anecdotes, etc. → online text (page 8 of 32)