Tartini’s violin heard once again

February 2011

In the municipality and town of Piran, which often bears the suffix Tartini’s town, people in recent years have gained a revived awareness of the importance of linking a town’s identity as much as possible to the personality of an artist who worked there.

Piran’s most important resident, Giuseppe Tartini, the composer and violinist

Piran, Tartini Square. Photo: Jakše - Jeršič

Piran’s most important resident, Giuseppe Tartini, the composer and violinist who was born in 1692 in Piran and died in 1770 in Padua, where he is also buried, does indeed lend Piran at first glance a recognisable stamp. In the main Tartini Square, in front of the composer’s birth house, an imposing Renaissance palace, stands a large monument constructed by the townsfolk to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth and unveiled in 1896. Standing on a high plinth is a life-size bronze sculpture of the master, and the monument is the work of Venetian sculptor Antonio dal Zotta. The birth house contains a memorial Tartini Collection, managed by the Piran Maritime Museum.The collection includes Tartini’s violin, the property of the great master and an outstanding exhibit, which the people of Piran now want to promote as one of the cult items of Piran’s history.

Tartini’s violin - between 300 and 400 years old

The Italians selected the wood for the tops of their violin bodies on the Gorenjska uplands of Jelovica and Pokljuka.

What is certain about the violin is that it was Tartini’s property and the maestro also played it, for a special certificate attests to this, and it is between 300 and 400 years old. What seems harder to establish is its origin, or who actually made it. The period in which Tartini lived is characterised as being the particular time when violins of the highest quality were being made, and today they are regarded as matchless.

Something that might interest Slovenians is that the Italians selected the wood for the tops of their violin bodies on the Gorenjska uplands of Jelovica and Pokljuka, where the spruces are sufficiently compact for the best sounds to be coaxed from them.

Questions about violin's origin but there is no doubt - the Tartini's violin is the instrument of great value

No one is certain whether Tartini’s violin originates in such circles, but there are some indications of it. There is considerable certainty that the violin was made by Nicola Amati, with a record in the body of the violin stating that it came from a workshop in Bologna. The certificate from Cremona, made up in 1937 by Italian experts and now kept in the Piran Museum, provides incontrovertible evidence that the violin was indeed the property of Tartini.

Inappropriate storage over the centuries

In any case, what is beyond debate is that this is an instrument of great value, lent particular significance by Tartini’s personality. Over the centuries the violin was not treated to the most appropriate care; it spent the Second World War, for instance, holed up in the staircase of a municipal building in damp and highly variable climatic conditions. Some say that the later restoration and storage were not optimal, either, although it was restored by the top experts of Slovenia and Hungary, and its location in one of the showcases of Piran’s Tartini Collection, where humidity and temperature are not controlled, has its problems, too. The worst thing for it, apparently, is that no one has played it, and this can be a major problem for a violin, which is a “living musical organism”.

Žiga Faganel, one of the top Slovenian violinists is optimistic

Žiga Faganel playing Tartini's violin. Photo: Boris Šuligoj

The keeper of the collection, curator Duška Žitko, and director of Piran’s Maona Tourist Agency, Polona Senčar, take the credit for organising a special concert in Piran on the day after Christmas, in which Žiga Faganel, a member of the Slovenian Philharmonic orchestra and one of the top Slovenian violinists, played Tartini’s sonata in G minor, Dido Abandoned, on the priceless antique.  Faganel also assessed the condition of this exceptional instrument,  and determined that some of the previous restoration work was indeed perhaps not optimal, but it can all be put right. He stressed that the top two strings produce a very noble sound, while the sound of the lower strings is somewhat “closed”, which is perhaps a consequence of inappropriate storage, since the violin was placed in a showcase with taught strings. As for the future, however, Faganel is optimistic. The violin will need to be restored further, while he himself and his associate, also a music teacher, will work to maintain the regular “fitness” of this wonderful instrument through regular playing.

Taxt by Jože Osterman, Sinfo, February 2011