Viotti wrote 29 important and imaginative violin concertos, containing features of early romantic music. The best known of these is No 22 in A minor c. 1792-97. In the violin concertos, Viotti maintains, formally at least, the division into three movements based on the Allegro, a central Adagio or Andante, and finally the classical Rondo, this being a form which remained in fashion for almost all of the nineteenth century. The Allegro is often preceded by an extended introduction sometimes in a different time (for example Maestoso) which then gives way to the soloist then called the "first violin".
From the first concerto to No 18, Viotti employs a chamber formation consisting of 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings, with the single exception of Concerto No 16, to the score of which Mozart added trumpets and timpani. For Concerto No 19, Viotti introduced clarinets and flutes which appear only in the central movement (Adagio non Troppo). This is an important addition which is undoubtedly aimed at achieving a richer timbre overall. In the following concertos, Viotti introduced bassoons and made increasing use of timpani.
The concertos can be subdivided into the ‘Parisian’ concertos Nos 1-19, and the ‘London’ concertos (after 1792). The concerto type developed by Viotti became known as the ‘French violin concerto’ because it reflected Parisian taste of the 1780’s, and spread its influence throughout Europe. Viotti had arrived at his style by fusing the tradition of the Italian violin school with the operatic brio of French music and the symphonic experience of German masters, notably Haydn. His French disciples, particularly Pierre Rode, Rodolphe Kreutzer and Pierre Baillot, moulded there concertos in the master’s image but reinforced the typically French ingredients. Viotti’s concertos have symphonic scope, particularly in the first movements; the quality of orchestral writing was such that the public would applaud after the opening exposition as if it were a symphony. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto shows traces of Viotti’s influence; Spohr germanized the Viotti concerto type, and Brahms and Joachim were fervent admirers of Viotti’s Concerto No 22 in A minor. The last of Viotti’s concertos hint at Romaticism; they were written in the first decade of the 19th century but published later.
Viotti’s compositions numbered close on 160 most of them completed before 1800. In addition to the concertos they included two symphonies concertantes (a third is no longer extant), twenty-one string quartets, thirty-six string trios, violin duets, eighteen violin sonatas, numerous pieces for violin, and nine piano sonatas.
(contributed by James C. Manning <jamescmanningunn.unisys.com>)
He was a great violonist, founded the conservatoire de Paris, and some of his works are mandatory for a good violonist. (contributed by Silvio Viotti <Silvio.Viottici.unil.ch>)
His 22nd violin concerto was a particular favorite of Brahms and is Viotti’s best-know work. (contribution by G. Brown <sibeliuserols.com>)
Born 12th May, 1755 in Fontanetto da Po, Piedmont, Italy. Although little is known it is believed Viotti was of humble origins whose father was a blacksmith. The young Viotti must have already been an outstanding violinist because at the age of eleven he made his way to the court of Prince Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna in Turin. Alfonso became Viotti’s patron and financed his further training. Of his teachers Giulio Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798,) with whom he began studying in 1770, was to have the most enduring influence on the young talent.
From 1775 to 1780 he played in the royal chapel orchestra in Turin. For the whole of this period he remained at the last desk of the 1st violins as one of the lowliest paid of the orchestra members.
In 1780 Viotti undertook a concert tour with Pugnani, travelling first to Switzerland, and then Dresden, Warsaw and St. Petersburg where he stayed for an extended period. At the end of this period he separated from Pugnani and made his way, alone, to Paris.
In 1782 he made his Paris debut immediately becoming recognised as one of the leading virtuosos of the day. His appearance in the French capital created an artistic sensation. He entered Marie Antoinette’s service in 1783 and was patronised in aristocratic circles. A commentator of the time wrote "Never had anything been heard approaching this perfection; never had an artist possessed lovelier tone-quality or such sustained elegance, verve and variety of sound. The imagination which shone in his concertos added yet more to the pleasure he afforded his audience; for his compositions were as superior to those known theretofore as his performance was above that of his rivals. As soon as this fine music was known... the French school of violin-playing broadened its horizons". This statement sums up the enthusiasm that took hold of Parisian music-lovers on discovering the Italian violinist.
Nevertheless, in 1783, Viotti abandoned his brilliant career as a soloist to devote his efforts to intense compositional activity and to conducting at such as the Loge Olympique, for which Haydn had composed his ‘Paris Symphonies’.
He composed nineteen concertos in rapid succession and was also a success as the director of Paris Opera.
In 1788 he established his own opera house, the Theatre Monsieur (later the Theatre Feydeau). He was an able and successful administrator and presented many new works.
Owing to his connection with the aristocracy Viotti was forced to leave Paris in 1792, three years after the beginning of the French Revolution, and move to London.
He appeared as a soloist in the English capital and began a new career in the Salomon Concerts, where Haydn appeared as a conductor during his second English tour. He became musical director of the Opera Concerts (1795), managed the Italian Opera (1794-1795) and directed the King’s Theatre orchestra (1797).
Political developments once more interfered with Viotti’s career. He was accused of being an agent of the revolution (intrigues were probably behind this) and ordered out of the country. He resided in Schonfeld, near Hamburg, for three years. The charges against him turned out to be unfounded, and he was rehabilitated.
On his return to London in 1801 he started a wine business which ruined him financially.
Finally, in 1818, Viotti returned to France. When his old patron, the Comte de Provence, became King Louis XVIII, Viotti became Director of the Paris Opera (1819-1821) and of the Italian Theatre (1821-1822). Further intrigues forced him to resign in 1822.
It was as a disappointed man that he returned to London in the following year where he died on the 3rd March, 1824 almost unnoticed by the French.
Viotti was the most influential violinist in the generation between Tartini and Paganini and the last great representative of the Italian classical tradition of Corelli. During his lifetime Viotti was regarded as one of the most brilliant violin virtuosos, and his violin concertos also enjoyed special renown. The influence of Viotti was enormous, not only on contemporary violinists but also on masters like Beethoven and Spohr. Mozart supplied trumpet and timpani parts to the score of Viotti’s Concerto No 16 in 1785.
Throughout most of the 18th century it was the violins of the makers Jacob Stainer and Nicola Amati which fetched the highest prices in London auction rooms. It was Viotti who championed, in the late 18th century, the violins of Stradivari, with Pugnani and later Paganini favouring the Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ violins. It was only then that the violins of these two famous makers began to achieve the fantastic admiration and reputation that they enjoy today.
At the end of the 18th century the leadership in violin making passed gradually from the Italians to the French. Aided particularly by the English, the French also led the way to a new level of perfection of the bow. For the first time in France a great violin maker appeared, Nicolas Lupot (1758 - 1824); he took Stadivari as his model, thus linking French and Italian craftsmanship. Similarly, Viotti in Paris was to fuse the Italian style of violin playing with that of his French colleagues and his pupils such as Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer. Meanwhile the Frenchman Francois Tourte (1747-1835) succeeded, about 1786 in Paris, in perfecting and standardising the violin bow. In this triumph Tourte was aided greatly by the advice and example of many others including Tartini and Viotti.
The future development of violin playing was focused in the person of Viotti, the ‘father of modern violin playing’. Trained in the classical Italian tradition by Pugnani he taught or influenced the founders of the French violin school Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer.
(contributed by James C. Manning <jamescmanningunn.unisys.com>)
- Italy, Fontanetto Po, Via G.B. Viotti, 23 — 12 May 1755