DIABULOS IN MUSICA: THE DEVIL’S TONE

Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata

The story behind the “Devil’s Trill Sonata” starts with a dream. Tartini dreamed that the Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant. Tartini handed the devil his violin to test his skill—the devil immediately began to play with such virtuosity that Tartini felt his breath taken away: “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.”

You can hear the ‘devil’s tone’ (the tritone) throughout the Devil’s Trill Sonata. Here are other examples of composers bringing theDiabulos in Musica here:

Saint-Saëns Le Danse Macabre

Robert Johnson was believed to have struck a deal with the Devil so he could learn to play the guitar. This is his hit Me and the Devil Blues.

Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze

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CORE FUNDER

Creative New Zealand | Toi Aotearoa

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