Viotti, Giovanni Battista


Illustrious musician, known as "the father of modern violin-playing." Born at Fontanetto, a village in Piedmont near Vercelli; his first instruction was given him by his father. Later he studied with an itinerant musician Giovannini. While playing at a church festival at Strambino he was heard by the Bishop, who sent him to Turin. There he was placed under the great Pugnani by Prince Pozzo de la Cisterna, who wished a companion for his son. He soon won a place in the Royal band by his brilliant playing. In 1780 he started out on a European tour with the master, being enthusiastically received in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris and London. In 1782 he again played in Paris at the Concerts Spirituels, where he was declared the greatest living violinist. In 1783 he went to Italy, but was soon back in Paris, where he took up teaching and devoted much time to composing. He undertook the leadership of the concerts established by Princes Conti, Soubise and others, and also became chapelmaster to Soubise. He endeavored to obtain the leadership of the Opera, but failed, and so joined Leonard, the Queen's hairdresser, in establishing an Italian Opera. This was conducted in the Tuileries, but, upon the return of the court from Versailles, was transferred to the Theatre Feydeau. This enterprise brought together a brilliant company of singers, and Viotti thus met Cherubini, the composer. The Revolution of 1791, however, brought it all to an end, and Viotti went to London, where he began again to play in public, appearing at Salomon's concerts and in the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy. There were many French refugees in London, and Viotti was suspected of political intrigue, owing to his personal dealings with the Due d' Orleans. Advised to leave England, he went to a village called Schoenfeld, near Hamburg.

Here he lived in strict seclusion, composing the famous violin duets. He also perfected his pupil Pixis, who came with his father to live at the village. In 1794 he was back in London, as manager of Italian Opera at the King's Theatre and leader in Haydn's Benefit concerts. The next year he became director of the Opera concerts, which presented the most eminent players in London, but the concerts were unsuccessful financially. Viotti then retired from public life and became the partner in a wine firm. This venture only proving more disastrous, he gave it up and returned to Paris. Here he was appointed director of the Grand Opera and was expected to restore its fallen fortunes. But this he was unable to do and he was dismissed on a pension. He retired in 1822 and died two years later. Viotti had many celebrated pupils, Roberrechts, Baillot and Pierre Rode. Viotti was one of the greatest violinists of all ages. His playing was characterized by a brilliancy and dash hitherto not believed possible. He was one of the first to use the Tourte bow. His compositions are numerous and beautiful. He was among the first to apply the extended modern sonata form to the violin concerto, and to use the modern orchestra in his orchestral accompaniments. He published twenty-nine concertos, of which the twenty-second is considered the best; two concertante for two violins; twenty-one string quartets; twenty-one trios for two violins and cello; fifty-one violin duets; eighteen violin sonatas with bass; three nocturnes for piano and violin; and a piano sonata.