Viotti, Giovanni Battista

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Viotti, Giovanni Battista

Viotti, Giovanni Battista, famous Italian violinist and composer; b. Fontanetto da Po, May 12,1755; d. London, March 3,1824. His father, a blacksmith, was an amateur musician who taught his son music and also bought a small violin for him to practice on. At the age of 11, Viotti was sent to Turin, where he gained the favor of Alfonso del Pozzo, Prince della Cisterna, who oversaw his education. After lessons with Antonio Celoniat, Viotti became a pupil of Pugnani in 1770. In 1775 he became a member of the last desk of 1stviolins in the orch. of the Royal Chapel in Naples. In 1780 he and Pugnani launched a major concert tour, performing in Switzerland, Dresden, Berlin, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg. By 1782 Viotti was in Paris on his own, where he first appeared at the Concert Spirituel (March 17). He immediately established himself as the premier violin virtuoso of the day, and gave regular concerts there until 1783. In 1784 he entered the service of Marie Antoinette in Versailles; he also acted as concertmaster of the orch. of Prince Rohan-Guéménée. Thanks to the patronage of the Court of Provence, he opened the Théâtre de Monsieur in Paris in 1788, which became the Théâtre Feydeau in 1791. During his tenure there, he staged major works from the Italian and French repertories, including those of his close friend Cherubini. In 1792 he fled the re volution-wracked city of Paris for London, where he made his debut at Salomon’s Hanover Square Concert on Feb. 7, 1793. He was the featured violinist of Salomon’s concerts until 1795, and also acting manager of the Italian opera at the King’s Theatre (1794-95). He became music director of the new Opera Concerts in 1795 and, in 1797, concertmaster and director of the orch. at the King’s Theatre. In 1798 he was ordered by the British government to leave England on suspicion of Jacobin sympathies. After living in Schenfeldt, near Hamburg (1798-99), he was back in London by 1801, where he was engaged mainly in a wine business, although he later helped to found the Phil. Society and appeared in some of its chamber-music programs. In 1818 his wine business failed, and he returned to Paris, where he became director of the Opéra in 1819. He resigned in 1821, serving as its nominal director until 1822, but then abandoned music altogether and returned to London in 1823.

Viotti’s role in the history of instrumental music, in both performance and composition, was very important. He elevated performing standards from mere entertainment to artistic presentation, and he may be regarded as one of the chief creators of modern violin playing. He was the first to write violin concertos in a consciously formulated sonata form, with the solo part and the orch. accompaniment utilizing the full resources of instrumental sonority more abundantly than ever before in violin concertos. He publ. 29 violin concertos (of which No. 22, in A minor, is a great favorite), 10 piano concertos (some of which are transcriptions of violin concertos), 2 symphonies concertantes for 2 Violins, Strings, Oboes, and Horns, 21 string quartets, 21 string trios, various duos for 2 Violins, 6 serenades for 2 Violins, several duos for 2 Cellos, 3 divertissements for Violin Unaccompanied, 12 sonatas for Violin and Piano, etc. His song known as “La polacca de Viotti” (used in Paisiello’s La Serva padrona,1794) acquired great popularity. For the rectification of Viotti’s birth date (heretofore given as May 23, 1753), see Stampa di Torino of Sept. 29, 1935, which publ. for the first time the text of his birth certificate; an infant brother of Viotti was born in 1753; their Christian names were identical (the brother having died before the birth of the future musician), which led to confusion. The bicentennial of Viotti was widely celebrated in the wrong year (1953). C. White ed. a thematic catalogue of his works (N.Y., 1985).


A. d’Eymar, Anecdotes sur V, précédées de quelques réflexions sur l’expression en musique (Paris, 1792); F. Fayolle, Notices sur Corelli et V. (Paris, 1810); P. Baillot, Notice sur J.B. V. (Paris, 1825); E. Miel, Notice historique sur J.B. V. (Paris, 1827); R. Giazotto, G.B. V. (Milan, 1956); C. White, G.B. V. and his Violin Concertos (diss., Princeton Univ., 1957); V. Milton, An Analysis of Selected Violin Concertos of G.B. V Within the Context of the Violin Concerto in France of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (diss., American Cons, of Music, 1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Viotti, Giovanni Battista

views updated Jun 27 2018

Viotti, Giovanni Battista (b Fontanetto, Piedmont, 1755; d London, 1824). It. composer and violinist. Son of blacksmith who played hn. and taught him mus. Toured Ger. and Russia with Pugnani, 1780. Played in Concert Spirituel, Paris, 1782, becoming accompanist to Marie Antoinette. Visited London 1792, making début in 1793 at Salomon concert and playing in Haydn's benefit concerts 1794 and 1795, and at It. opera at King's Th., 1795–8. Returned to London 1801, becoming wine merchant. Active in formation of Phil. Soc. 1813. Dir., It. Opera in Paris 1819–22. Died impoverished after commercial misfortunes. Reckoned as greatest classical player of his day and founder of modern sch. of classical playing. Wrote 29 vn. concs., of which No.22 in A minor is especially important, 21 str. qts., 21 str. trios, many vn. duets, 18 vn. sonatas with bass, pf. concs., fl. qts., and other pieces.

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Giovanni Battista Viotti

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