1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Viotti, Giovanni Battista
VIOTTI, GIOVANNI BATTISTA (1753-1824), Italian violinist and musical composer, was born at Fontanetto in the province of Turin on the 23rd of May 1753. He learned the rudiments of music from his father, a blacksmith who played the horn; and in 1764 Giovannini taught him the violin for a year. Two years later he was placed at the cost of the prince de la Cisterne under the violinist G. Pugnani at Turin, where he became violinist in the court chapel. In 1780 Viotti, having already made himself a name, travelled through Germany and Poland to Russia, where the empress Catherine honoured him with marks of extraordinary favour. He next appeared in London, in company with Pugnani, and at once achieved a brilliant and lasting reputation. In 1782 he was equally successful in Paris. Two years later he was appointed leader of the prince de Soubise's private orchestra; and in 1788 he undertook the direction of the opera, raising the performances, with Cherubini's assistance, to a very high level. He had also started an Italian opera in co-operation with the barber Léonard, which was opened in 1789 in the Tuileries, being subsequently amalgamated with the Théâtre de la Foire St Germain in 1790 and finally merged in the new Théâtre Feydeau in 1791. In 1791 the Revolution compelled Viotti to fly to London, where he took part in the Hanover Square concerts; but being suspected to be an agent of the Revolutionary Committee in Paris he was compelled to retire for a time to the neighbourhood of Hamburg, which he subsequently quitted, although the date of his departure, often given as 1795, does not seem probable. It is possible that he was already in 1794 in London, where he took shares in a wine business, and he resided almost uninterruptedly there until 1819, when he once more settled in Paris, resumed the direction of the opera, and retired in 1822 with a pension. He died in London on the 10th (or 3rd) of March 1824.
Viotti's playing was distinguished by an extreme purity of style, a magnificent tone, and an inexhaustible variety of poetical and imaginative expression. Among his works are 29 violin concertos, a series of symphonies concertantes for two violins, 45 duos, 18 trios and 21 quartets, and a great number of sonatas, notturnos and other instrumental works. His school was worthily perpetuated by his pupil Rode.