A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Geminiani, Francesco

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GEMINIANI, Francesco, an eminent violin-player and composer, was born at Lucca in 1680. His first teacher on the violin was Carlo Ambrogio Lonati, surnamed 'il Gobbo,' at Milan. He afterwards studied under Corelli at Rome, and is said to have had instruction in composition from Alessandro Scarlatti. Geminiani must be considered one of the foremost representatives of the school of Corelli, however different, owing to the peculiarity of his character and talent, he proved himself to be as a performer and composer from his great master. While classical beauty and imperturbable dignity were the main characteristics of Corelli's style, Geminiani's unbounded vivacity of temperament shewed itself in his performances, which contemporary critics invariably describe as eccentric. Tartini is said to have spoken of him as 'il furibundo Geminiani.' This easily accounts for the fact that, however great his success as a Solo-player, he failed as a leader and conductor, from want of the necessary calmness and control. Burney relates, on the authority of Barbella, that he lost the post of leader of the opera-band at Naples because 'none of the performers were able to follow him in his tempo rubato and other unexpected accelerations and relaxations of measure,' and that 'after this discovery he was never trusted with a better part than tenor during his residence in that city.'

In 1714 he came to England, and quickly gained a great reputation as a virtuoso, although he appears to have but rarely played in public, and to have supported himself by teaching and playing in the houses of the nobility. When invited to play at a court-concert, he only consented under the condition that Handel should accompany him. If nevertheless he failed to gain an established and secure position in life, this again is attributable to the peculiarity and eccentricity of his character, which did not allow him to make the best of his opportunities or to pursue any definite plan of life. While he made but rare use of his really great talent as a performer, he spent much time in writing theoretical works of but doubtful value. He also indulged in a foolish passion for dealing in pictures, without, we are assured, having much knowledge of the subject. This at one time involved him in difficulties and brought him even into prison, from which he was only extricated by Lord Essex, his friend and pupil. This same nobleman procured for him the post of conductor of the Viceroy's band at Dublin. It is supposed that Horace Walpole objected to this appointment on account of Geminiani being a Roman Catholic. At all events it was not Geminiani, but Dubourg, his pupil, who went to Dublin.

In 1748 he made a journey to Paris, where he remained till 1755. Nothing however is known about his doings there, except that he brought out a new edition of his Solo-Sonatas. From Paris he returned to London, and he died in 1761 [App. p.646 "on Sept. 24, 1762 ('Gent. Mag.')"] at Dublin, where he was visiting Dubourg.

Geminiani and Veracini (see that name), coming at about the same time to England, found the art of violin-playing in every respect in its infancy. Corelli's Solos were considered to afford almost insurmountable difficulties of execution. Now Geminiani not only played these, but in his own compositions shows considerable progress in the technique of the violin, by freely employing the shift, and by frequent use of double-stops. Burney naïvely enough assures his readers that some of Geminiani's Sonatas were too difficult to be played by any one. His published compositions—Sonatas and Concertos for the violin—show him to have been a clever musician, but, with all his impetuosity, wanting in originality and individuality. His slow movements are more modern in feeling than most of Corelli's, bearing a certain likeness to Tartini's style, though without ever equalling the best works of that great master. His Allegros have a more developed and freer form than those of Corelli, but it is gross exaggeration of Burney, to describe them as eccentric and rhapsodic.

The most valuable contribution however which he has made to the literature of the instrument is his 'Art of Playing the Violin. London, 1740.' [App. p.646 "Op. 9"] This book, written in English, was the very first of its kind ever published in any country; six years earlier than Leopold Mozart's Violin-School. It has the great merit of handing down to posterity the principles of the art of playing the violin, as they were finally established by Corelli. The rules which Geminiani gives for holding the violin and bow, the management of the left hand and the right arm, are the same as are recognized in our days. In one particular point he even appears to have been in advance of his time, since he recommends the holding of the violin on the left hand side of the tail-piece a practice now universally accepted and indispensable for a higher development of the technique but, strange as it seems, not adopted either by Leopold Mozart or by the masters of the German school until the beginning of the present century.

His other theoretical works—a 'Treatise on Memory,' a 'Treatise on Good Taste,' 'The Art of Playing the Guitar,' 'The Art of Accompaniment' are of little value, although they appeared not only in English, but in Italian, French, German, and Dutch.

Of original compositions he published the following:—XII Solos, op. 1. London 1716; Six Concertos in seven parts, op. 2. London 1732, and Paris 1755, in score; 6 Concertos, op. 3, London and Paris 1775; XII Solos, op. 4, London 1739; 6 Solos for Violoncello, op. 5 (these are arrangements from the violin-solos); 6 Conoertos, op. 6. London 1741; Six Concertos in 8 parts, op. 7; XII Sonatas for Violin, op. 11, London 1758; XII Trios and VI Trios, the latter arrangements of op. 1; Lessons for the Harpsichord, London [App. p.646 "1743"]. He also made and published in London an arrangement of Corelli's Solos, op. 5, as 'Concerti grossi.'

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