‘The devil’s trill’ and the science contained in Tartini’s sonata | The stone ax | Science

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Portrait of the astronomer Jérôme Lalande (1732-1807).
Portrait of the astronomer Jérôme Lalande (1732-1807).

Joseph Jérôme Lalande (1732-1807) was a renowned French astronomer, as well as one of the most illustrious signatures of The Encyclopedia. His written work covers a great extension, from the seas and the Earth to the celestial ceiling.

One of his books, entitled A Frenchman’s trip to Italy It is a work that goes beyond the limits of the geographical guide, turning out to be an encyclopedic compendium where various topics of the Mediterranean country are addressed. History, politics, art, customs and Italian streets are some of the issues that Lalande will reflect with the minuteness and curiosity of a man of science.

Lalande made his trip in the mid-eighteenth century, when for the world of the Enlightenment, “Italy was seen in Europe as a country in decline, aristocratic and clerical, where the people lived in superstitious ignorance and in the deepest misery, and where the enlightened values ​​had many difficulties to expand”, according to Professor Rafael Alarcón Sierra in one of his works dedicated to Leandro Fernández de Moratín, a contemporary of Joseph Jérôme Lalande and a playwright famous for his critical position towards the clergy and, in general, towards the ancient world left behind by the French Enlightenment.

Returning to Lalande and her A Frenchman’s trip to ItalyNoteworthy is the passage dedicated by the scientist to Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), a musician who would tell Lalande himself about the dream he had in which the devil appeared to propose a pact. In the dream, Tartini gives the violin to the devil and he interprets a sonata that surprises the musician, as recorded by Lalande. “I felt ecstatic, transported, delighted: my breath failed, and I woke up.” Immediately, Tartini took up the violin and composed the Violin Sonata in G Minor which is popularly known as the devil’s trill.

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There is a novel, written by Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga, that tells this fabulous story. Its titled Master Tartini’s Escape (Alliance). To carry it out, the Madrid author documented himself with the tireless and always awake curiosity of a scientist. In this way, Pérez Zúñiga identifies in his novel the music of the Italian violinist with science in its original conception, let’s say Platonic, when he situates Tartini reconciling nature and art “through mastery of the laws of the cosmos”. Following Plato, the Italian musician meets the cosmic soul.

The Platonic conception that sound, as a succession of intervals between musical notes, is related to mathematical elements, comes from the Pythagorean tradition, where number is the essence of all things of divine origin. In this way, in Plato the physical world and the ideal world converge. Pérez Zúñiga finds the key when he discovers that matter and spirit come together in the so-called third soundthe third note that arises when playing two notes simultaneously, and that is a revelation of the “physical continuum of substance”.

It is about the discovery of something natural, of something that already existed although it remained dormant, hidden and unrevealed, which takes us back to Platonic science, to the origin of life, as Pérez Zúñiga points out in one of his articles where he recounts how it was documented for the novel, reaching the oldest mystery, “when the soul joins the body and the body loses the memory of those internal harmonies”.

Because only with the study we return to recover the memory. Borges would write something similar in his story entitled The night of the giftswhen citing the platonic thesis that “we have already seen everything in a previous world, so knowing is recognizing”, an argument that one of the characters completes with a statement that he attributes to the English philosopher Francis Bacon: “If learning is remembering , to ignore is in fact to have forgotten”.

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It is possible to imagine Lalande listening attentively to Tartini at the end of his days, recognizing the matter that until then had been hidden from him, and that is revealed when Tartini recounts his dream with the devil; a dream that Lalande identifies with an allegory where superstition, like religion, becomes something more than a trick to put reason to sleep.

If we pay attention to the violinist’s dream in which the devil appears to Tartini, neither religion nor superstition could remain in a vacuum without scientific material to support them. Disturbing.

sympathize with the devil

According to Hebrew mythology, God appointed Lucifer as the guardian of all nations. With this, Lucifer would soon end up being a victim of his own delusions of grandeur. In his eagerness to show off, he would challenge God. With the challenge, Lucifer lost out and was expelled from the heavens. From that moment, God put us close to the devil so that we could make a pact with him.
In art, especially in the world of music, Lucifer has appeared many times offering a contract where the fine print was never read. Tartini, Paganini or the ‘bluesman’ Robert Johnson were some of the musicians who made a pact with the devil. Legend has it that Lucifer appeared to Robert Johnson at a crossroads. And that he taught her to strut the bass strings of the guitar with her thumb.
His influence was decisive on guitarists such as Jimmy Page, from Led Zeppelin, a fan of Satanism, or Keith Richards, from the Rolling Stones, a group that is also known by the nickname ‘Their Satanic Majesties’, alluding to the title of their album. more experimental; last work of guitarist Brian Jones before he died under mysterious circumstances. He couldn’t read the small print either.

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the stone ax it is a section where Montero Glez, with prose will, exerts his particular siege on scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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