Viotti, the Connecting Link between the Early and Modern Violin Schools.—His Immense Superiority over his Contemporaries and Predecessors.—Other Violinists of his Time, Giornowick and Boccherini.—Viotti’s Early Years—His Arrival in Paris, and the Sensation he made—His Reception by the Court.—Viotti’s Personal Pride and Dignity.—His Rebuke to Princely Impertinence.—The Musical Circles of Paris.—Viotti’s Last Publie Concert in Paris.—He suddenly departs for London.—Becomes Director of the King’s Theatre.—Is compelled to leave the Country as a Suspected Revolutionist.—His Return to England, and Metamorphosis into a Vintner.—The French Singer, Garat, finds him out in his London Obscurity.—Anecdote of Viotti’s Dinner Party.—He quits the Wine Trade for his own Profession.—Is made Director of the Paris Grand Opera.—Letter from Rossini.—Viotti’s Account of the “Ranz des Vaches.”—Anecdotes of the Great Violinist.—Dies in London in 1824.—Viotti’s Place as a Violinist, and Style of Playing.—The Tourte Bow first invented during his Time.—An Indispensable Factor in Great Playing on the Violin.—Viotti’s Pupils, and his Influence on the Musical Art.
In the person of the celebrated Viotti we recognize the link connecting the modern school of violin-playing with the schools of the past. He was generally hailed as the leading violinist of his time, and his influence, not merely on violin music but music in general, was of a very palpable order. In him were united the accomplishments of the great virtuoso and the gifts of the composer. At the time that Viotti’s star shot into such splendor in the musical horizon, there were not a few clever violinists, and only a genius of the finest type could have attained and perpetuated such a regal sway among his contemporaries. At the time when Viotti appeared in Paris the popular heart was completely captivated by Giornowick, whose eccentric and quarrelsome character as a man cooperated with his artistic excellence to keep him constantly in the public eye. Giornowick was a Palermitan, born in 1745, and his career was thoroughly artistic and full of romantic vicissitudes. His style was very graceful and elegant, his tone singularly pure. One of the most popular and seductive tricks in his art was the treating of well-known airs as rondos, returning ever and anon to his theme after a variety of brilliant excursions in a way that used to fascinate his hearers, thus anticipating some of his brilliant successors.
Michael Kelly heard him at Vienna. “He was a man of a certain age,” he tells us, “but in the full vigor of talent. His tone was very powerful, his execution most rapid, and his taste, above all, alluring. No performer in my remembrance played such pleasing music.” Dubourg relates that on one occasion, when Giornowick had announced a concert at Lyons, he found the people rather retentive of their money, so he postponed the concert to the following evening, reducing the price of the tickets to one half. A crowded company was the result. But the bird had flown! The artist had left Lyons without ceremony, together with the receipts from sales of tickets.