He evinced the greatest distaste for solo playing at public concerts, and, aside from charity performances, only consented once to such an exhibition of his talents. A singular concert was arranged to take place on the fifth story of a house in Paris, the apartment being occupied by a friend of Viotti, who was also a member of the Government. “I will play,” he said, on being urged, “but only on one condition, and that is, that the audience shall come up here to us—we have long enough descended to them; but times are changed, and now we may compel them to rise to our level”; or something to that effect. It took place in due course, and was a very brilliant concert indeed. The only ornament was a bust of Jean Jacques Rousseau. A large number of distinguished artists, both instrumental and vocal, were present, and a most aristocratic audience. A good deal of Boccherini’s music was performed that evening, and though many of the titled personages had mounted to the fifth floor for the first time in their lives, so complete was the success of the concert that not one descended without regret, and all were warm in their praise of the performances of the distinguished violinist.
What the cause of Viotti’s sudden departure from Paris in 1790 was, it is difficult to tell. Perhaps he had offended the court by the independence of his bearing; perhaps he had expressed his political opinions too bluntly, for he was strongly democratic in his views; perhaps he foresaw the terrible storm which was gathering and was soon to break in a wrack of ruin, chaos, and blood. Whatever the cause, our violinist vanished from Paris with hardly a word of farewell to his most intimate friends, and appeared in London at Salomon’s concerts with the same success which had signalized his Parisian debut. Every one was delighted with the originality and power of his playing, and the exquisite taste that modified the robustness and passion which entered into the substance of his musical conceptions.
Viotti was one of the artistic celebrities of London for several years, but his eccentric and resolute nature did not fail to involve him in several difficulties with powerful personages. He became connected with the management of the King’s Theatre, and led the music for two years with signal ability. But he suddenly received an order from the British Government to leave England without delay. His sharp tongue and outspoken language were never consistent with courtly subserviency. We can fancy our musician shrugging his shoulders with disdain on receiving his order of banishment, for he was too much of a cosmopolite to be disturbed by change of country. He took up his residence at Schoenfeld, Holland, in a beautiful and splendid villa, and produced there several of his most celebrated compositions, as well as a series of studies of the violin school.