Pact with the Devil Motif and Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata

Before it was transformed into a religious subject by Christianity, contact with supernatural beings was a cultural motif that was very common in folk tales in which humans interact with mystical beings, and those occasions often transpire in certain spiritually dense places such as crossroads and bridges. However, Christian culture’s approach to that subject had been more didactic and allegorical along with numbers of use; therefore, in time, contact with supernatural beings turned into a popular Christian folktale motif. The oldest known story of pact with the devil is the Legend of Theophilus of Adana which sets out the unchanging outline for the future works of this particular motif in Christian mythology. A person who confronts with a serious problem finds it nearly inconceivable to deal with, unless there is a superhuman power; therefore, he/she seeks out some sort of a supernatural intervention which is of course, rather than being a divine help, a diabolic power. The devil or his evil companions never fails to deliver service for the sake of a soul since soul is the only payment that is not substitutable. Yet, the endings always involve a feeling of regret which, as the religious motive manifests itself, leads to either repentance to reach salvation or obedience to the contract even if it ends up with damnation. Geoffrey Chaucer’s perspective in his “The Friar’s Tale” (which is a story in The Canterbury Tales) incorporates the old folktale tradition and the rather new Christian version of the motif. In “The Friar’s Tale,” the Summoner runs across with a Yeoman, who shares the same evil purpose with the Summoner, and they soon pledge their brotherhood but the Yeoman turns out to be a demon that at the end captures the Summoner’s body and soul. Being the most famous example and the embodiment of pact with the devil motif, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has inspired many artistic works of different cultures [1] through its unprecedented success in characterization. The soliloquies of Faustus inaugurated more broad perspectives upon the inner worlds of those who make pact with the devil.

Giuseppe Tartini was an Italian Baroque composer, violinist, and a musical theorist who is best known with his Devil’s Trill Sonata. Among his many works, Devil’s Trill Sonata is the most fascinating one in terms of its story and musical technicality. His inspiration for the sonata is known as the pact he made with the devil in his dream. He composed the sonata with double stop technique, which means playing two notes simultaneously, and wrote it in four movements in which he makes you experience different emotions in different paces as if you become a part of his dream and feel his exhilaration. According to Jérôme de Lalande who was a French astronomer and a friend of Tartini, Tartini told his dream as follows.

“One night I dreamt that I had made a bargain with the Devil for my soul. Everything went at my command—my novel servant anticipated every one of my wishes. Then the idea struck me to hand him my fiddle and to see what he could do with it. But how great was my astonishment when I heard him play with consummate skill a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flight of my imagination. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted; my breath was taken away; and I awoke. Seizing my violin I tried to retain the sounds that I had heard. But it was in vain. The piece I then composed, the Devil’s Sonata, although the best I ever wrote, how far below the one I heard in my dream!”

Apparently, whether it is the case of being friends with the Devil or making a bargain with him, the Devil had done an utterly perfect job by this sonata! Every second of consuming this sonata, you share the same calmness of Tartini’s slumber whilst dancing and jumping all the way through with him in his sublime dream.


Work Cited

Holman, Peter. “Sonata in G Minor ‘Il Trillo Del Diavolo’, Bg5.” Hyperion Records. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2016. <;.

[1] There are many examples of Faustian bargain in popular culture as well; click to find out more.

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