Parte del Tomaso Vitalino… These are the words found on a manuscript in Dresden, Germany. Was the famous Chaconne in G minor really written by Tomaso Antonio Vitali? We’ll never know for certain if this fantastic work was composed by Mr. Vitali, but assuming it was, let’s learn more about him and his Chaconne.
We don’t know much about Tomaso’s early childhood. He was born in Bologna, Italy in 1663. His father, Giovanni Battista Vitali, was a cellist and composer (click here for some of his works) and it is to be assumed that he was his son’s teacher at a young age.
When Tomaso was 12 years old, his father moved the family to Modena, Italy, where he had been appointed as vicemaestri di capelli (vice-president of orchestra) at the d’Este court. Tomaso was immediately enlisted in the court orchestra as a violinist, where he remained for the next 68 years, and eventually rose to the position of orchestra director.
While in Modena, Vitali was a student of Antonio Maria Pacchioni, who was known for his polyphonic church music. Vitali also taught his own students, including Evaristo Felice dall’Abaco, Jean Baptiste Senaille, Girolama Nicolo Laurenti and Luca Antonio Predieri.
In 1693 Tomaso wrote his Trio Sonatas (Op. 1 and 2). Interestingly enough, the Trios show the influence of both Giovanni Vitalli and Corelli. All of his Op. 1 was recorded by the Semperconsort ensemble and parts of his Op. 2 were as well. Vitali also wrote multiple chamber sonatas and violin sonatas – some of which have been recorded.
In 1703, Vitali was appointed a member of the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica, which his father helped to found. And in 1706, Tomaso was given the rank of composer within the facility!
A manuscript was found in the Saxon State Library in Dresden in The University of the Violin. In the upper margins “Parte del Tomaso Vitalano” was written – loosely translated, this means “Tomaso Vitali’s Part,” who may or may not be Vitali.
There are 3 main theories as to who wrote the Chaconne. Theory number 1 is what was taken for granted when the piece was discovered: the piece was written by Tomaso Antonio Vitali and was then performed by the composer, who thus called the manuscript “Tomaso Vitali’s Part.” Theory number 2 suggests that an outside composer wrote the piece and Tomaso played (perhaps premiered) the piece. Theory number 3 says that the piece wasn’t even written in the Baroque! Because the piece reaches into far-flung keys such as B-flat minor and E-flat minor, which is atypical of the Baroque, it has been questioned whether the piece was even written in the Baroque.
The Chaconne was first edited and published by Ferdinand David (the original manuscript just had a ground bass accompaniment, which David edited for piano) in 1867. David also enhanced the violin part quite a bit, making it even more unlike a Baroque piece.
After David paved the way for the Chaconne, more transcriptions followed, including Leopold Charlier’s version for violin and organ and Ottorino Respighi’s transcription for violin and orchestra (my personal favorite).
The most famous performance of the Chaconne has to be Jascha Heifetz’s. In 1917, Heifetz started off his Carnegie Hall debut with Vitali’s Chaconne, arranged by Charlier for violin and organ. His performance brought rave reviews from his audience and the Chaconne has been a favorite of many since.
Since Heifetz’s astounding performance of the Chaconne, many great masters have recorded the piece, including David Oistrakh, Sarah Chang and Nathan Milstein. Enjoy this recording of Sarah Chang performing the Chaconne with the English Chamber Orchestra.
As you can see there is quite a difference between Heifetz’s and Chang’s versions. Do you prefer the perfection of Heifetz or the romantic “floating-in-clouds” style of Chang? They’re equally beautiful in my eyes – each one is so different.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t go into much detail about the actual piece – how it is formatted. Well, because I found such a nicely drawn up synopsis of the piece, on a blog called SheilasCorner, I thought I’d just share that instead of struggling to write my own. So, here it is! Please, if you want to have an even greater appreciation of the Chaconne, click here to read Sheila‘s most helpful analysis. Thank you, Sheila!
What’s your favorite version of the Chaconne? Share in the comments section that was created just for you. 🙂
Thanks for reading!