Lucca, batt. 1687 – Dublino, 1762

Francesco Geminiani

Francesco Saverio Geminiani was introduced to the violin through his father, Giuliano, violinist of the Cappella Palatina in Lucca. Subsequently his studies led him to the most advanced music centers in Italy at the time (Milan, Rome, Naples), where he studied violin under maestros Carlo Ambrogio Lonati and Arcangelo Corelli and composition under Alessandro Scarlatti. He had a rather intense musical style, which made it difficult for him to play in groups (the expressive way he played the violin and his fitful and imaginative way of conducting orchestras earned him the nick name of ‘furibondo’ [the Madman] according to Giuseppe Tartini), and he decided to go to London, then a receptive and fertile ground where Italian musicians were much appreciated. Training under Corelli (highly esteemed in England) paid off by giving him the charisma to open the doors of English nobility which received him excitedly, as the list of people to whom he dedicated his work illustrates: the Earl of Essex, the Duchess of Burlington, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countess of Orrery and the Baron, Johann Adolf Kielmansegg, Chamberlain to King George I. Sir John Hawkins wrote: “In a very short time, Geminiani displayed such talent in his exquisite performances that all who claimed to understand and love music were urged to go hear him and among the nobility there were many who felt honored to be his patron.” He also wrote that the King “invited the virtuoso violinist Francesco Geminiani to play at court, and he accepted on the condition that Haendel could accompany him on the harpsichord. The praise received at the end of their performance was for both artists, even though everybody knew that the only musician who could have played to his level and accept the liberties he took in improvisation was the ‘Saxon’ ”. Except for brief interludes in Paris, in 1740 and from 1749 to 1755, he chose to stay in England and Ireland, where he led an eclectic, multiform artistic life working as composer, musical theorist, violin virtuoso, orchestra director, teacher and artistic director. Along with Pietro Locatelli, Francesco Maria Veracini and Giuseppe Tartini, he shared noble rank in the Italian school for violin, renown throughout Europe for its whimsical, virtuoso style and its original and ingenuous technical innovations, portal to Romantic music. If history presents an image of Geminiani as a first rate virtuoso performer, his skill as composer is not judged quite as unanimously. Critical views of him ranged greatly and did not lack personal linguistic-musical interpretations: “a grand master of harmony, but his concerto compositions are elaborate, difficult and strange” (Charles Burney), “a great innovator and imitator” (David Dodge Boyden), “an extremely rigorous and precise composer” (Ernst Ludwig Gerber), “compared to Corelli, his style is alive and modern” (Hugo Riemann, Alfred Einstein).

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