Artificio e natura: alcune osservazioni sull’Aria del Tasso di Giuseppe Tartini
A penchant for folk music is recurrent in Giuseppe Tartini’s œuvre. In particular, four movements from his violin sonatas are based on the well-known theme of the Aria del Tasso, which attracted the attention of Rousseau and Goethe during their stay in Venice. Central to his work as composer and theorist is the idea of closeness to nature – far from the “bare” transcription of gondoliers’ songs in the way of a musicographer interested in ethnology. For Tartini, following the so-called musica naturalis of the ancient Greeks and the “music of the nations”, the term popolare is equivalent to “simple”, and “simplicity” is the main feature of nature. In his writings, the concept of nature frequently occurs in opposition to artificioso, i.e. artificial and unspontaneous. It undergoes a remarkable change of meaning between 1754 and 1767. In line with the scientific methods established by Descartes and Newton, the Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell’armonia of 1754 stresses the mathematical foundations of harmony both with reference to the ancient numerical basis of acoustics and to empirical acoustics after Rameau. Tartini thus defines harmony as a natural phenomenon, imbued with a universal value as the basis of both traditional and “national” music. While acknowledging the different “shape” of traditional and art musics, he believes that both are dominated by the ratio of harmony, in the same way as different languages can be governed by the same grammatical structure (where ratio is synonymous with sensus). On the contrary, the Commercio di lettere sui principj dell’armonia (letters addressed to the mathematician Giordano Riccati) revises earlier ideas as the result of a perceived incompatibility between art and traditional music (or the so-called “music of the nations”). Tartini accepts the diversity of cultures within the framework of a parallel “second nature”, thus identifying otherness as an emerging category. In this sense, “harmony” cannot embody two separate musical domains or explain their otherness. This dualism implies a clash between ratio and sensus. At the same time, Tartini’s interest shifts to the virtual opposition between “nature” and “nurture”. The 1760s thus mark a turning point for Tartini in representing nature through the diatonic genus. In his quest for a unifying quid, he recognizes the diatonic genus of Greek music as a common archetype in folk song, ancient melody and art music. His De’ principj dell’armonia musicale contenuta nel diatonico genere of 1767 considers the diatonic mode as the pivotal genus that significantly remains uncorrupted in time and space. Though Tartini does not support these assertions with aesthetic theories, his anthropological point of view notably undermines the earlier concept of nature subordinated to rationalism. In this sense, he anticipates the modern debate on “folk” and its definition.