Giuseppe Tartini: Multicultural Multi-Genius

/ by Stanislav Južnič

The achievements in mathematics and physics of the violinist, Giuseppe Tartini of Piran, followed as the consequence of his right-hand paralysis, which effectively ended a half a century of his solo violin performance career after 1740, just as did Paganini’s declining health a century later. Tartini and Paganini both grew up in decadent milieus of the once powerful republics of Venice and Genoa, which were finally destroyed by Napoleon. A devilish virtuoso like Paganini, Tartini also nursed his theoretical-mathematical merits, while his comparatively original mathematical achievements did not find early recognition, because the Parisian mathematicians, who viewed the violinist as an outsider. In the times of Galileo Galilei, his father and brother, the practical music still had something to tell to the field of mathematical acoustics, while in Newtonian Tartini’s era, the applied mathematicians already developed a language understood only by themselves, which forced Paganini into womanizing, thus incomparable to the officially monogamous theoretician, Tartini. On the other hand, the terzo suono of Tartini’s superb violin, which talked almost like a human voice, might be considered as a branch of experimental acoustics of the highest level. A century after Tartini passed away, Helmholtz used Tartini’s ideas in physics as one of the keystones of modern acoustics. Many obstacles prevented the success of Tartini’s mathematics, among them Tartini’s contemporary researchers, d’Alembert and Euler. Tartini’s Slavic-Italian practical violinist approach was, by itself, in contradiction with the emerging profession of applied Newtonian mathematicians, like that d’Alembert or Euler, who had no intention to share their newly-acquired professional academic jobs with this quite different networks of violinists. To surpass the initial failure, several experimental proofs of Tartini’s theory of terzo suono, as the real sound, were achieved hundred years after his death.

Giuseppe Tartini is famous as a musician, a composer, a violinist, but he wished to be instrumental in the applied mathematical sciences. Tartini was sure that all aspects of music followed mathematical rules, and belonged to mathematics. Leonhard Euler and Jean Le Rond D’Alembert were sure that all applied mathematics was their domain alone. The conflict was inevitable. Euler and D’Alembert won, while the science was winning its daily victories aver art in what was known as the illuminated century, leading to the downfall of the Bastille as a symbol of the ancien régime. The Romantic realism of the Prussian physician turned Berliner physicist, Hermann Helmholtz, gave Tartini’s visions new chance, which was never abandoned again. Tartini was the unchallenged king of musicians from the now Slovenian territory, its greatest son, alongside Jacobus Gallus and Jurij Sladkonja, while Helmholtz secured for Tartini the additional title of the prince of theoretical acoustics, far above the Parnassos which any Slovenian practicing musician ever achieved. The main reason for Tartini’s metamorphosis from violin concerts to the theory of the circle was his paralytically overburdened right hand which, from 1740, for the last three decades of his life, did not allow him to play his beloved violin. The sad illness had amazing consequences for the physics of Tartini’s terzo suono, because the performing violin virtuoso would never otherwise have gotten enough time for such deep theoretical work.

Pierluigi Petrobelli (1932 Padua-2012 Venice), as a professor of Music History at University “La Sapienza” in Rome from 1983 to 2005, might have also been interested in Mozart and Verdi, but he was still the most devoted fan of Tartini of the modern era. The initial hoax-debacle of Tartini’s terzo suono acoustic mathematical theory resurrected Tartini to immortal fame a century after Tartini’s death, as a product of combinatorics born in Edmund Halley’s ship insurance and Blaise Pascal’s game theory, which interested the hazarder Paganini, but not so much Tartini. The statistics and probability of combinatorics ultimately proved to be more in German, Anglo-Saxon and USA spirit, than in Roman, Italian or Slavic ones, which enabled von Helmholtz and Lord Rayleigh to take the banner into their noble hands. There are not many chances to hear Tartini or Paganini’s pagan original concerts live anymore, but Tartini’s terzo suono seems to be still there, a theory that remains taught and relevant.

Tartini’s musician’s journey into theoretical acoustics might be similar to the somewhat later journeys of the Jacobine, Jean Paul Marat, or Goethe into the optics of color, based on a painter’s approach. In both cases, the artists lost their immediate battle against Newtonians, but Tartini’s terzo suono later won, and Goethe’s theory of colors might also have a bright future. Newton and Euler aggressively expanded their mathematization of the arts, looking for mathematical theories that help explain art, but the artistic subject discussed was so far from applied mathematics, and so deep into the arts, that not many artists ever needed Newtonian mathematics. That fact enabled the chance for a counterattack which Tartini posthumously accomplished, through the brave efforts of Helmholtz, while Goethe is still waiting for his own Helmholtz to champion his interdisciplinary theory after his death.

Was Tartini Italian or Slovene? He was born seventeen decades before the establishment of any modern Italian state, nearly twelve decades before Napoleonic Illyria, and 216 years before the very first Slovenian state. No Italian or Slovenian state could be considered his fatherland. Tartini lived in the territories of the Venetian Republic, the Papal states, and the Bohemian part of the Habsburg monarchy, but his hometown, Piran, is now in Slovenia. Tartini spoke Italian and Slavic dialects during his life, and occasionally might have used some German dialects, while he was in the service of the Emperor Charles VI of the House of Habsburg. Tartini predominantly wrote in Italian dialect. But Tartini was Istrian. In modern times, the peninsula of Istria has been too small to form an independent state of any kind. Today, most of Istria is Croatian, with the smaller part, including Tartini’s hometown, belonging to Slovenia, and an even smaller part is in the modern Italy.

Tartini’s achievement in the acoustics of combined tones (terzo suono) has a considerable effect today. Tartini's achievements are the first high-profile intervention of researchers from the modern Slovenian ethnic territory in the theory of sound and its combinatorics. Tartini has indeed aimed much higher in the world of mathematics, however, he may have been just as pleased that his achievements are remembered in large golden letters in the history of the applied mathematical sciences, especially of course in acoustics. He was a true multicultural, and one of the few great men to achieve greatness in several, diverse fields—considered one of history’s most skillful violinists, among its finest composers, and one of its most brilliant mathematical minds.

Stanislav Južnič

was born in San Francisco and obtained USA and Slovenian citizenship. That makes him equally at home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. He finished elementary school in Beograd. During his studies, he worked at the University of Minsk in Russia, which enabled him to understand better Augustin Hallerstein’s relation with the Russian Academy and Gabriel Gruber’s work in Russia. He graduated in the Physics department of the University at Ljubljana with Robert Blinc with a work widely published in USA and Europe as the very first accurate measurement special solid state phase transitions with liquid crystals involved. He published his graduate research in incommensurability of Rubidium compositions in USA. He studied history of 18th century physics with academician Vasilij Melik at the department of history of the University of Ljubljana, got Masters' and Ph.D. in the same University. After Ph.D., he returned to his USA home where he worked in the Film Library of the Jesuit University Saint Louis, MO, and at the Science Department University of Oklahoma, researching simultaneously also at the Institute for Mathematics, Physics, and Mechanics at Ljubljana, and at the Scientific Research Centre of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Published about one thousand research works (articles, books) in Chinese, and almost all European languages in China, Japan, USA, Australia, Russia and many European Countries as available on web. Frequent in almost all European languages. The contemporary research connected with Rudjer Bošković and Nikola Tesla Networks showing how Tesla's electronics emerged from the ideas of the Jesuit teachers of his teachers.