Giovanni Battista Viotti


Giovanni Battista Viotti was born in Fontanetto da Po in 1753. His father, an amateur horn player, began to teach him the elements of music, and when Viotti was 11 years old, he was taken under the protection of Prince Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna, in whose house in Turin he was to live and be educated. His violin studies were at first undertaken with Antonio Celoniat, but upon his return from London in 1770 Pugnani  became Viotti's teacher. In December 1775 Viotti joined the orchestra of the royal chapel at Turin, spending five years at the last desk of the first violins.

In early 1780, he and Pugnani set out on an extensive concert tour which took them to Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Russia. It was during this tour that Viotti had his first work published; his Concerto No. 3 in A major. In late 1781 they returned to Berlin, where they went their separate ways- Viotti went on to Paris. There, he made his astonishingly successful d ébut on 17th March 1782, at the Concert Spirituel, which immediately established him as one of the foremost violinists of the era.

Until September 1783 Viotti gave frequent performances, and, in January 1784 he entered the service of Marie Antoinette. Around the same time he also became the leader of a number of orchestras, and began what was to be one of the most productive periods of his life, producing half of all of his published works over the next ten years.In 1788, with the patronage of the Count of Provence, he established a new opera house called the Théâtre de Monsieur (later renamed Théâtre Feydeau). There, a number of important works were introduced to the repertoire, including those of Viotti's friend, Cherubini . Viotti also had a new theatre constructed and established a series of Holy Week concerts in April 1792. A few months later Viotti was forced to flee to London by the Revolution.

In London Viotti turned again to performance, making his début at Salomon's Hanover Square Concert on 7th February 1793. For the next two seasons he continued as the featured violinist for Salomon's series, becoming musical director of the new Opera Concerts in 1795. During these years he played in Haydn 's benefit concerts and performed frequently for such notables as the Prince of Wales. In the 1794-5 season Viotti served as acting manager of Italian opera at the King's Theatre, and became leader and director of the orchestra there in 1797.

However, in February 1798 the British government ordered Viotti to leave the country, suspecting him of Jacobin activity. With no evidence against him, Viotti protested his innocence, but left the country to live with English friends in Schenfeldt, near Hamburg. There he published a set of duos (op. 5) with the dedication that they were conceived 'some in pain, some in hope.' He left Germany the following year, and by 1801 had returned to London. At this point he retired almost entirely from music in order to devote himself to a wine business that he had set up prior to his exile, continuing to play and compose only for his friends, and continuing the publication of his works.

In 1818 the business failed, leaving Viotti deeply in debt to his friends. Therefore, he applied for the post of director of the Paris Opéra, counting on his former patron, once the Count of Provence, now Louis XVIII. On 1st November 1819 he took up this post, but less than four months later the Duc de Berry was assassinated at the Opéra, arousing the antipathy of the public and its royal patrons. As a consequence it was closed and moved to a smaller house where it encountered innumerable difficulties. In November 1821, accused of mismanagement, Viotti resigned, still heavily in debt and with only a small pension and his position as nominal director of the Italian Theatre to provide him with an income. Two years later he returned to London to live with his closest friends, Mr and Mrs William Chinnery, dying in their home in Portman Square in March 1824.

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