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Old Music Monday: The colorful life of Francesco Maria Veracini


One of the great debates in classical music right now is whether video game music should be included in the genre of classical, even when a symphony is playing it.  I’ve long been a fan of the Oblivion soundtrack, and downloaded it before these kinds of scores were available all over youtube.  ClassicFM’s website has an entire section on understanding video game music.   But the purists remain upset that music accompanying the slaying of dragons can be played up against Mozart or Vivaldi.  Utter snobbery, say I.  Every kind of music was new once.  Mozart’s music was played for the masses in public theaters.  One of the reasons why young people are put off classical music is because of this snobbery that surrounds so much of it – like it’s this high art that is only accessible to the right kinds of people who have the perfect education to be able to adequately discuss the nuances of a libretto that… you get the picture.  It’s my contention that composers themselves wanted their music to be heard by more than an educated elite – by actual people for whom it conjured up actual emotions, whether they understood the key change in a theoretical level or not.  The great shame of it all is that this kind of music, when you take the time to absorb it, can help lift your spirit, and your mind, to whole new levels of understanding.  It’s as if the snobby class wants to keep this uplifting knowledge from the masses.  Though I guess that’s not surprising.

Anyway, one composer who truly lived a colorful life that would be frowned upon by the classical music snobs of today was Francesco Maria Veracini.  He fits in nicely to my world right now because he is both a baroque composer (born in 1690) and he was artsy fartsy and lived a life of adventure, turning down court positions in order to travel, and getting into fights and scrapes all over the place.

He was born into an artistic family – his family was comprised of painters, and as they managed a painting studio they owned several paintings by artists like Rubens.  He was taught the violin by his uncle, and became such a master that the great Tartini, when hearing him later in life, supposedly threw up his hands in despair thinking he would never be as good as Veracini.  Veracini wound up composing much of his work in order to showcase his ability on the violin; the existing pieces just weren’t difficult enough for him, he thought.

Veracini was offered positions at the Italian court, but he had the travel bug and he went off to London where he played solo pieces during the intermissions in the Queens Theater.  He wound up in Dresden then, where he got into fights with the local musicians, all of whom were talented and vying for work.  There are two different accounts as to what happened, but somehow he wound up jumping out of a window, breaking his foot and his hip, and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  He believed that German musicians were trying to kill him.  Others said that he was upset because he hadn’t received a solo he expected to get.  Either way, he threw himself out of the aforementioned window.

Back in his native Florence, he had suffered from a bad reputation, and according to  Charles Burney he was  “usually qualified with the title of Capo pazzo” [“head lunatic”].  When he was about 55 he survived a shipwreck in the North Sea, and lost everything he had, which included his three violins which he considered the best in the world.

His music is airy and light, incredibly difficult to play, but is nice to have on when you’re studying or cooking – while it can demand a lot of attention if you really want to get all the nuances, you don’t have to pay close attention to just enjoy it.  The guy may have been mad, but he had lovely music inside him.

Good Veracini links:

Violin Sonatas played by John Holloway

An article on ViolinStudent

the Spotify Artist Link for Veracini: