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Length: c. 5 minutes

About this Piece

Antonio Bazzini is well known to violinists but to few others, since his reputation rests almost entirely on his five-minute tour de force of violinistic difficulties known as La ronde des lutins (The Dance of the Goblins). In fact, that is its co-title, which appears next to the more objective name Scherzo fantastique. And yet, if we pay attention, we may find him peeking out from other corners in a way that suggests how consequential he was in the musical world of the 19th century.

After study in his native Brescia, he received encouragement from Paganini and launched an international career as a touring virtuoso. From 1840 to 1845, he lived in Germany, where he appeared as soloist with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Felix Mendelssohn conducting. He would spend time playing and teaching in Denmark, southern Italy (Naples and Palermo), Spain, France, and the Netherlands before returning to Brescia, where he dedicated himself to teaching and composing. In 1868, he was named president of the Concert Society there and was instrumental in championing the Germanic chamber music classics in Italy, even composing six string quartets and two quintets himself. He was named composition professor at the Milan Conservatory in 1873 and became its director in 1882. At least three of his composition students there went on to distinction in the opera world: Pietro Mascagni, Alfredo Catalani, and Giacomo Puccini. Bazzini himself had tried his hand at opera, unveiling his Turanda at Milan’s La Scala in 1867; this was based on the same story that would serve Puccini for Turandot more than a half-century later. Bazzini also surfaced in connection with a Requiem Mass that was being hastily organized following the death of Gioachino Rossini, in 1868, when 13 composers were commissioned to provide one movement each. The project fell victim to political squabbling, and Bazzini’s contribution, a stirring “Dies irae,” was not heard until the rediscovered Requiem was performed in 1988. One section was known before that, though: Giuseppe Verdi’s concluding “Libera me,” which he adapted when he came to compose his own setting of the Requiem.

The Romantic fascination with maleficent supernaturals made its mark on the violin repertoire with such works as Paganini’s Variations on Le streghe (The Witches, 1813) and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Grand Caprice on Schubert’s Erlkönig, for solo violin (1854)—with Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill Sonata being an obvious ancestor. Goblins being not yet spoken for, Bazzini filled that niche with a goblin romp that puts the player through all manner of pyrotechnical paces, including ricochet bowing, left-hand pizzicatos, alternate fingerings, runs of double-stopped thirds and tenths, double-stopped trills, and double harmonics. —James M. Keller