The Kennedy Center

Francesco Maria Veracini


Italian violinist and composer Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) was known for his virtuosity on the violin, and the violin sonatas he composed contain many special effects for that instrument. He also composed operas and songs; at least half of his known musical output was for the voice. He was known as being arrogant and eccentric, so eccentric as to verge on madness.
Veracini was born in Florence into a family of musicians and artists. His grandfather was one of the major violinists of the city, and his uncle Antonio was also a violin virtuoso and fine composer as well. It is he who gave the young Veracini his first music lessons, as the boy's father was one of the few in the family who did not play the violin, even as an amateur. Veracini's other instructors in Florence included the organist at Florence Cathedral.
Veracini left Florence before Easter 1711. At Christmas that year, he was a soloist at the Christmas masses at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice but was never a regular member of the chapel orchestra.
In 1714, Veracini traveled to London and appeared in a series of benefit concerts and as soloist between the acts of operas. In the summer of 1716, he was back in Venice, where he dedicated a set of 12 solo sonatas to a prince of Saxony in Germany. Although the prince knew a violinist was not needed at the Dresden court, he persuaded his father to hire Veracini, who traveled to Dresden  in 1717. He transferred from the prince's private employment to the regular court payroll at a high salary. He remained in Dresden until 1722, when in August of that year he jumped from a third-story window. It was said he leaped in a fit of madness brought on by applying himself too much to music and to studying alchemy. A musical treatise Veracini wrote hints, however, that there was a plot against his life inspired by jealousy.
Having left Dresden before early 1723, Veracini returned to Florence. The documents from this time (1723–33) most often show him as composer and performer of religious music, principally of oratorios produced by lay religious companies. However, he also composed a mass and Te Deum in celebration of the election in 1730 of the Florentine Pope Clement XII.
In the spring of 1733, Veracini traveled to London again, where he played so often that a commenter of the time said hardly a concert did not contain a violin solo by him. He also had his first opera presented, Adriano in Siria. In those performances, Veracini led the orchestra in addition to playing. The same opera company mounted his second opera, La clemenza di Tito, in 1737, as well as his third, Partenio, in 1738.
Veracini traveled back to Florence for a time, but in early 1741 was once again in London, where he gave a concert of his own compositions, including a collection of 12 vocal duets entitled Nice e Tirsi. In 1744, his last opera, Rosalinda, an Italian adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It, was performed. That same year, Veracini published his finest sonatas, the Sonate accademiche op.2.
Veracini is next heard of in 1750 in Florence, where he spent his last years once again as a church musician. Apparently he not only conducted but continued to play violin, even in his old age.
Veracini formed a style of playing unique to himself, and the same could be said of his compositional style. Although his works show a familiarity with the musical characteristics of his contemporaries, he followed his own path, becoming increasingly interested in applying  the musical techniques of  fugue, canon, inversion, and imitation. Eventually, Veracini became contemptuous of the homophonic style he once cultivated, equating it with ignorance and laziness. ("Homophony" is a single, dominating melody accompanied by chords, as opposed to more than one melodic line, as in polyphonic music.) In his usual independent manner, Veracini deliberately pursued an eccentric musical course throughout his life.
Sources: Oxford Companion to Music
               Grove Music Online
Francesco Maria Veracini