Giardini, Feux

, an eminent musician, and in many respects the greatest performer on the violin during the last century, was a native of Piedmont; and when a boy, was a chorister in the Duomo at Milan, under Paladini, of whom he learned singing, the harpsichord, and composition; but having previously manifested a partiality for the violin, his father recalled him to Turin, in order to receive instructions on that instrument of the famous Somis. He went to Rome early in his life, and afterwards to Naples, where, having obtained a place among ripienos in the opera orchestra, he used to flourish and change passages | much more frequently than he ought to have done. “However,” says Giardini, of whom Dr. Burney had this account, “I acquired great reputation among the ignorant for my impertinence yet one night, during the opera, Jomellfc who had composed it, came into the orchestra, and seating himself close by, me, I determined to give the maestro di cappella a touch of my taste and execution; and in the symphony of the next song, which was in a pathetic style, I gave loose to my fingers and fancy; for which I was rewarded by the composer with a violent slap in the face; which,” adds Giardini, “was the best lesson I ever received from a great master in my life.” Jomelli, after this, was however very kind, in a different way, to this young and wonderful musician.

Giardini came to England in the spring of 1750. His first public performance in London was at a benefit concert, on which occasion he played a solo and concerto, and though there was very little company, the applause was so loud, long, and furious, as nothing but that bestowed on Garrick had ever equalled. Inconsequence, he soon was engaged and caressed at most of the private concerts of the principal nobility, gentry, and foreign ministers; at the Castle and King’s-arms concert in the city; and in 1754 he was placed at the head of the opera band; in which he introduced a new discipline, and a new style of playing, much superior in itself, and more congenial with the poetry and music of Italy, than the languid manner of his predecessor Festing.

In 1756, on the failure and flight of the Impresario, or undertaker of the opera, Vaneschi, Mingotti, and Giardini joined their interests, and became managers, but found themselves involved at the end of the season in such difficulties, that they were glad to retire. Giardini, while in the opera management, besides arranging pasticcios, set several entire dramas; but though he had so great a hand on his instrument, so much fancy in his cadences and solos, yet he had not sufficient force or variety to supply a whole evening’s entertainment at the Lyric theatre, although he continued to throw in a single air or rondeau into the operas of other masters, which was more applauded than all the rest of the drama. In 1762, in spite of former miscarriages, Giardini and Mingotti again resumed the reins of opera government. But, after struggling two years, they again resigned it, and from this period | Giardini was forced to content himself with teaching ladies of rank and fashion to sing, and the produce of a great annual benefit* He continued here unrivalled as a leader, a solo player, and a composer for his instrument, still augmenting the importance of his instrument and our national partiality for the taste of his country, till the admirable productions and great performers of Germany began to form a Teutonic interest and Germanic body here, which, before Giardini’s departure from London, became very formidable rivals to him and his Roman legion.

At the end of 1784, he went to Italy, and after remaining on the continent till the summer of 1789, returned to this country, bringing with him a female pupil and her whole family. He then attempted aburletta opera at the little theatre in the Hay market, while the operahouse, which had been burned down, was rebuilding; but his speculation failed. During his absence the public had learned to do without him, and reconciled themselves to his loss; his health, hand, and eyes were impaired; he was dropsical, his legs were of an enormous size, and little of his former superiority on his instrument remaine 1, but his fine tone. He composed quartets that pleased very much, but in which he never played any other part in public than the tenor. The style of music was changed; he printed many of his old compositions which used to please; but now could gain neither purchasers nor hearers, so that about 1793, he went to Petersburg with his burletta troop; which seems to have pleased as little there and at Moscow, as in London; and he is said to have died in this hist city in great wretchedness and poverty!

Of this performer, Dr. Burney says, that if he “has been surpassed by a few in taste, expression, and execution, his tone and graceful manner of playing are still unrivalled; nor does any one of all the admirable and great performers on the violin, surpass all others so much at present, as Giardini did, when at his best, all the violinists in Europe.” Giardini’s private character appears to have been of the worst description; and although possessed of such talents and intellects as art and nature scarcely ever allowed to the same individual, yet by extravagance, caprice, and a total want of benevolence and rectitude of heart, he died a beggar, unfriended and unpitied. 1


Rees’s Cyclopædia, by Dr. Burney.