Born: November 27, 1731; Turin, Italy
Died: July 15, 1798; Turin, Italy
One of the leading violinists of the second half of the eighteenth century, Gaetano Pugnani adopted a style of playing that strongly influenced the development of the violin and bow in their modern forms. His own compositions are less distinctive than his performances seem to have been, but he formed the vital link between Corelli and Viotti in the Italian string tradition.
Pugnani studied with Corelli pupil G.B. Somis, and at age tenRead more began playing unofficially in the second violin section of Turin's Teatro Regio orchestra. A royal grant helped him spend 1749-1750 studying with Francesco Ciampi in Rome, after which he returned to his little job in Turin. During the 1750s he began attracting international notice as a soloist, performing his own music to lavish praise in Paris in 1754 and having some of his music published there. Back in Turin he had risen to principal of the second violin section in 1763, but greater prominence awaited him abroad. He spent 1767-1769 in London, hob-nobbing with J.C. Bach, conducting at the King's Theatre, and supervising (in 1769) the production of his first opera, Nanetta e Lubino. In 1770 he was back in Turin, now with the more distinguished post of first violinist to the king, which involved, among other things, leading the Teatro Regio orchestra. Six years later he became the city's general director of instrumental music, and in 1786 added supervision of military bands to his duties. Meanwhile, he continued to tour, and promoted the career of his young student Viotti.
From 1784 Pugnani began writing rather prolifically for the stage, and while his spectacular and exotic operas were received politely, they were judged inferior to his instrumental music, which employed the Italian equivalent of the Mannheim style. His symphonies adopted the modern Haydn/Mozart fashion of falling into four movements, the third of which was a minuet. Otherwise, he held to mid-century traditions as a composer, the violin concerto imitating Tartini and the chamber music seemingly unwilling to give up a continuo section.
His true innovation came as a performer. He was a powerful player who used much greater pressure on his bow than had been standard before; for this reason he adopted thicker strings on the instrument, and used a straighter, longer bow that surely influenced developments promulgated by the French Tourte bowmaking family. Read less