Tartini was born in Piran, a town on the peninsula of Istria, in the Republic of Venice (now in Slovenia) to Gianantonio native of Florence and Caterina Zangrando, a descendant of one of the oldest aristocratic Piranian families.
It appears Tartini's parents intended him to become a Franciscan friar and, in this way, he received basic musical training. He studied law at the University of Padua, where he became skilled at fencing. After his father's death in 1710, he married Elisabetta Premazone, a woman his father would have disapproved of because of her lower social class and age difference. Unfortunately, Elisabetta was a favorite of the powerful Cardinal Giorgio Cornaro, who promptly charged Tartini with abduction. Tartini fled Padua to go to the monastery of St. Francis in Assisi, where he could escape prosecution. While there, Tartini took up playing the violin.
Legend says when Tartini heard Francesco Maria Veracini's playing in 1716, he was impressed by it and dissatisfied with his own skill. He fled to Ancona and locked himself away in a room to practice, according to Charles Burney, "in order to study the use of the bow in more tranquility, and with more convenience than at Venice, as he had a place assigned him in the opera orchestra of that city."
Tartini's skill improved tremendously and, in 1721, he was appointed Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua, with a contract that allowed him to play for other institutions if he wished. In Padua he met and befriended fellow composer and theorist Francesco Antonio Vallotti.
Tartini was the first known owner of a violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1715, which Tartini bestowed upon his student Salvini, who in turn bestowed it to Karol Lipiński upon hearing him perform, from which it derives its moniker, the Lipinski Stradivarius. He also owned and played the Antonio Stradivarius violin ex-Vogelweith from 1711.
In 1726, Tartini started a violin school which attracted students from all over Europe. Gradually, Tartini became more interested in the theory of harmony and acoustics, and from 1750 to the end of his life he published various treatises.
His home town, Piran, now has a statue of Tartini in the square, which was the old harbour, originally Roman, named the Tartini Square (Slovene: Tartinijev trg, Italian: Piazza Tartini). Silted up and obsolete, the port was cleared of debris, filled, and redeveloped. One of the old stone warehouses is now the Hotel Giuseppe Tartini. His birthday is celebrated by a concert in the main town cathedral.
Today, Tartini's most famous work is the "Devil's Trill Sonata," a solo violin sonata that requires a number of technically demanding double stop trills and is difficult even by modern standards. (One 19th-century myth had it that Tartini had six digits on his left hand, making these trills easier for him to play.) According to a legend embroidered upon by Madame Blavatsky, Tartini was inspired to write the sonata by a dream in which the Devil appeared at the foot of his bed playing the violin.
Almost all of Tartini's works are violin concerti (at least 135) and violin sonatas. Tartini's compositions include some sacred works such as a Miserere, composed between 1739 and 1741 at the request of Pope Clement XII, and a Stabat Mater, composed in 1769. He also composed trio sonatas and a sinfonia in A. Tartini's music is problematic to scholars and editors because Tartini never dated his manuscripts, and he also revised works that had been published or even finished years before, making it difficult to determine when a work was written, when it was revised and what the extent of those revisions were. The scholars Minos Dounias and Paul Brainard have attempted to divide Tartini's works into periods based entirely on the stylistic characteristics of the music.