Today we look at perhaps the world’s first virtuoso. His skills on the violin brought many to think that he had conspired with the devil to achieve such feats. His compositions today are still some of the hardest ever written for the violin, and require great technical mastery of the instrument. Niccolo Paganini, born on this day in 1782.
Born in Genoa, Italy, he began learning his father’s Mandolin when he was five, switching to violin at age 7. His talent was quickly recognised and earned him many scholarships. Having outpaced a number of teachers, he became the first violin of the Republic of Lucca, but still did large amounts of freelancing. He later worked for the court of Baciocchi in Lucca and then Florence, but in 1809 left to resume his freelancing.
He resumed freelancing around Parma and Genoa, where he was popular with the local audiences, but his fame had not yet spread across Europe. His break came in 1813 with a performance at La Scala in Milan. The performance was a great success, and he began to attract the attention of more prominent, but conservative, musicians. This new found fame lead to concerts in Vienna, London and Paris, with his willingness to display his superior technical ability gaining acclaim from all critics. His health deteriorated due to Mercury poisoning from treatment for Syphilis. He retired from playing c. 1834, and died from throat cancer in Nice in 1840, refusing the last rights because he thought he had longer to live.
Most famous of his compositions are of course the 24 Caprices for Violin, Op. 1, with the 24th Caprice being most popular, his six violin concerti, I Palpiti, “Moses” Variations and Variations on God Save the King. Today I leave you with performances of I Palpiti, played by Ivry Gitlis, Kogan performing the Moses Variations, and Frank Peter Zimmerman performing the God Save the King Variations. Hope you enjoy!
What’s your favourite Paganini piece? Got a favourite caprice? Let me know in the comments, or write your own blog post linking back here and I’ll add a link below.