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Niccolò Paganini.
Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840) was an Italianmarker violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He was one of the most celebrated violin virtuosi of his time, and left his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His caprice in A minor, Op. 1 No. 24 is among his best known of compositions, and serves as inspiration for many prominent artists.



Niccolò Paganini was born in Genoamarker, Italy, the third of the six children of Antonio and Teresa (née Bocciardo) Paganini. Paganini's father was an unsuccessful trader, but he managed to supplement his income through playing music on the mandolin. At the age of five, Paganini started learning the mandolin from his father, and moved to the violin by the age of seven. His musical talents were quickly recognized, earning him numerous scholarships for violin lessons.

The young Paganini studied under various local violinists, including Giovanni Servetto and Giacomo Costa, but his progress quickly outpaced their abilities. Paganini and his father then traveled to Parmamarker to seek further guidance from Alessandro Rolla. But upon listening to Paganini's playing, Rolla immediately referred him to his own teacher, Ferdinando Paër and, later, Paër's own teacher, Gasparo Ghiretti. Though Paganini did not stay long with Paër or Ghiretti, the two had considerable influence on his composition style.

Early career

The French invaded northern Italy in March 1796, and Genoa was not spared. The Paganinis sought refuge in their country property in Ramaironemarker. By 1800, Paganini and his father traveled to Livornomarker, where Paganini played in concerts and his father resumed his maritime work. In 1801, Paganini, aged 18 at the time, was appointed first violin of the Republic of Luccamarker, but a substantial portion of his income came from freelancing. His fame as a violinist was matched only by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer.

In 1805, Lucca was annexed by Napoleonic France, and the region was ceded to Napoleon's sister, Elisa Baciocchi. Paganini became a violinist for the Baciocchi court, while giving private lessons for her husband, Felice. In 1807, Baciocchi became the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and her court was transferred to Florencemarker. Paganini was part of the entourage, but, towards the end of 1809, he left Baciocchi to resume his freelance career.

Travelling virtuoso

For the next few years, Paganini returned to touring in the areas surrounding Parma and Genoa. Though he was very popular with the local audience, he was still not very well known in Europe. His first break came from an 1813 concert which took place at La Scalamarker in Milanmarker. The concert was a great success, and as a result Paganini began to attract the attention of other prominent, albeit more conservative, musicians across Europe. His early encounters with Charles Philippe Lafont and Ludwig Spohr created intense rivalry. His concert activities, however, were still limited to Italy for the next few years.

His fame spread across Europe with a concert tour that started in Viennamarker in August, 1828, stopping in every major European city in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia until February, 1831 in Strasburg. This was followed by tours in Parismarker and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. His technical ability and his willingness to display it received much critical acclaim. In addition to his own compositions, theme and variations being the most popular, Paganini also performed modified versions of works (primarily concertos) written by his early contemporaries, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer and Giovanni Battista Viotti. Ignoring the many private parties he played at, the following list gives an indication of his popularity and his schedule:

*July 1829 - Left Warsaw
*Nov 1829, Munich, 3 concerts
*End of 1830, Farewell concert in Frankfort
*Arrived in Strasbourg, gave 2 concerts
*End Feb onwards 1831, he gave 12 concerts in Paris
*Early in May 1831, left Paris for London Gave several concerts in Northern France on the way
*Announced a concert in Kings Theatre in London for May 21st 1831, but was postponed until June 3rd
*2nd concert played on 10th June, same venue. 13th June, 3rd concert, same venue. 16th June, 4th concert, same venue. 22nd June, 5th (final) concert, same venue
*Final concerts were announced - one was played on July 4th 1831
*Gave two concerts at the London Tavern in July
*Two concerts at Cheltenham in July
*July 9th, Concert at Lord Mayor's banquet in Mansion House
*August - concerts in London
*August - 3 concerts in Norwich
*End of August - set out for Dublin
*Was in Dublin for the music festival (Aug 30th - Sept 3rd 1831) He gave 3 concerts. There is some descrepencies here, since some references state the music festival was in 1830.
*Gave 3 evening concerts in the Theatre Royal
*Returned to London
*October 1831 mentions he played in Edinburgh in 1831, also mentions a private party he played in Edinburgh.
*Dec 1831 - Concert announce in Bristol
*Early 1832 - Concert in Leeds
*Feb 1832 - Concert in Birmingham
*Early 1832, concert in Brighton
*March 1832 - Left London for Paris

Late career and health decline

Throughout his life, Paganini was no stranger to chronic illnesses. His frequent concert schedule, as well as his extravagant lifestyle, eventually took their toll on his health. He was diagnosed with syphilis as early as 1822, and his remedy, which included mercury and opium, resulted in serious health and psychological problems. In 1834, while still in Paris, he was treated for pulmonary tuberculosis. Though his recovery was reasonably quick, his future career was marred with frequent cancellations due to various health concerns, from the common cold to depression, which lasted from days to months.

In September 1834, Paganini put an end to his concert career and returned to Genoa. Contrary to popular beliefs (involving him wishing to keep his music and techniques secret), Paganini devoted his time to the publication of his compositions and violin methods. He accepted students, two enjoyed moderate success: violinist Camillo Sivori, and cellist Gaetano Ciandelli. Neither considered Paganini helpful or inspirational, however. In 1835, Paganini returned to Parma, this time under the employ of Archduchess Marie Louise of Austriamarker, Napoleon's second wife. He was in charge of reorganizing her court orchestra. Unfortunately, he eventually became at odds with the players and Court, so his visions never saw the light of day.

Final years, death and burial

In 1836, Paganini returned to Paris to set up a casino. Its immediate failure left him in financial ruins, and he auctioned off his personal effects, including his musical instruments, to recuperate his losses. On Christmas of 1838, he left Paris for Marseilles and, after a brief stay, left for Nice. Paganini, wrongfully assuming it a premature gesture, refused the Last Rites to be performed on him from the local parish. However, on May 27, 1840, Paganini died from internal hemorrhaging, before a priest could be summoned.

It was on these grounds, and his publicized association with the devil, that his body was denied a Catholic burial in Genoa. It took four years, and an appeal to the Pope, before the body was allowed to be transported to Genoa, but not buried. His remains were finally put to rest in 1876, in a cemetery in Parma. In 1893, the Czech violinist, Franz Ondricek, persuaded Paganini's grandson, Attila, to allow a viewing of the violinist's body. After the bizarre episode, Paganini's body was exhumed once again, to a new cemetery in Parma, in 1896.

Personal and professional relationships

Though having no shortage of romantic conquests, Paganini was once seriously involved with a singer named Antonia Bianchi from Como, who he met in Milan in 1813. The two concertized together throughout Italy. They had a son, Achilles Cyrus Alexander, born on July 23, 1825 in Palermo. Though their union was never legalized, it ended around April 1828 in Viennamarker. Paganini brought up Achilles on his European tour, raising him while pursuing his concerts. Achilles would later accompany his father until the latter's death, and was instrumental in dealing with his father's burial, years after his death.

Throughout his career, Paganini also became close friends with composers Gioachino Rossini and Hector Berlioz. Rossini and Paganini met in Bolognamarker in the summer of 1818. In January 1821, on his return from Naplesmarker, Paganini met Rossini again in Rome, just in time to become the composer's substitute conductor for his opera Mathilde de Sharbran, upon the sudden death of the original conductor. The violinist's efforts earned a gratitude from the composer.

Meanwhile, Paganini was introduced to Berlioz in Paris in 1833. Though Paganini also commissioned from him Harold in Italy for viola and orchestra, the violinist never performed it, and instead it was premiered a year later by violist Christian Urhan. Despite his alleged disinterest in Harold, Paganini often referred to Berlioz as the resurrection of Beethoven and, towards the end of his life, he gave large sums of his fortune to the composer.

Paganini's instruments

Views of the Hubay 1726 Stradivari.

Paganini was in possession of a number of fine string instruments. More legendary than these were the circumstances under which he obtained (and lost) some of them. While Paganini was still a teenager in Livornomarker, a wealthy businessman named Livron lent him a violin, made by the master luthier Guarneri, for a concert. Livron was so impressed with Paganini's playing that he refused to take it back. This particular violin would come to be known as Il Cannone Guarnerius. On a later occasion in Parma, he won another valuable violin (also by Guarneri) after a difficult sight-reading challenge brought on by a man named Pasini.

Other instruments associated with Paganini include the Antonio Amati 1600, the Nicolò Amati 1657, the Paganini-Desaint 1680 Stradivari, the Guarneri-filius Andrea 1706, the Le Brun 1712 Stradivari, the Vuillaume c.1720 Bergonzi, the Hubay 1726 Stradivari, and the Comte Cozio di Salabue 1727 violins; the Countess of Flanders 1582 da Salò-di Bertolotti, and the Mendelssohn 1731 Stradivari violas; the Piatti 1700 Goffriller, the Stanlein 1707 Stradivari, and the Ladenburg 1736 Stradivari cellos; and the Grobert of Mirecourt 1820 (guitar).


: See List of compositions by Niccolò Paganini.
Paganini composed his own works to play exclusively in his concerts, all of which had profound influences on the evolution of violin techniques. His 24 Caprices were probably composed in the period between 1805 to 1809, while he was in the service of the Baciocchi court. Also during this period, he composed the majority of the solo pieces, duo-sonatas,trios and quartets for the guitar. These chamber works may have been inspired by the publication, in Lucca, of the guitar quintets of Boccherini. Many of his variations (and he has become the de facto master of this musical genre), including Le Streghe, The Carnival of Venice, and Nel cor più non mi sento, were composed, or at least first performed, before his European concert tour.

Generally speaking, Paganini's compositions were technically imaginative, and the timbre of the instrument was greatly expanded as a result of these works. Sounds of different musical instruments and animals were often imitated. One such composition was titled Il Fandango Spanolo (The Spanish Dance), which featured a series of humorous imitations of farm animals. Even more outrageous was a solo piece Duetto Amoroso, in which the sighs and groans of lovers were intimately depicted on the violin. Fortunately there survives a manuscript of the Duetto which has been recorded, while the existence of the Fandango is only known through concert posters.

However, his works were criticized for lacking characteristics of true polyphonism, as pointed out by Eugène Ysaÿe. Yehudi Menuhin, on the other hand, identified that this might have been the result of his reliance on the guitar (in lieu of the piano) as an aid in composition. His orchestral parts (for his concertos) were often polite, unadventurous, and clearly supportive. In this, his style is consistent with that of other Italian composers such as Paisiello, Rossini and Donizetti, who were influenced by the guitar-song milieu of Naples during this period.

Paganini was also the inspiration of many prominent composers. Both "La Campanella" and the A minor caprice have been an object of interest for a number of composers. Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Boris Blacher, Andrew Lloyd Webber, George Rochberg and Witold Lutosławski, among others, wrote well-known variations on these themes.


Evolution of violin technique

An 1831 bulletin advertising a performance of Paganini.
The Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis once referred to Paganini as a phenomenon rather than a development. Though some of the violinistic techniques frequently employed by Paganini were already present, most accomplished violinists of the time focused on intonation and bowing techniques, the so-called right-hand techniques for string players. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was considered a pioneer in transforming the violin from an ensemble instrument to a solo instrument. In the mean time, the polyphonic capability of the violin was firmly established through the Sonatas and Partitas BWV 1001-1006 of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Other notable violinists included Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), who, in their compositions, reflected the increasing technical and musical demands on the violinist. Although the role of the violin in music had been drastically changed through this period, progress on violin technique was steady but slow up to this point. Any study of techniques requiring agility of the fingers and the bow was still considered unorthodox and discouraged by the established community of violinists.

Much of Paganini's playing (and his violin compositions) were influenced by two violinists, Pietro Locatelli (1693-1746) and Auguste Frederick Durand (1770-????). During Paganini's study in Parma, he came across the 24 Caprices of Locatelli (entitled L'arte di nuova modulazione - Capricci enigmatici or The art of the new style - the enigmatic caprices). Published in the 1730s, they were shunned by the musical authorities for its technical innovations, and were forgotten by the musical community at-large. Around the same time, Durand, a former student of Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824), became a celebrated violinist. He was renowned for his use of harmonics and left hand pizzicato in his performance. Paganini was impressed by Durand innovation and showmanship, which later also became the hallmarks of the young violin virtuoso. Paganini was instrumental in the revival and popularization of these violinistic techniques, which are now incorporated into regular compositions.

Another aspect of Paganini's violin techniques concerned his flexibility. He had exceptionally long fingers and was capable of playing three octaves across four strings in a hand span, a feat that is still considered impossible by today's standards. His seemingly unnatural ability may have been a result of Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

A minor planet 2859 Paganini discovered in 1978 by Sovietmarker astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh is named after him.

Works inspired by Paganini

The Caprice No. 24 in A minor, Op.1 (Tema con variazioni) has been the basis of works by many other composers. For a separate list of these, see Caprice No. 24 .

Other works inspired by Paganini include:

  • James BarnesFantasy Variations on a Theme by Nicolo Paganini
  • Michael Angelo BatioNo Boundaries
  • Jason Becker - Perpetual Burn
  • Hector Berlioz - Harold In Italy was originally commissioned by Paganini as a virtuosic piece for himself, however it did not meet with his approval.
  • Mario Castelnuovo-TedescoCapriccio Diabolico for classical guitar is a homage to Paganini, and quotes "La campanella"
  • Frédéric ChopinSouvenir de Paganini for solo piano (1829; published posthumously)
  • Percy GraingerBrahms’ Paganini Variations, No. 12, for Piano
  • Luigi Dallapiccola – Sonatina canonica in mi bemolle maggiore su "Capricci" di Niccolo Paganini, for piano (1946)
  • Bela Fleck − "Moto Perpetuo (Bluegrass version)", from Fleck's 2001 album Perpetual Motion, which also contains a more standard rendition of the piece
  • Fritz KreislerPaganini Concerto in D Major (recomposed paraphrase of the first movement of the Op. 6 Concerto) for violin and orchestra
  • Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Fantasia for piano in C major "Souvenir de Paganini", WoO 8, S. 190.
  • Franz LehárPaganini, a fictionalized operetta about Paganini (1925)
  • Franz Liszt − Six Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141 for solo piano (1851) (virtuoso arrangements of 5 caprices, including the 24th, and La Campanella from Violin Concerto No. 2)
  • Cesare Pugni - The Pas de deux from his ballet Satanella borrows themes from Paganini's Carnevale di Venezia, Op.10
  • Nathan MilsteinPaganiniana, an arrangement of Caprice Nr. 24, with variations based on the other caprices
  • George RochbergCaprice Variations (1970), 50 variations for solo violin
  • Uli Jon Roth − "Scherzo Alla Paganini" and "Paganini Paraphrase"
  • Robert Schumann − Studies after Caprices by Paganini, Op.3 (1832; piano); 6 Concert Studies on Caprices by Paganini, Op.10 (1833, piano). A movement from his piano work "Carnaval" (Op. 9) is named for Paganini.
  • Marilyn ShrudeRenewing the Myth for alto saxophone and piano
  • Philip Wilby - Paganini Variations, for both wind band and brass band
  • Steve Vai − "Eugene's Trick Bag" from the movie Crossroads. Based on Caprice Nr. 5
  • Eugène YsaÿePaganini variations for violin and piano

Fictional portrayals

Paganini made an appearance in Hugh Lofting's children's novel Doctor Dolittle's Caravan. In this novel, Doctor Dolittle forms an opera company made up entirely of birds, instead of human performers. Paganini attends a performance of the bird opera, causing quite a stir amongst the crowd, and then meets with Doctor Dolittle after the performance to discuss it.

Paganini's life inspired several films and television series. Most famously, in a highly acclaimed Soviet 1982 miniseries Niccolo Paganini the musician is portrayed by the Armenian stage master Vladimir Msryan. The series focuses on Paganini's persecution by the Roman Catholic Church. Another Soviet cinematic legend, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan plays Paganini's fictionalized arch-rival, an insidious Jesuit official. The information in the series was generally accurate, however it also played to some of the myths and legends rampant during the musician's lifetime. In particular, a memorable scene shows Paganini's adversaries sabotaging his violin before a high-profile performance, causing all strings but one to break during the concert. An undeterred Paganini continues to perform on three, two, and finally on a single string.

In 1989 German actor Klaus Kinski portrayed Paganini in the film Kinski Paganini

Paganini is a major character in Madame Blavatsky's The Ensouled Violin, a short story included in the collection Nightmare Tales. The story recounts rumors that (a) the strings of Paganini's violin were made from human intestines and (b) Paganini murdered both his wife and mistress and imprisoned their souls in his violin.

The animated superhero series The Tick featured a supervillain known as "Octo Paganini" (who had six arms and could play three violins simultaneously) in the episode Tick Vs. Europe".

Paganini's musical gifts are explained as being from the devil in Don Nigro's play, Paganini.

In Andrew Clements' young adult novel, Things Hoped For, Paganini serves as inspiration for the main character, Gwendolyn, an aspiring young violinist.


See also



  • Leopold Auer, Violin playing as I teach it, Stokes, 1921 (reprint Dover, 1980).
  • Alberto Bachmann, An Encyclopedia of the violin, Da Capo, 1925.
  • Boscassi Angelo, Il Violino di Niccolò Paganini conservato nel Palazzo Municipale di Genova, Fratelli Pagano, 1909.
  • Yehudi Menuhin and William Primrose, Violin and viola, MacDonald and Jane's, 1976.
  • Yehudi Menuhin and Curtis W. Davis, The Music of man, Methuen, 1979.
  • John Sugden, Paganini, Omnibus Press, 1980.
  • Bruno Monsaingeon,The Art of violin, NVC Arts (on film), 2001.
  • Masters of the Nineteenth Century Guitar, Mel Bay Publications.

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