Niccolo Paganini, The Devil’s Son (Part 2)

In those times, poor health and a certain lack of money did not allow Paganini to perform abroad very frequently. Besides, one day he was ironically caught with a twenty-year-old lady, Angelina Cavanna, and received accusations in “abduction and seduction of a minor“. Soon after that, a doctor discovered another serious illness of Paganini, which resulted in a two-year-long depression, hopelessness and apathy of the maestro. But still he continued composing and working on his famous 24 caprices (completed in 1817), as well as on his new sonatas and concertos.

Niccolo PaganiniWithin the coming years he had to continue dealing with the problems in his private life. In 1824 he met Antonia Bianchi, an artist, who bore him a son, Achillino, a year later. The boy was quite attached to his father and preferred following Niccolo, despite  prohibition from his mother to do so. Much later, in 1837, Paganini legitimized Achillino. Also, Niccolo Paganini’s success was appreciated by Italian church: in 1827 Pope Leo XII granted him a title of a Knight of the Golden Spur.

Therefore, Paganini was back to his public performances and appeared in front of the European audience only in 1828 . He started his long world tour in Austria with a sensational debut performance in Vienna, followed by 14 more concerts in the capital and ecstatic reaction of Austrian spectators. The Emperor asked for a special audience with the Italian virtuoso and awarded Niccolo with Vienna’s medal of St. Salvatore. In March, 1729, Paganini won the hearts of the audience in Berlin, and gloriously continued in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, Mannheim and Darmstadt. Franz Schubert commented his performance as the following: “Therein I heard an angel sing.”

In March 1831 Italian violin genius conquered France. With his debut in Paris Paganini surpassed even his recent triumph in Vienna. The halls and chambers were always full, despite the price for the tickets was rather high. Sophisticated French audience was amazed with a new concept of performing on violin (without any orchestra or supporting musicians), as well as with incredible talent and charm of Paganini. Having visited one of the concerts, famous pianist and composer Franz Liszt was captivated by the artistic performance and amazing playing techniques of Paganini, exclaiming: “What a man! What a violin! What an artist! Heavens! What sufferings, what misery, what torture in those four strings!

But, probably, the most unbelievable success Paganini experienced in the Great Britain. His first concert in London in June 1831 was preceded by numerous rumors and romantic stories, which played a role of good promotion for the violinist and boosted his popularity in cold and stiff society of England. After that warm reception in London, Paganini toured Scotland and Ireland, and had dozens of exceptionally well-paid performances around the British Isles. Therefore, within just one year spent in the Great Britain Paganini managed to make a handsome fortune.

Paganini Portrait

All European elites started talking about divine talent of this man. Passionate performing, marvelous unusual techniques and demonic appearance caused numerous gossips about Paganini. Some were saying that Paganini was a son of the devil himself. That is why many people were attracted to his performances not only because of his incomparable playing, but also due to his mystical reputation. Schwarz described “the phenomena of Paganini” as the following: “It was more than technical wizardry that attracted the masses: there was a demonic quality as well as an enticing poetry in his playing“.

Anyway, it was just Paganini’s impressive unique performing style, which brought him to this enormous fame and glory. His intense energy and cantabile passages could reduce his spectators to tears, and his tours de force were absolutely astonishing. Niccolo Paganini became the first musician who demonstrated what could be achieved by brilliance of playing technique, and everything he composed was just exercising in this direction. He was undoubtedly genius violinist, from God or devil, and he always acted and looked like a real evil genius, with his pale face, protruding nose, thin lips and sarcastic smile, tall figure and long curly hair.

Since the year of 1834 his artistic fortune started fading away. Paganini bought a villa in Parma, where he used to reside most of the time. His health problems were going worse and they did not allow him to concretize extensively. But still he was visiting and performing in Paris and other cities in Europe. He established friendly relationships with Hector Berlioz, who was a true admirer of Paganini’s talent. Niccolo asked him to write a piece of music for violin to play on his Stradivarius viola, and Berlioz created one of his most passionate symphonies, Harold in Italy. After hearing it, Paganini was exceptionally touched with the music and actually have never dared to play it.

Problematic private life and huge wealth of Paganini made him be back into gambling. In 1836 he suffered a devastating loss of money in one of the casinos in Paris, which brought to a heavy depression and considerable worsening of his health. Soon he was diagnosed as cancer of the larynx, which caused him to lose his voice. But though his health was far spent, the hard-working virtuoso never gave up practicing and improvising. In 1839 he moved to Nice, where he hoped to improve his health. However,  on May 27, 1840 he passed away.

Paganini on Stage

Paganini was a pioneer of modern techniques of playing violin. First innovation of his was memorization of the music and playing without music sheets. This way the violinist received freedom to walk and move on stage. Paganini was the first musician, who started experimenting with tuning, learning to play on mistuned violin or on just one string. He invented so called ricochet bowing, a special way of bouncing the bow against the strings. Finally, he extended the use of harmonies and considerably enhanced technical opportunities of playing, pioneering such techniques as left-hand pizzicato or unorthodox fingering, etc.

Brilliancy and matchlessness of Paganini’s performance as a violinist overshadows his talent as a composer, though his musical legacy includes numerous colorful and imaginative compositions for violin, cello, viola, and guitar. Till modern times he continues challenging young and experienced musicians with his works. The name of Niccolo Paganini symbolizes for us an entire historical epoch of the most extraordinary violinist ever known, and his reputation still remains legendary and unsurpassed.

3 Replies to “Niccolo Paganini, The Devil’s Son (Part 2)”

  1. tony o, donnell says:

    I have been playing the violin for 65 years, and this great great artist Paganini has been deep in my heart throughout my entire life.Not all of his Glorious compsitions were ever published,but Thank GOD we have the rest available to us. His 24 caprices alone proves him to have been the greatest virtuoso of all time. In reality he will live— together with his music as long as the violin exists on this earth, and young artists take childish delight in their very first little successes with his Magic music.

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