Niccolò Paganini – Italian violinist, guitarist, virtuoso and composer
(born on 27 October 1782 in Genoa; died on 27 May 1840 in Nice)
From an early age, Niccolo Paganini was prepared for a musical career by his father, who forced him to practice hard for several hours each day. Initially, the boy played the mandolin. When he was 7, he started playing the violin, an instrument that he particularly liked. He used to say: The violin is my lover, but the guitar is my master. But he played the guitar only when he was alone, and the violin became his hallmark.
Forced to play the violin by his father, Niccolo quickly reached mastery. At the age of 13, he gave his first concert in northern Italy. After reaching maturity, Paganini realised that he could make a fortune with his new spectacular style of playing. So he composed musical pieces in order to demonstrate his technical skill and artistry. Paganini’s unquestionable musical talent allowed him to develop an astonishing playing technique, which included fingered octaves, multiphonic trills, penny whistles, triple and quadruple grips, fancy bowing and other techniques.At the age of 23, he composed the famous 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. Being a great showman, he tuned the violin for surprising effects, used pizzicato and staccato like nobody else before him.
In 1805, he became violinist and conductor at the court of Duchess di Lucca, Napoleon’s sister. However, his fame and fortune was brought to him by the career of a travelling virtuoso. His fame as a violinist was also matched by his reputation as a gambler and a womaniser. With time, when he managed to free himself from his despotic father, he began to give concerts around the country, arousing a wide sensation as a virtuoso violinist. He travelled all over Europe by carriage, reaching the most remote corners, where he often gave three concerts a week. In the years 1828-1831, during his journey to Eastern Europe (today’s Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic), he visited over 40 cities. In June 1829, he came to the Polish territories, and performed in Poznań and Warsaw. During this trip, there was a very interesting violin ‘duel’ between him and the Polish violin virtuoso Karol Lipiński. The duel took place during the coronation ceremony of Tsar Nicholas I, during which both virtuosos performed.
These constant trips and numerous excesses undoubtedly ruined his health and contributed to his premature death. Throat cancer was devastating his body, and after 1834, he did not perform much. He returned to Parma, where he bought a house and started to reorganise the Archduchess’s court, but his plans failed due to protests by musicians and courtiers.
In the last years of his life, Paganini was depressed, lonely and very ill, as, in addition to other diseases, he developed tuberculosis. In search for health and warmth, he moved to Nice, where he died in 1840. He left a fortune, as well as 22 valuable instruments, including 11 Stradivari, two Amati and four Guarneri violins, to his sisters, his only son Achilles and his friend Antonia Bianchi.
Paganini was and still is the inspiration and motivation for many composers and musicians, including Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann, and in our times, Witold Lutosławski, John Dankworth and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Millions of music pieces were in some way inspired by him.
Paganini’s playing technique is still a mystery to this day. Many hypotheses were put forward to solve it. Doctors stated that he had a depressed collarbone, which allowed him to hold the violin better and his fingers were exceptionally long (it was supposed that he had Marfan’s syndrome, which is manifested by unnaturally long fingers). People talked about a different hand structure,
a different bow leading, and even conquests with the devil. At concerts, Paganini played only pieces composed by himself.
Nicolo Paganini’s biography was the basis for a feature film Paganini: The Devil’s Violinist, where the title role is played by a contemporary violin genius and a wonderful child David Garrett – a devilish violinist called ‘Paganini among pop stars’ or ‘Jimi Hendrix among violinists’. David Garrett’s biography is very similar to that of Paganini. Like Paganini, David Garrett also started playing at the age of 4 under the care of a despotic father, and at the age of 7, he already gave regular concerts. At the age of 13, he signed a contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label, and at the age of 14, he recorded all of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices. David Garrett feels great in the most intricate classical music compositions, which he often performs with the best orchestras and conductors around the world, as well as the rock hits that fans love. The musician combines virtuosity of playing, which is only possible for the most eminent instrumentalists, with the charisma of a rock star. His concerts gather thousands of admirers, and not only of classical music. He has already sold millions of tickets all over the world for his crossover music concerts. He has recorded 23 gold and 16 platinum records. The artist was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest and most accurate performance of Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov – it took him 66 seconds.
‘Capriccio No. 24’ by Niccolò Paganini, played by David Garrett accompanied by the Filarmonica de La Scala Milano orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Chailly
‘Capriccio No. 01, 05, 24’ by Niccolo Paganini, played by Itzhak Perlman, 1972
Portrait of young Niccolò Paganini, unknown author, France