paganini: the turning-point in the history of virtuosity -- 5/31/19

Today's selection -- from Stradivari's Genius by Toby Faber. The most acclaimed of all violinists, Nicolo Paganini:

"The names of violinists and cellists jump off the page in any musical history of the nineteenth cen­tury; only the quality of their compositions and the enthusiasm of contemporary reports now enable us to distinguish them. In the days before recording, appreciation of a performer could only be ephemeral. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that the name of Nicolo Paganini remains so resonant. The associa­tions -- feverish talent, technical brilliance, and dramatic ex­cess -- are as strong now as in the days when audiences believed him to be in league with the devil.

"Paganini was not the first traveling virtuoso, but he showed how profitable violin playing might be. No contemporary could match his combination of ability and chutzpah, and all successors have been condemned to undergo comparison with the great maestro. In Robert Schumann's memorable phrase, he was 'the turning-point in the history of virtuosity.' ...

Niccolò Paganini (1819), by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres 

"Paganini was introduced to music at the age of five, when he began to learn the mandolin from his father, a shipping agent in Genoa. Two years later he was taught the fundamentals of violin playing, and as he later said, 'within a few months I was able to play any music at sight.' Early lessons followed, and in 1793, at the age of eleven, Paganini gave his first public performance. Its success gave his father pause for thought. For the next six years he was to supervise his son closely, insisting on ten hours' daily practice around a schedule of lucrative concerts, first in Genoa and then further afield. Only when he was eighteen did the young virtuoso finally escape, following his elder brother to the Tuscan city of Lucca.

"Freed from parental control, Paganini embarked on a life of famous excess. As he later put it, 'When at last I was my own master I drew in the pleasures of life in deep draughts.' He would spend the next twenty-seven years in Italy, filling his life with music, love affairs, and gambling, interrupted by long peri­ods of utter exhaustion."



Toby Faber


Stradivari's Genius


Random House


Copyright 2004 by Toby Faber


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