Saturday, July 14, 2012

Paganini: A Virtuoso Career

Niccolo Paganini (1782 - 1840) was certainly not the first virtuoso in music history, not even the first virtuoso violinist. He himself was inspired by the Italian baroque violinist Pietro Locatelli (1695 - 1764). Here is some music by Locatelli. From the 3:17 mark there is a large cadenza for unaccompanied violin that was the kind of passage that interested Paganini:

Paganini was both patient and diligent in planning his career. He spent nearly twenty years at home in Italy, composing concertos for violin and orchestra and caprices for solo violin and perfecting his technique. He constructed a nearly-daemonic public image, with a cadaverous appearance--"black romanticism" it is called. He both mesmerized and dominated an audience to a degree never before seen. In 1828 he went north and began a grand tour of Europe beginning in Vienna where he was heard with great admiration by Schubert. In Weimar, Goethe was astonished as was Robert Schumann in Frankfurt. In Paris he won the acclaim of both Berlioz and a very young Liszt, who was to model his own career after Paganini's. After only six years, the storm was over and a now-wealthy Paganini, plagued by ill-health, retired. Here is an example, the Caprice no. 13, called "The Devil's Laugh":

And here is the most famous Caprice, no. 24:

The direct historical descendant of this kind of virtuosity is someone like Steve Vai, in his famous guitar battle  with Ralph Maccio in the film Crossroads:

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