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Niccolo Paganini

Niccolo Paganini

The Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganin (1782-1840) inaugurated the century of the virtuoso and was its brightest star. He laid the foundation of modern violin technique.

Niccolo Paganini was born on Oct. 27, 1782, in Genoa of musically ambitious parents. At the age of 9 he made his debut playing to an enthusiastic audience his own variations on La Carmagnole. He studied with Giacomo Costa. When Niccolo was taken to the famous violinist Alessandro Rolla, the latter declared he had nothing to teach him. Nevertheless, Niccolo did study violin for a while, as well as composition and instrumentation. At the age of 14 he freed himself from his father.

Paganini's career was checkered: gambling, love affairs, rumors of his being in league with the devil, and rumors of imprisonment, which he frequently denied in letters to the press. In love with a Tuscan noblewoman, he retired to her palace, where he became completely absorbed in the guitar from 1801 to 1804. On returning to the violin he performed a love duet by using two strings of the violin and then surpassed this by playing a piece for the G string alone.

In 1816 Paganini appeared in a "contest" in Milan with Charles Philippe Lafont and later remarked, "Lafont probably surpassed me in tone but the applause which followed my efforts convinced me that I did not suffer by comparison." Paganini's success in Vienna in 1828 led to a cult in which everything was a la Paganini. Similar triumphs followed in Paris and London. In 1833 he invited Hector Berlioz to write a piece for him for the viola; Harold en Italie was the result. Paganini played frequent concerts for the relief of indigent artists. In 1836 he became involved in a Parisian gambling house; government interference led to bankruptcy and permanently damaged his health. He died on May 27, 1840, in Nice.

Even when Paganini was playing Mozart and Beethoven, he could not restrain himself from brilliant embellishments. The violinist made innovations in harmonics and pizzicato and revived the outmoded mistunings. Although he took a giant step forward in scope of technique, he paradoxically did this while holding the violin in the low 18th-century style and using a straight bow of the late Mozart period, which the Parisian violin maker Jean Baptiste Vuillaume persuaded him to give up. Although it is generally assumed that the modern technique is far "superior" to that of the 19th century, this is belied by the fact that many passages in Paganini are still scarcely playable.

Paganini's best pieces—Violin Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, the Witches' Dance, and the 24 Caprices—are firmly in the repertoire. Because he jealously guarded his technical secrets for fear they would be stolen, only his 24 Caprices and some music for guitar were published during his lifetime.

Further Reading

Important discussions in English of Paganini's music and playing are in E. van der Straeten, The History of the Violin (2 vols., 1933), and G. I. C. de Courcy, Paganini, the Genoese (2 vols., 1957).

Additional Sources

Casini, Claudio, Paganini, Milano: Electa, 1982.

Courcy, G. I. C. de (Geraldine I. C.), Paganini, the Genoese, New York: Da Capo Press, 1977, 1957.

Fetis, Francois-Joseph, Biographical notice of Nicolo Paganini: with an analysis of his compositions and a sketch of the history of the violin, New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Kendall, Alan, Paganini: a biography, London: Chappell: Elm Tree Books, 1982.

Prod'homme, J.-G. (Jacques-Gabriel), Nicolo Paganini: a biography, New York: AMS Press, 1976 1911.

Sugden, John, Niccolo Paganini, supreme violinist or devil's fiddler?, Speldhurst, Tunbridge Wells: Midas Books, 1980.

Sugden, John, Paganini, London; New York: Omnibus Press, 1986. □

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Paganini, Niccolò

Paganini, Niccolò (b Genoa, 1782; d Nice, 1840). It. violinist and composer. Regarded as greatest of all vn. virtuosos. Made first tour at 13 and comp. difficult pieces for himself to play. During a love affair in 1801–4 he took up the guitar, for which he composed 6 str. qts. with a guitar part, and other works. Returned to platform 1805 with sensational success. Dir. of mus. to Princess of Lucca 1805–9. Milan début 1813, Vienna 1828, Paris and London 1831. In Paris in 1833 commissioned va. conc. from Berlioz, the result being Harold en Italie, but he never played it. From 1834 he made few appearances: for some years he had been suffering from cancer of the larynx which killed him in 1840. He left a fortune and was generous to colleagues in need. Owned vns. by Stradivarius, Guarnerius, and Amati, also Stradivarius va. and db. His Mephistophelean appearance led to stories that his virtuosity stemmed from diabolical powers; he was a skilled showman and although his feats as a virtuoso are no longer regarded as unique or unapproachable, he pioneered the use of harmonics, tuned his instr. to obtain special effects, used several styles of bowing, and exploited staccato and pizzicato as never before. His intonation was unfailingly accurate. Works incl.:VN. CONCS.: No.1 in E♭ (usually played in D) (?1817), No.2 in B minor, with Rondo à la clochette (1826), No.3 in E major (1826), No.4 in D minor (1830), No.5 in A minor (1830), and the so-called No.6 in E minor (comp. c.1815) (and others lost).VN. AND ORCH.: Le Streghe (Witches' Dance) based on air by Süssmayer; Variations on God Save the King; Moto perpetuo, allegro de concert; Variations on Non più mesta (La Cenerentola); Variations on the air Di tanti palpiti (Tancredi).VC. AND ORCH.: Variations on Theme of Rossini for 2 vc.SOLO VN.: 24 Caprices (c.1805); Variations on Le Carnaval de Venise; Duo in C; Recitative and Variations on 3 airs for the 4th string.CHAMBER MUSIC: 12 sonatas for vn. and guitar; 6 qts. for vn., va., guitar, and vc.; vn. sonata with vn. and vc. acc.; Terzettos for vn., vc., guitar; 3 str. qts. (1800–5).

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"Paganini, Niccolò." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Paganini, Niccolò

Niccolò Paganini (nēkōlō´ pägänē´nē), 1782–1840, Italian violinist, whose virtuosity became a legend. He extended the compass of the violin by his use of harmonics, perfected the use of double and triple stops, and revived the practice of scordatura, the diverse tunings of the strings. Paganini made his debut as a child prodigy in 1793 at Genoa, his birthplace. In 1801 he retired to a villa in Tuscany and did not resume his concerts until 1805, when he became court violinist to the princess of Lucca. After he left (1813) her court, his success in Milan carried his fame throughout Europe. His retirement in 1835 was followed by the loss of his voice and, later, by death from cancer of the larynx. Paganini composed numerous pieces, most of them bravura variations for violin. Among the few compositions published during his lifetime are the 24 caprices for violin that were adapted for piano by both Schumann and Liszt.

See biographies by J. Pulver (1936, repr. 1970) and S. S. Stratton (1971).

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"Paganini, Niccolò." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Paganini, Niccolò." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paganini-niccolo

Paganini, Niccolò

Paganini, Niccolò (1782–1840) Italian violinist, the most famous virtuoso of his day. He enlarged the range of the violin by exploiting harmonics and mastered the art of playing double and triple stops (two or three notes at a time).

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"Paganini, Niccolò." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paganini-niccolo