The Life And Works Of Niccolo Paganini

Essay, Research Paper

By Nick Carroll

Let my work benefit all!

Again, to Pryor High School Students: Plagiarizing this would be dumb, because I can almost guarantee you will be caught!

Part I : The Life of Paganini

Niccolo Paganini was born in the town of Genoa, Italy, on October 27, 1782. Paganini had poor health which followed him his entire life. In fact, he was almost thrown away when he was four by his parents, who believed that he had been killed by disease. Only by chance someone heard him breathing, and he was nursed back to health (Great Composers 280-282).

When Niccolo was young, his merchant father gave him a mandolin to play on. After a few days he realized that his son possessed an amazing talent for the instrument. Eager to capitalize on his son?s talent, he sent him to study with Giovanni Servetto, and Giacoma Costa for instruction in the arts of composition and violin playing. His father was very insistent that Niccolo practice and was very strict with him (Milton Cross? 565-571).

He performed his first public recital at eight, playing a piano sonata written by himself. Later that year he performed another public recital, Pleyel?s Violin Concerto, which showed Paganini?s precociousness. In 1793 at age eleven, he performed a shocking and wonderfully difficult variation of La Carmagnole, which dazzled and delighted the townspeople he lived with. After that concert, there was no doubt to any of the townspeople that Paganini was going to be a great if not the greatest violinist up to that time (Great Composers 280-282).

After touring northern Italy, Paganini became financially strong enough to break the bonds of his father. For a while, Paganini?s main interest revolved around women and gambling (Great Composers 280-282). At one point he even lost his violin, which he would pawn often, in a bet. Soon after, however, he won a fine Guarnerius violin as a gift after a concert. Later he even won a Stradivarius over a bet that he could not play a particular music piece, even with preparation (Milton Cross? 565-571).

From 1800 to 1813, Paganini acquired much of his fame in the national level. From 1800 to 1803, he lived with a wealthy Tuscan lady and spent his time perfecting his tone and technical ability. At 1805, he was appointed Kappelmeister at Lucca by Napoleon?s sister. He stayed there until around 1813 when he made electrifying performance that easily won him the title of best violinist in Italy (Great Composers 280-282).

In 1824, Paganini married Antonia Bianchi, a singer. Together they had a son, and three years later they split up. At this time Paganini began to tour again with his first stop in Vienna. The people there adored him, naming foods, clothings, and even a billiard shot for him. Later in 1831, he toured London, Paris, and parts of Germany. The people were as equally in awe of him as his Viennese audience (Great Composers 280-282).

In 1839, Paganini?s poor health prompted him to move to Nice for a duration. By this time he had already lost his voice, and the local climate had done nothing except for irritate his condition. Finally on May 27, 1840, Paganini died of a larynx cancer (Great Composers 280-282).

Part II : The Man and his Music

Paganini made an imposing figure. He was just under five foot ten, with long arms and a lanky body. His cheeks were pale and sunken; his lips were thin and his dark eyes burned with a fearful intensity (Great Composers 280-282). Because he was such a dark looking figure, wild rumors persisted about him. It was widely believed that the devil was his father, and that he directed his son while on stage. Another rumor which haunted him was that he had killed a former mistress and used her entrails to fashion a G string for his violin. These rumors and the fact that Paganini refused the final sacrament helped him to be denied the privilege of burial on holy ground (Milton Cross? 565-571).

Paganini was a master entertainer. He prided himself on his astounding technical ability, and every piece he performed was written by himself to ensure that he showed off his dazzling agility. During one concert, he broke a vital string during a difficult passage and continued to successfully complete it. He never forgot how this awed the audience. As a result, he would play his violin using a few worn out strings in hopes that it would break so that he could show off (Milton Cross? 565-571).

As stated previously, Paganini wrote most of his music to show off his technical ability. His 24 Caprices for solo violin have defeated legions of violinists today. These and the Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by J.S. Bach represent the very spirit and ideal technical and tonal ability of violin playing today. The Caprices were written after Paganini found a set of caprices written by Pietro Locatteli. These newly discovered caprices opened Paganini?s mind to completely new areas of composition and playing (Mermelstein 5-6).

During their time the 24 Caprices and other Paganini works such as his three violin concertos caused quite a stir. Lizst, a composer of that era, worked even harder to promote muscular agility after hearing Paganini. Chopin and Schumann wrote piano studies wrote piano accompaniments for the Caprices, as well as piano etudes modeled after them. Brahms and Rachminov wrote pieces that using variations of Paganini?s 24th Caprice (Mermelstein 5-6). Berlioz was quoted as saying ?Paganini is one of those artists of whom it must be said : ?They are because they are and not before others were before them (Milton Cross? 565-571).??

Paganini was very serious about his composing. ? Composing is not as easy a task for me as you think.? he said. ?My great rule as an artist is to achieve unity in diversity, and that is very hard to achieve (Mermelstein, 1993).? Throughout his life, Paganini greatly impacted the music world both in the regions of technical ability and fresh new ideas of composition. Clearly Paganini has left a stamp on the musical world, and a legacy that every violinist struggles to attain.


?Niccolo Paganini.? Milton Cross? Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their

Music, Vol. II. 1996 ed. pp. 565-571.

?Niccolo Paganini.? Great Composers 1300-1900. 1966 ed. pp. 280-282.

Mermelstein, David. ?Niccolo Paganini.? Notes on the Music. USA : Angel Records, copyright 1993. pp. 5-6.



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