Niccolo Paganini was a renowned Italian composer and violinist of the 19th century. A genius, non-conformist, eccentric, unruly vagabond, he left an irrefutable mark on the history of instrumental music. One cannot go through the history of virtuoso performers without reading about Niccolo Paganini. He was one of the greats and one of my favorite composers! A violinist, guitarist and composer.
Niccolo Paganini was one of the most celebrated and distinguished virtuosos of his time.
Niccolò Paganini (October 27, 1782 – May 27, 1840) left his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His 24 Caprices for Solo Violin Op. 1 are among the best known of his compositions and have served as an inspiration for many prominent composers.
Plagued throughout life by illnesses, partly from birth and partly due to his extravagant lifestyle, he still became an inspiration and motivation for many composers and musicians, including Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Robert Schumann.
The capability to transform his minuses into positives is exemplified in his three-octave finger stretch he played across all four strings on violin. This contributed in giving him a permanent place in the history of 19th century music.
Niccolò Paganini was born on 27 October 1782 in Genoa, at that time the capital of the Republic of Genoa. His father, Antonio Paganini, was an unsuccessful commercial broker involved in the shipping business. His mother’s name was Teresa (née Bocciardo) Paganini. Both parents were amateur musicians.
Niccolò, born third of his parents’ six children, was baptized on October 28th in Chiesa di San Salvatore in Piazza Sarzano. Among his surviving siblings were Biagio Paganini, Carlo Paganini and Teresa Bonati. Nothing is known about the other two.
A musician at the local orchestra quickly recognized Niccolò’s potential and started teaching him mandolin as soon as he was five and half years old. Niccolo’s mother, nurtured her son’s talent as best she could.
When Niccolò turned seven, his father started teaching him violin. Since Niccolo’s father was a mandolin player, he did not have much to offer to a genius like Niccolò. He took him to Giovanni Servetto, a violinist at the local orchestra, for further lessons. Very soon, Servetto realized his knowledge of music was not adequate for guiding such an extraordinary boy. He sent Niccolo to Francesco Gnecco, who in turn sent him to his own teacher, Giacomo Costa.
In 1793, within a period of six months, Niccolò received thirty lessons from Costa. Pleased with his progress, Costa invited him to play in several churches in Genoa. Niccolo Paganini’s first documented public appearance was at the Church of San Filippo Neri on May 26, 1794.
His second public performance was at the collegiate Church of Nostra Signora delleVigne on December 1, 1794 on the occasion of Saint Eligius’s Day. He received his first mention at Avviso, a hand-written journal of the day. He once again appeared at Church of San Filippo Neri in May 1795, receiving special mention in the May 30, 1795 issue of Avviso. It said that “a harmonious concert performed by a pleasant 12-year-old boy, Mr Niccolo Paganini, pupil of Mr. Giacomo Costa, Professor of Violin, concluded with universal admiration and approval”.
As his fame began to spread, his father became more and more strict, making him practice up to fifteen hours a day. If Anthony thought he had not practiced hard enough, he would make him practice more, withholding food. Niccolo withstood great physical and mental abuse from his father.
By early 1795, Niccolò Paganini had established himself as a renowned musician in his native city, generally playing his own compositions at the concerts. The musicians there had nothing else to teach him. Realizing this, his father decided to take him to Parma to study with Allessandro Rolla.
To go and stay at Parma, one needed money and the family had none. So Anthony had him practice more so that he could raise enough money at the benefit concert to be held at Teatro di Sant ‘Agostino on July 1795. The concert was a success, enabling father and son to leave for Parma in 1796.
On reaching Rolla’s home in Parma, they found the master sick in bed. Niccolò Paganini noticed Rolla’s violin and a composition lying nearby. Taking up the violin he began to play it. Rolla was overwhelmed by his performance and told the teenager he had nothing to offer. He suggested Paganini study composition with Ferdinando Paer and counterpoint with Gasparo Ghiretti.
For around six months, Paganini studied with Paer and Ghiretti. While he composed twenty-four figures for four hands, he composed a huge quantity of instrumental music. He gave a number of concerts, both at Parma and Colorno, earning fame and money.
The Paganini family returned to Genoa in late 1796. The city was under French control so his family moved to Romairone. Paganini was forced to spend quiet time, composing music and performing at local churches. Niccolo Paganini’s musical pieces were so difficult that only he could play them.
In 1796, Niccolo Paganini started spending more time with guitar; preferring to play the instrument in close quarters rather than in public concerts. In 1797, Paganini went on his first tour, giving around a dozen concerts at Milan, Bogona, Florence, Pisa and Leghorn.
In spite of his success, his father continued to control his life with an iron hand, making him practice his own compositions, often ten hours a day. Breaking free from his father, 1801, Niccolo visited Lucca, with his elder brother Carlo
In Lucca, he played at the Festival of Santa Croce, on September 14, 1801. He now settled down in Lucca, being appointed first violin of the Republic of Lucca in the following year.
Niccolo Paganini continued to compose; starting his work on ‘24 Caprices for Solo Violin’ sometime in 1802. Being away from parental scrutiny, he developed many vices such as gambling, drinking and womanizing.
In 1805, Napoleon’s sister, Maria Anna Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi Levoy, became the Princess of Lucca. In the same year, she appointed Paganini as the Second Court violinist and also the violin tutor to her husband Felice Pasquale Baciocchi Levoy.
While under the employment of the Princess of Lucca, he composed a significant amount of chamber music. Most notable among them were his sonatas, especially the Napoleon Sonata. Apart from that, he composed quarters for strings and guitars. ‘Duetto Amoroso’ was another important work of this period.
Towards the end of 1809, after a tiff with the Grand Duchess, Niccolo Paganini left Florence to embark on a freelance career. He traveled around Genoa and Parma, recognized as a virtuoso by the local audience. He remained unknown elsewhere.
His first big break came on October 29, 1813. He gave his first recital at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It was huge success, attracting the attention of prominent musicians in Europe. Within a period of ten weeks, he gave six more concerts at the same auditorium.
Niccolo Paganini was soon considered the foremost violinist in Europe, giving more than a hundred concerts in different Italian cities like Genoa, Parma, Florence, Turin, Naples, Bologna, Venice and Rome. This was also the period he incurred different diseases due to his undisciplined life. He was very ill.
In 1828, Paganini first went on an all-Europe tour. Starting with 14 concerts in Vienna, he stopped at every important city in Germany, Poland and Bohemia, finally settling down in Strasbourg, where he remained until 1831. His success led to a formation of a cult, where everything was ‘a la Paganini’.
In 1832, he visited Great Britain, touring England and Scotland, earning huge amounts of money. In 1833, he settled in Paris, remaining there until September 1834. During this period he started suffering from different ailments, leading to frequent cancellation of concerts, hurting his career.
In September 1834, he returned to Genoa, where he started work on publishing his compositions. He also appeared in a number of concerts, playing for the first time at Teatro Carlo Felice on November 30, 1834. It was a tremendous.
Paganini remained in Genoa until 1836, thereafter moving to Paris to set up a casino. It was an immediate failure, forcing him to auction even his musical instruments. In December 1838, he left Paris to spend his last years in Nice.
It is believed that Niccolo Paganini suffered from genetic disorders like Marfan or Ehlers–Danlos syndrome. His appearance, along with expertise in music, gave rise to the rumor he was associated with the devil and could play so well only because he had a pact with him.
Although Niccolo Paganini never married, he had number of love affairs. Among them, his affair with Angiolina Cavanna, produced a stillborn daughter.
Paganini also had a long lasting live-in relationship with dancer Antonia Bianchi. The two met in Milan in 1813, living together until he went on his European tour in 1828.
Paganini and Bianchi’s only child, a son named Achilles Cyrus Alexander, was born out of wedlock on July 23, 1825 in Palermo. Paganini had a close relationship with his son, taking him on his European tours and leaving him as his main heir.
From childhood, Paganini suffered from chronic illness, which was aggravated by his early practice schedule, frequent concerts and undisciplined lifestyle. As early as 1822, he was inflicted with syphilis. In 1834, he was afflicted with tuberculosis, losing his voice in 1838.
In 1838, Paganini moved to Nice, where his condition further deteriorated. On May 20, 1840, the Bishop of Nice sent the local parish priest to perform the sacrament. Believing he would live, Paganini refused it. But he died suddenly from internal hemorrhaging on 27 May 1840 without receiving the last rites.
After his death, the Church denied his body a Catholic burial in Genoa because of his refusal to accept the sacrament and his alleged association with devil. After repeated requests by his son, Niccolo Paganini’s remains were transported to Genoa four years later, without burial.
In 1876, his body was finally laid to rest in Parma. A monument was later built for him there.
Niccolo Paganini is best remembered for his ‘24 Caprices for Solo Violin Op 1’, which he wrote in three groups, between 1802 and 1817. They are in the form of études, with each number exploring a single facet of technique. Commissioned by the City of Genoa, the work was first published in 1982 on the occasion of his bicentenary.
1. In the Footsteps of his Father
While Niccolò Paganini’s father – Antonio Paganini – was not successful as a merchant, he was quite the mandolin player. In fact, he managed to supplement his household income by playing the instrument at local salons. That’s how Niccolò picked up the trade, starting off with mandolin and quickly switching to his favorite, the violin by age 7. Niccolò’s prowess as a budding violinist was so alluring that he garnered several different scholarships for violin lessons.
2. Debut at a Tender Age of 9
At the age of 9, Niccolò Paganini made his debut in the world of violin. The genius wowed an enthusiastic audience with his own version of La Carmagnole. The composer de-shackled himself from his strict father at the age of 14!
3. Guitar: His “Constant Companion”
After the French attacked his town Genoa, the Paganini family fled to Romairone where Niccolò became fond of the guitar. While he later described it as his go-to “companion” on tour, he preferred to play the guitar in private concerts. It’s no wonder he isn’t known well for being a guitarist.
4. The Dark Side of Niccolò
His reputation as violin virtuoso was rivaled only by his fame as a womanizer and ardent gambler. Apparently, Niccolò gambled so much that it wiped almost all his fortune. His gambling habits ruined him financially and was too broke to buy a violin!
5. Son of the Devil?
Niccolò Paganini, now thought by most people to be the greatest violin prodigy ever to live, was so remarkably good that many thought he’d traded his soul for the talent. RIDICULOUS! In fact, some people went ahead to christen him “the Son of the Devil!” But that wasn’t all. At one time, Niccolò was forced to publish his mother’s letters to prove that he was indeed human. It couldn’t possibly be that he had natural talent, given by God, which he practiced 15 hours a day! See how people are?!
6. Paganini’s Caprice. 24: Not for Everyone
Widely considered one of the most popular pieces of violin compositions, Caprice No. 24 is Paganini’s final caprice of his 24 Caprices. It comprises a fantastic theme, often played in A minor, and comes with eleven variations as well as a finale. It’s not surprising that the solo violin work is considered one of the most difficult in history. Unless you’ve mastered high-level violin techniques like rapid shifting, parallel octaves, arpeggios, and incredibly fast scales, Caprice No. 24 is not for you.
7. Marfan Syndrome: A Big Plus?
It was thought that the devil’s violinist, Paganini, suffered from a strange disorder, the Marfan Syndrome. True or not, Paganini had incredibly strong and long fingers that explained why he was extraordinarily agile and good at playing the violin. Rumor has it the musician could bend his finger at 90 degrees to the rest of his hand. Apparently, he snapped a saucer in half once using only his forefinger and thumb.
8. Paganini’s Character: A Darling of the Film Industry
The tumultuous lifestyle, prowess as a violin virtuoso, and mystery surrounding his life have made Paganini a film producer’s favorite. He has been portrayed by a slew of top-notch actors in the movie and TV productions. The most prominent ones include Roxy Roth in A Song to Remember; Stewart Granger in The Magic Bow – a 1946 biographical documentary about Paganini; David Garrett in The Devil’s Violinist, a 2013 biography; and, Klaus Kinski in Kinski Paganini, a 1989 film. Then of course there is the popular film, Crossroads, starring Steve Vai and Ralph Macchio. The end of the film features a guitar duel where Ralph Macchio performs Niccolo Paganini’s caprice no. 5.
Thanks for reading! Follow my blog here.
GEAR I USE:
Marshall Code 50-50 watt 1×12″ guitar amp: https://amzn.to/2GmCVVI
Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas guitar blue frost: https://amzn.to/2Dp9fU0
PANASONIC LUMIX GX85 Camera: https://amzn.to/2wJHNjK
Panasonic 25mm F1.7 prime lens: https://amzn.to/2wwN5ix
Panasonic GX85 Batteries: https://amzn.to/2Ksac00
GoPro suction cup mount for car: https://amzn.to/2Ajbryb
GoPro gooseneck mount: https://amzn.to/2uUECmg
Shure mv88 microphone: https://amzn.to/2WP78lw
Canon XA11 Pro Camcorder: https://amzn.to/2rNMUK1
iPad Pro 10.5: https://amzn.to/2O1q5gz
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB Tripod: https://amzn.to/2IxYQq4
Fovitec Green / Blue backdrop screen: https://amzn.to/2IrDcbK
Fovitec Black/ White backdrop screen: https://amzn.to/2rTu18T
Blue Yeti USB Microphone: https://amzn.to/2JWT2vt
Sennheiser HD 380 PRO Headphones: https://amzn.to/2K3hiLT
Professional Grade Lavalier Lapel Microphone https://amzn.to/2lZhGNB
Y-Connector Audio Splitter for Lavalier Microphone https://amzn.to/2J1UwPU
Headphone Jack Adapter Lightning Connector https://amzn.to/2udGjtM
MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: STEVE ROTTER: youtube.com/c/RotterStudios
I’m a GUITAR PLAYER. Check out my music and purchase here:
ON iTunes: WRAITH https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wraith/139284491
MIME RIOT https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fear-ep/793322130
I’m a video editor of 25 years, audio engineer 20 years, photographer 25 years and guitarist 20 years. I post photography and stop motion animation videos, but mainly guitar playing.