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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Paganini appeared in public again at Lucca


Death of Paganini]

[Sidenote: Foremost violin virtuoso]

[Sidenote: Genius and charlatan]

[Sidenote: Paganini's compositions]

The career of another striking figure of the Nineteenth Century was ended by the death of Paganini, the most remarkable of violin virtuosi. The son of a poor shopkeeper, with little musical knowledge, but of some proficiency on the mandolin, Paganini received an indifferent early schooling in music. After the boy had come under the tutelage of Costa, the orchestral leader of Genoa, his progress on the violin was rapid. At the age of eight he composed a violin sonata. Soon he surpassed his instructors. At sixteen he ran away from his father, after a concert at Lucca, and made a tour of his own through Italy. Already he was addicted to gambling and other forms of dissipation. At Leghorn he had to sell his violin to pay a gambling debt. A Frenchman, M. Levron, lent him his own Guarnero violin. When he heard him play on it he was so charmed that he made him a present of the instrument. Paganini kept the Guarnero throughout the rest of his life. It was the turning-point of his career. After two years of incessant practice, Paganini appeared in public again at Lucca, where he aroused unbounded enthusiasm by his novel performances on the G string. For the next twenty years he travelled and played throughout Italy, vanquishing

all rivals. His superstitious countrymen believed him to be in league with the Evil One, an impression which Paganini loved to confirm by dark utterances and eccentricities of dress. Not until 1828 did he leave his own country to gather foreign laurels. His first appearance at Vienna was an unprecedented triumph. The Emperor appointed him court violinist and the city of Vienna presented him with a gold medal. From there he made a triumphal tour through Europe, appearing in Berlin, Paris and London. He was acknowledged the most wonderful violinist that had ever been heard. He soon amassed a colossal fortune. Withal, Paganini was almost as much a charlatan as he was an original genius. He liked to impress his audiences by fantastic eccentricities and by mere tricks of legerdemain, such as dropping and catching his instrument, or breaking one string after another to finish his concert on one alone. Other tricks of virtuosity, such as tuning up the A string by a semi-tone, left hand pizzicato, or his double thirds, were executed with such stupendous technique that they held connoisseurs and amateurs spellbound. His individuality, in fact, was so abnormal that it rendered him unfit to play with others in quartets or other chamber music. As a man he had all the worst faults of a genius. The vast sums of money which he accumulated were gambled away. His whole life was disgraced by unbridled sensuality coupled with sordid avarice. This explains in a measure Paganini's inferior rank as a composer. Famous are his variations on the tune "God Save the King," his "Studies," his twenty variations on "Il Carnevale di Venezia," and the concert allegro "Perpetual Motion." The celebrated twenty-four violin capricci, written early in Paganini's career, have been rendered familiar by their transcriptions to the pianoforte by Schumann and Liszt. Paganini died from the results of dissipation. He left his famous Guarnero fiddle to his birthplace, Genoa.

[Sidenote: Frederick William IV. King of Prussia]

In Germany, King Frederick William III. of Prussia died in his sixty-sixth year. He was succeeded by Frederick William IV. The pending dispute between the Prussian Government and the Vatican, arising out of the refusal of the Rhenish priests to sanction marriages between Catholics and Protestants, found a temporary adjustment by the new king's concessions to the clergy.

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