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Nicolo Paganini: His Life and Work by Stratton

When Apollinaire de Kontski died


Bohemian violinist, Joseph Slavik, appeared at Vienna in 1826, when he was twenty years of age. Moscheles heard him play, and said he was considered in Vienna as the second Paganini. Of course that was hearsay; _the_ Paganini had not then been heard outside Italy. When Paganini was in Vienna, in 1828, he become acquainted with young Slavik, and held him in affectionate regard. At all hours the young student had access to the idol of his worship, and received many valuable hints and ideas upon fingering, etc., and friendly encouragement to pursue his daring course with unwearying application. He spent two years in retirement, zealously studying the Paganini method, and when he reappeared in Vienna, he was spoken of as no petty imitator, but a second original. A contemporary notice, comparing Slavik with Paganini, states:--"The only difference between the two at present is, that the pupil, carried away by the ardour of youth, often suffers himself to be seduced into the most gigantic attempts, the success of which on every occasion no mortal can with certainty rely upon; while the other, possessing the plaintive and deeply pathetic tones of a singer, at the same time resembles a consummate piece of musical mechanism, which accomplishes the most extraordinary feats quietly and without effort." Slavik died at Pesth, in 1833, at the early age of twenty-seven; what he might have become his actual achievements plainly indicated.

In his later years,

Paganini appears to have had great delight in listening to young artists. In 1836, Antonio Bazzini, then a youth of eighteen, played to Paganini, who was enraptured with his performance. A year later, in Paris, Paganini heard a much younger violinist, the boy Apollinaire de Kontski, and actually went so far as to give him a testimonial. Articles in the musical dictionaries all state that Paganini gave some lessons to the child; some say that the friendship between the two resulted in Paganini bequeathing to De Kontski his violins and compositions. Grove, in quoting Mendel, says this statement requires confirmation. When Apollinaire de Kontski died, in 1879, nothing, so far as I have been able to ascertain, transpired concerning the alleged bequest. But the testimonial seems to have escaped the notice of dictionary compilers, so, as a curiosity, I reproduce it from the _Musical World_, of June 21st, 1838:--

"Having heard M. de Kontski, aged eleven years, perform several pieces of music on the violin, and having found him worthy of being ranked among the most celebrated artists of the present day, permit me to say, that if he continues his studies in this fine art, he will, in course of time, surpass the most distinguished performers of the age.

(Signed) PAGANINI."

But if Paganini was fond of hearing and encouraging other artists, he was averse to anything like competitive display. When he met Lafont at Milan in 1816, as already related, he played at the concert given by that artist. The function came to be regarded as a contest, and an account of it appears in Laphaleque's pamphlet. Some paper, early in 1830, having quoted this notice, Lafont wrote a letter of protest, which is interesting enough to reproduce in part. He wrote:--

"Sir, I have just read, in your journal of the 2nd of Feb., an extract from the Notice published on the celebrated violinist, Paganini. As this notice contains statements utterly erroneous, as regards me, I owe it to truth, to the advice of my friends, and to the favour with which the public has been pleased to honour me during twenty-five years, to give an exact statement of the facts of the case. The following is a narration of what occurred. In the month of March, 1816, I gave in conjunction with M. Paganini, a concert in the great theatre, La Scala, at Milan, and, far from making a cruel trial of the powers of my adversary, or of being beaten by him, as is pretended by the author of the Notice, I obtained a success the more flattering, as I was a stranger in the country and had no other support than my talent.

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