Niccolo Paganini


Born in Genoa Italy (1782-1840), Niccolo Paganini heralded in a new age of musickal virtuosity. Widely respected even to this day as perhaps the greatest Violinist this world has ever created, paganini became a shining star and symbol of the Romantic era of musick.

The myths and legends surrounding this man were only surpassed by his talents, and in many ways went hand in hand. Tall and lanky, with coal black wavy hair which hung to his shoulders, piercing eyes, pale corpselike skin, and an awkwardness which oddly contrasted with his fluid playing style, Paganini's look was the very essence of a Satanic Magickian. Rumor had it that he stuffed his long black coat with sulpher in order to evoke the very scent of hell.

Like his peers before him; notably Beethoven and Mozart, Paganini was forced to practice long hours at the violin by his father and by the time he was 16 had already written his 24 caprices, his most famous surviving work. I say surviving because Paganini was very possesive of the techniques he had created and mastered, and only published a select few of his many compositions, jealously fearing that other, rival musickians would discover his secrets. That did not stop them from flooding into the halls he performed in, hungry eyes cast upon his violin, studying, learning from the master. Franz Liszt himself walked away from one performance realizing the age of the Virtuoso was upon him. As an aside, Liszt was quite the showman himself, bringing about not only a heightened level of playing mastery to the piano, but also responsible for turning the Piano on stage so that the audience could see his profile. Before him, most pianists either had their backs to the audience, or were hidden from view by the piano. He was also quite the ladies man, and many were the undergarments of his admirers that found their way on stage.

Learning early on the art of manipulting his audience, Paganini would astound the crowd with his tricks and evocations. Prefering to be on a stage only lit by candlelight -which only exaggerated the diabolical imagery of his awkwardness on stage, Paganini would play like a man possessed, which many thought he was saying that he had made a pact with the devil in exchange for his awe inspiring abilities. During the course of his playing, he would have a string break, and continue on with only 3 or even 2 strings (some say he filed his strings down beforehand in order to insure they broke while on stage). One of the highlights was his ability to weave amazing passages on just one string, after clipping what other strings remained with scissors.

Truly a Satanic individual, the rumors and tales surrounding him became legend. not only was it widely believed that he had made a pact with the devil ( who stood at his side when he played), but also that his strings were made from the intestines of his mistress, which he had supposedly murdered ( and spent 8 years in jail for! ). Sparks flew from his violin whenever he touched his bow to it. In Paris he was called 'Cagliostro', in Ireland they said he came ashore on the 'Flying Dutchman'.

Even death could not stem the rumors, for it is said that in the last hours of his life, he improvised feverishly, and after his death from illness and declining health, the townsfolk of Nice, Italy believed they heard the sounds of a ghostly violin emanate from his coffin late at night.


Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and their Music; Doubleday 1962
Billboard illustrated Encyclopedia of Classical Music; Billboard Books 2000
Music, Passion for an Art; Skira/Rizzoli 1991
Golden Encyclopedia of Music; Golden 1968
Great Composers, Great Artists; Buettner and Pauly 1992