Nicolo Paganini

NiccoloPaganini.jpeg  Coal drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, c. 1819.

Nicolo Paganini is a violin virtuoso/composer that lived from 1782 to 1840.  During the course of his life he managed to challenge the standard for classical music at the time.  He and his ilk challenged the traditional methods for violin playing and teaching and along the way changed how the violin was to be played and defined thereafter.  His contributions to the music world are still being felt today.

Paganini had a pretty interesting life.  As an adolescent he traveled around Italy with his father to be taught by various violin masters.  Each one teaching him for a while and then passing him to the next as his skills had progressed past the each teacher himself.  After that phase he became a traveling musician and toured europe multiple times.  While touring Europe he happened to play for Elisa Baciocchi (Napolean’s sister).  She hired him to give her husband lessons and he ended up being a member of her court.  This only lasted a few years though before he moved on and went back to his traveling lifestyle.  *One interesting side note to Paganini’s abilities.  It has been said that his fingers were unnaturally long, giving him a advantage on the finger board of a violin.  Some contribute this to Paganini having some sort of physical condition, like Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.  You know the guy had to have had exceptional skills if people are willing to write off his abilities to having freakish hands.

While being an exceptional violinist himself Paganini also wrote music for other exceptional musicians.  One example of this would be his 24 caprices.  Even to this day it is a real feat for a violinist to master all 24.  I wasn’t till Itzhak Perlmen recorded them in 1972 that a definitive recording had been made of them, almost 150 years after Paganini’s death.  He also wrote a series of concertos which are also exceptional.  Although I’ve read that hardcore classical folk put them down for various reasons, pay no mind.  Granted they are a little more violin oriented then some other pieces but that’s obvious considering the source.  Unless you’re a classical fanatic yourself I think you’ll have a hard time finding flaws in them.  He didn’t stop at violin oriented music though.  He also wrote pieces for guitar as he was also a gifted guitar player but I think I speak for most people when I say the focus is on his violin music.

There are scores(pun intended) of Paganini recordings available.  If you look at a list of who has played his music it is quite litereally a who’s who of the present day classical world.  I’ve been told by a Paganini fanatic that Itzhak Perlman’s recordings of the caprices are great place to start if one were interested in Paganini’s music.  If you’d like to get into his concertos I was instructed to look for a recording made by Salvatore Accardo with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  Both of these recordings are easily attainable.

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