Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Nicolo Paganini 1782 - 1840

1. Paganini
Portrait drawing of Nicolo Paganini by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, c. 1819.

Nicolo Paganini 1782 - 1840

1.   Portrait drawing of Nicolo Paganini (1782 - 1840) c. 1819 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (1780 - 1867).   Charcoal on paper, signed.  [Image in the public domain].


Ingres (1780 – 1867) was in Rome from 1805 until 1810, occupying a studio at the Villa Medici, with a regular stipend from Paris.  He remained in Rome after his stipend ceased and eked out a living making historical genre paintings.  Towards the end of the decade, Ingres had formed friendships with several musicians, including Paganini, and regularly played the violin with others who shared his enthusiasm for Mozart, Haydn, Gluck, and Beethoven.

Paganini's Compositions; A critical view.

The orchestral parts of Paganini's works are polite, unadventurous in scoring, and supportive. Critics of Paganini find his concerti long-winded and formulaic: one fast rondo finale could often be switched for another. During his public career, the violin parts of the concertos were kept secret. Paganini would rehearse his orchestra without ever playing the full violin solos. At his death, only two had been published. Paganini's heirs have cannily released his concertos one at a time, each given their second debut, over many years, at well-spaced intervals. There are now six Paganini violin concerti: the last two are missing their orchestral parts.

Paganini developed the set of concert variations for solo violin, characteristically taking a simple, apparently naive theme, and alternating lyrical variations with a ruminative, improvisatory character that depended for effect on the warmth of his phrasing, with bravura extravagances that left his audiences gasping. Paganini was one of the first superstars of public musical performances. As he became more and more famous, it was rumoured that he acquired his incredible virtuosity in a pact with the devil.

One of the best known of Paganini's compositions are the 24 Caprices, written around 1817 for solo violin. They are among the most technically difficult music ever written for the instrument, calling for a very wide range of bowing techniques, extremely wide left hand stretches, double stopped trills and harmonics and left hand pizzicati. The last of these pieces, in A minor, is a set of twelve variations, and many other composers have taken its theme as the basis for a set of variations of their own.

[Text based on biographical notes on Paganini.]

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2.  Delacroix
Portrait of Nicolo Paganini, 1831, by Eugène Delacroix

Nicolo Paganini 1782 - 1840

2.   Portrait of Nicolo Paganini, 1831, by Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863).  Oil on cardboard on wood panel, 45 x 30.4 cm, Original in the Phillips Collection Washington DC. [Image in the public domain]


Paganini: A newspaper review.

'Drury-Lane - Paganini':

'Paganini commenced a series of four concerts at Drury-lane on Wednesday evening. The house was fully attended, the pit and dress-circle particularly so. It was supposed some opposition would have been made to the Signor (we beg his pardon, the Baron, we mean) on his first appearance; some, there undoubtedly was, but it was confined to two or three individuals who hissed him at his entré, but this had only the effect of rendering the rest of the audience more enthusiastic than before in their approbation, and at the termination of the applause the disagreeable sounds were not repeated.

Paganini himself was evidently not unprepared for some discourteous treatment, for finding the audience so indulgent, his face brightened up, and a smile stole over his extraordinary countenance. His performances consisted, as on all occasions of his concerts in this country, of three pieces performed by him, one on the fourth string. He was rapturously applauded, and notwithstanding that certainly some late passages in his life - Paris and the English company there, we mean - had created a coolness of feeling towards him here, all vanished, when once he was heard Orpheusing on his magical instrument. The tone, the touch, the power to sway, the passions and feelings at will, the depth of harmony and the up-pouring, as from a well, of the rich tide of melody and music in its most ornate and scientific attainments, have been all narrated before. He was this evening, it was quite evident, put on his mettle and played as well as, if not better than, we ever remember to have heard him.

Who can describe Paganini? - only one who might accomplish what he can and has achieved it is competent thereto. The best description we can give of him is to recommend to all who can, to go and hear him which they may now do at the ordinary play-house prices.

The intervals between his performances were diversified with songs by Mr Templeton and Miss Lane, who sang on Wednesday evening two difficult pieces cleverly, the only fault we have to find with her being, that she once attempted too much, and very nearly failed.'

[From 'The News', No 1454, Sunday July 14, 1833.]

A playbill for a similar concert at Covent Garden in 1832 can be examined by following this LINK

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Paganini Anecdotes

Top ~ Macready on Paganini  ~  Paganini in Ayr and Kilmarnock  ~  Further Losses  ~  Paganini in London

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