CAMILLO SIVORI (1815 - 1894)
“Paganini reincarnated”, “Paganini, idem et alter”, and even “Paganini without the flaws” are just some of the enthusiastic phrases applied to Camillo Sivori by European music critics during the violinist’s lengthy tour of Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands between 1841 and 1845. During his travels he met the best-known composers of the day, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Berlioz, Spohr, and Thalberg, took part in hundreds of concerts, competed with other celebrated violinists, Bériot, Ernst, Ole Bull, Artôt, Alard, and Vieuxtemps, and confirmed his status as Paganini’s successor, at a time when memories of the great man, who had only died in 1840, were still very much alive in the musical world.
Sivori, in fact, could rightfully claim to be the “unique élève de Paganini” (Paganini’s only pupil). Like him, he had been born in Genoa (on 25 October 1815); he had studied with Paganini’s former teacher, Giacomo Costa, and later with his friend and disciple, Agostino Dellepiane and, most important of all, he had met the man himself and made such an impression that between October 1822 and May 1823 Paganini gave the young Sivori lessons. The great virtuoso wrote a number of pieces for his pupil, “to shape his spirit”, and even provided guitar accompaniment when Sivori gave private performances of these works. It was a relationship of almost parental affection and regard, as can be seen from the many mentions of “Camillino” to be found in his correspondence. When Paganini left Genoa, he continued to follow Sivori’s progress, recognising him as his student (“the only one who may call himself my pupil”, he wrote in 1828). Shortly before his death, he summoned Sivori and gave him a violin: a replica of his favourite Guarneri del Gesù, “Il Cannone”, made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. For their part, Sivori’s family fully encouraged their prodigy to follow in the Master’s footsteps, and he undertook his first European tour at the age of twelve (1827–28), performing in London, with Giuditta Pasti, and in Paris, where he met Rossini, Cherubini, Baillot and Kreutzer, as well as playing alongside the seventeen-year-old Liszt.
Sivori’s performing career lasted a good six decades, and his fame spread as far as the Americas: on tour between 1846 and 1850, he visited 67 North American cities, appearing on some occasions with the pianist Henri Herz, before travelling south to Cuba, Jamaica, Lima, Valparaíso, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. Once back in Europe, as a tireless “musical voyager”, he criss-crossed the continent from the hub of Paris, the city he had made his second home. He went to Spain and Portugal (1854–55), to Baden Baden and other summer haunts of the European aristocracy, and visited London many times (the last time in 1873), as well as making appearances in Germany (1863 and 1871–73) and Russia (1875–76). Considered “one of the most astonishing concert virtuosi” (Fétis), with a “prodigious command of difficulties” (Grove), he was fêted by Berlioz, Rossini and Mendelssohn, the last entrusting him in 1846 with the English première of his Violin Concerto, Op.64.
Sivori was not acclaimed only as a great virtuoso in the Paganini mould, however, but also as a talented interpreter of the Classical-Romantic repertoire, while it was still establishing itself. He had played chamber music since childhood, making his quartet début in 1834 in London, with the Queen Square Select Society. In 1843 he made a great impression in Paris, performing masterpieces by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and in 1845 and 1846 he returned to London to take part in the very first complete performance of Beethoven’s quartets, at the home of Thomas Alsager, together with Hill, Sainton and Rousselot. In Italy, meanwhile, he took an active rôle in the work done by various quartet societies with the aim of popularising instrumental music and, in 1876, Verdi invited him to perform in the Paris première of his E minor Quartet. Sivori was, then, a true virtuoso, cut from the same cloth as Paganini (held up by many as a matchless model). Yet he also proved himself to be a modern performer able to put himself entirely at the service of other people’s music. In his case an astonishing command of technique was not just a vehicle for beguiling audiences with breath-taking displays of virtuosity, but, when required, a tool of great musical intelligence. Sivori died in Genoa on 19 February 1894.
As a composer, Sivori wrote more than sixty works that inventively marry virtuosity and melodic beauty. They include two violin concertos (1839 and 1843), numerous fantasias and bravura variations, both on themes from well-known operas by Paisiello, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Gounod, and on traditional tunes, various transcriptions and reworkings, a number of highly melodic pieces and descriptive works, and the 12 Études-Caprices for solo violin, Op.25, the complete set of which are recorded here for the first time, and which were dedicated to Sivori’s friend the Belgian violinist Hubert Léonard.