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8.550759 - PAGANINI: Music for Violin and Guitar, Vol. 2
Nicolo Paganini (1782 - 1840)
Paganini's popular reputation rested always on his phenomenal technique as a violinist, coupled with a showman's ability to dominate an audience and to stupefy those who heard him by astonishing feats of virtuosity. His playing served as an inspiration to other performers in the nineteenth century, suggesting to Chopin, in Warsaw, the piano Etudes, and to Liszt the material of the Paganini studies that he wrote in 1838. The very appearance of Paganini impressed people. His gaunt aquiline features, his suggestion of hunched shoulders, his sombre clothing, gave rise to legends of association with the Devil, the alleged source of his power, an association supported by the frequent appearance by his side on his travels of his secretary, one Harris, thought by some to be a familiar spirit or a Mephistopheles watching over his Faust. Stories of a pact with the Devil were denied by Paganini himself, who, with characteristic understanding of the value of public relations in a more credulous age, told of an angelic visitation to his mother, in a dream, foretelling his birth and his genius.
Paganini was born in Genoa in 1782 and was taught the violin first by his father, an amateur, and then by a violinist in the theatre orchestra and by the better known violinist Giacomo Costa, under whose tuition he gave a public performance in 1794. The following year he played to the violinist and teacher Alessandro Rolla in Parma, and on the latter's suggestion studied Composition there under Paer. After are turn to Genoa and removal during the Napoleonic invasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he became solo violinist to the new ruler, Princess Elisa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon. At the end of 1809 he left, to travel during the next eighteen years throughout Italy, winning a very considerable popular reputation. It was not until1828 that he made his first concert-tour abroad, visiting Vienna, Prague and then the major cities of Germany, followed by Paris and London in 1831. His international career as a virtuoso ended in 1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, he returned again to Italy, to Parma. A return to the concert-hall in Nice and then, with considerable success, in Marseilles, was followed by an unsuccessful business venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which was intended to provide facilities equally for gambling and for music. With increasing ill health, he retired to Nice, where he died in 1840.
Although he is popularly known principally for his violin music, Paganini wrote a large number of compositions for the guitar, an instrument of which he also demonstrated mastery. He left no less than 140 shorter pieces for guitar, 28 duos for violin and guitar, with four trios and nine quartets that make use of the instrument. He had had some familiarity with the instrument as a child in Genoa. When in 1801 he finally gained freedom from his family and established himself in Lucca, according to later legend he fell in love with a woman known to us only as Dida, whose identity is unknown but whose connection with Paganini is attested by dedications of some of his later compositions using guitar. These early years in Lucca were subsequently the subject of gossip, with speculation as to the nature of the affair in which Paganini was involved, or even suggestions that he had spent time, some eight years, in prison for the murder either of his mistress or of his rival in love. These rumours Paganini later took the trouble to deny. Whatever amorous intrigues had occupied him in Lucca, it seems that he devoted some attention to the guitar as well as to the violin, his technique of left-hand pizzicato in the latter to some extent suggested by the technique of the guitar.
Paganini's Sonata per la gran viola was originally conceived for viola and orchestra, but the composer himself arranged it for viola and guitar. In 1831 he acquired a Stradivarius viola and it was for this instrument that he commissioned a concerto from Berlioz, a request that brought Harold in Italy, a work that hardly suited Paganini's purpose. There is an operatic introduction to the sonata of great initial dramatic effect, melting into a more romantic mood. The final set of variations gives scope for the use of harmonics and for a further display of Paganini's gift for apparently simple and attractive melody.
The Duetto amoroso is thought to have been written in 1807. It has a clear programme - Beginning (Principio), Request (Preghiera), Consent (Acconsentito), Timidity (Timidezza), Pleasure (Contentezza), Quarrel (Lite), Peace (Pace), Signs of Love (Segnali d'amore), Notice of Parting (Notizia della partenza), Separation (Distacco). It seems to have been designed for performance at a court concert in Lucca, and was possibly directed towards Princess Elisa Baciocchi herself.
The six sonatas of Opus 2 belong to Paganini's earlier years in Lucca and were dedicated to Signor delle Piane. Like the later set of six sonatas that make up Opus 3, each sonata is in two movements, the first generally slower and often making use of dramatic devices typical of contemporary opera. The second movement, which sometimes gives scope for virtuoso display, forms a lively contrast, often in perky dotted rhythms. The sonatas are followed by a Cantabile and Waltz written in 1823 or 1824 and dedicated Al bravo ragazzino Sig. Camillo Sivori in a manuscript that gives some help with the desired fingering. Sivori, a protege of Paganini, made a significant name for himself as a violinist in a career that obviously owed much to the example of the older player. The Variazioni di bravura treat the best known of all Paganini's work, the 24th Capriccio for violin solo, a thematic variation source for Brahms, Rachmaninov and others.
Scott St. John
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