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8.570487 - PAGANINI, N.: Violin Concerto No. 5 / I palpiti (Pochekin, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)

Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840)
Moto perpetuo • Violin Concerto No 5 in A minor • I palpiti


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 and his sombre clothing gave rise to legends of association with the Devil, the alleged source of his power. These stories 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 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 player Giacomo Costa, under whose tuition he gave a public performance in 1794. The following year he played to the violinist and teacher Alessandro Rollo in Parma, and on the latter’s suggestion studied composition there under Paer. After a return to Genoa and removal during the Napoleonic invasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he became violinist to the new ruler, the eccentric Princess Elisa Baciocchi, elder 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.

In 1824 Paganini had started a liaison with a young singer, Adriana Bianchi, who bore him a son, Achille, the following year, a child to whom Paganini became very attached. Adriana Bianchi, however, was a troublesome partner, jealous and unpredictable in her behaviour, while Paganini, twice her age, was increasingly subject to illness. In 1826 indisposition forced him to rest in Naples, where he wrote two concertos. It was only in January the following year that he was able to resume public performances. These continued, with appearances in Rome, Florence, Perugia and Leghorn, only to be interrupted by the need to look after Achillino, who had broken his leg and needed constant attention, and a recurrence of his own illness. In 1828 he accepted an earlier invitation from Prince Metternich to visit Vienna, where he gave fourteen lucrative concerts. Public enthusiasm, in which Schubert also joined, was enormous, starting a fashion for everything à la Paganini. In the summer of 1828 he was able to reach a settlement with Adriana Bianchi, paying her off to end a highly unsatisfactory relationship and retaining custody of his son. After Vienna he travelled through Germany and to Poland, winning particular success in Berlin and Warsaw. In August 1829 he reached Frankfurt and established a base for himself there for the next eighteen months of continued tours, during which he visited Leipzig, now agreeing to play there, after earlier disagreements, and played for Goethe in Weimar. The young Robert Schumann had heard Paganini play in Frankfurt in early April 1830, an experience to be reflected in his later music. There followed tours to Paris and, in May 1831, to Great Britain, where he gave 150 concerts in England, Scotland and Ireland over the following months. His international career as a virtuoso ended in 1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, he returned again to Italy, to Parma, invited by the Archduchess Marie Luise of Austria to re-organize the court orchestra. In 1837 he became involved in an unsuccessful and short-lived business venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which was intended to provide facilities equally for gambling and for music. From this and the continuing financial obligations that its failure brought, and with failing health, he took final refuge in Nice, where he died in May 1840.

Many of Paganini’s compositions for the violin remained unpublished in his lifetime, part of his stock-in-trade, to which he had exclusive access. His Moto perpetuo in C, Op 11, has been dated to 1835 and was published posthumously. The piece brings a characteristic display of Paganini’s virtuosity in its perpetual motion, a stream of semiquavers, leaving no pause for breath.

Paganini’s music for violin and orchestra includes six concertos. The fifth of these, the Violin Concerto No 5 in A minor, dates from about 1830. Only the violin part survives, and the work was completed by Federico Mompellio and given its first modern performance in 1959. In this version the concerto starts with an orchestral exposition, leading to the entry of the soloist with the expected technical display, culminating in a final cadenza. The slow movement starts in E minor, modulating to the major, and the final Rondo brings yet further technical bravura, including an arpeggiated trio section, completing a work that couples essentially operatic inspiration with demands for feats of virtuosity.

Rossini’s opera Tancredi, a Melodramma eroico, had its first performance in Venice in 1813. Based on a play by Voltaire and set in eleventh-century Syracuse, it deals with the secret return from exile of the knight Tancredi, a contralto rôle, and his clandestine romance with Amenaide, daughter of Argirio, who has promised her hand to another. Following Voltaire, the work’s happy ending was altered to a tragic conclusion in a subsequent staging. The opera includes the popular Di tanti palpiti (After such beating of the heart), after Tancredi has landed in Syracuse, first reproaching his country for ingratitude to him, and then turning his thoughts to his beloved Amenaide. Paganini’s Introduction and Variations on the theme ‘Di tanti palpiti’ from Rossini’s opera ‘Tancredi’, dates from 1819. The opening Adagio of Paganini’s Introduction leads to the theme. There follow three variations, the first with multiple stopping and artificial harmonics, with bowed staccato. The second variation makes considerable play with artificial harmonics, often with double stopping. The last of the three variations, marked Quasi presto, includes, among other examples of technical mastery, an extended use of left-hand pizzicato.

Keith Anderson

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