Legendary Violinists back to intro
Niccolo Paganini Niccolo Paganini

Birth: October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Italy

Death: May 27, 1840 in Nice

Nationality: Italian

Occupation: violinist

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Paganini, Niccolò, legendary Italian violinist; b. Genoa, Oct. 27, 1782; d. Nice, May 27, 1840.

His father, a poor dockworker, gave him his first lessons on the mandolin and violin, after which he studied with Giovanni Servetto, a violinist in the theater orchestra. By this time the young Paganini was already composing; he also began to study harmony with Francesco Gnecco, and subsequently studied violin with Giacomo Costa, who arranged for him to play in local churches. His first documented public appearance took place at the church of S. Filippo Neri on May 26, 1794. It was about this time that he was indelibly impressed by the Franco-Polish violin virtuoso Auguste Frédéric Durand (later billed as Duranowski), who was a brilliant showman. Having made phenomenal progress in his studies, he was sent to Parma in 1795 to study with Alessandro Rolla. To defray the costs of the journey, he gave a special concert on July 31, 1795. Upon his arrival in Parma, Rolla is reported to have told him that there was nothing left to teach him and suggested that he study composition with Paër instead. Paër, in turn, sent him to his own teacher, Gasparo Ghiretti. After study with both Ghiretti and Paër, Paganini returned to Genoa (1796), appearing as a violinist in private performances. With Napoleon's invasion of Italy, the family moved to Ramairone. By 1800 he was with his father in Livorno, where he gave concerts; he also appeared in Modena. They returned to Genoa in 1801; that same year, in the company of his older brother Carlo, who was also a violinist, he went to Lucca to play at the Festival of Santa Croce. His appearance there on Sept. 14, 1801, was a brilliant success. He settled there, becoming concertmaster of the National Orchestra.

As a soloist, Paganini captivated his auditors by his pyrotechnics. During an engagement in Livorno he so impressed a wealthy French merchant that he was rewarded with a valuable violin. With the arrival of Princess Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleon, as ruler of Lucca (1805), musical life there was reorganized. The 2 major orchestras were dissolved and replaced by a chamber orchestra. Paganini was retained as 2nd violinist, and then was made solo court violinist (1807). After the chamber orchestra itself was dissolved (Jan. 1, 1808), he played in the court string quartet and also served as violin teacher to Prince Felix Baciocchi. Dissastisfied with his position, he broke with the court in Dec. 1809 and pursued a career as a virtuoso. He came to national prominence in 1813 with a series of sensationally successful concerts in Milan. He subsequently toured throughout Italy, his renown growing from year to year and his vast technical resources maturing and augmenting such that he easily displaced the would-be rivals Lafont in Milan (1816) and Lipinski in Piacenza (1818). In 1824 he met the singer Antonia Bianchi, who became his mistress; she bore him a son, Achilles, in 1825, whom Paganini had legitimized in 1837. In 1827 he was made a Knight of the Golden Spur by Pope Leo XII. When he left Italy for his 1st tour abroad in 1828, he immediately gained a triumph with his opening concert in Vienna (March 29). He gave 14 concerts during his stay in Vienna, and was accorded the honorary title of chamber virtuoso by the Emperor and presented with the city's medal of St. Salvator. He made his first appearance in Berlin on March 4, 1829. He also played in Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt, Mannheim, and Leipzig. In 1831 he made his Paris (March 9) and London (June 3) debuts. He subsequently gave concerts throughout Great Britain (1831-33).

Paganini's artistic fortunes began to decline in 1834; his long-precarious health was ruined, but he had managed to retain his fame and considerable wealth. He continued to give sporadic concerts in subsequent years, but he spent most of his time at his villa in Parma, making occasional visits to Paris. A critical illness in Oct. 1838 led to the loss of his voice; in Nov. 1839 he went to Nice for his health, and died there the following spring.

Paganini's stupendous technique, power, and control, as well as his romantic passion and intense energy, made him the marvel of his time. He also was not above employing certain tricks of virtuosity, such as tuning up the A string of his violin by a semitone or playing the "Witches" Dance" on one string after severing the other 3 on stage, in sight of his audience, with a pair of scissors. He was also a highly effective composer for the violin, and gave regular performances of his works at his concerts with great success. Outstanding among his compositions are the 24 "Caprices" for Solo Violin, the "Moto perpetuo" for Violin and Orchestra, and several of the violin concertos. His collected works are being published in an EDIZIONE NAZIONALE, ed. by L. Ronga et al. (1976-). See also M. Moretti and A. Sorento, CATALOGO TEMATICO DELLE MUSICHE DI NICCOLÒ PAGANINI (1983). Paganini prepared a brief autobiography, which was published in the ALLGEMEINE MUSIKALISCHE ZEITUNG, XXXII (1830). His letters were ed. by E. Neill (Genoa, 1982).

Further Readings
Valuable information may be found in QUADERNO DELL'ISTITUTO DI STUDI P.ANI (1972-); see also K. Guhr, ÜBER P.S KUNST, DIE VIOLINE ZU SPIELEN (Mainz, 1830; Eng. tr. by S. Novello, 1831); G. Imbert de Laphalèque, NOTICE SUR LE CÉLÈBRE VIOLONISTE N. P. (Paris, 1830); J. Schottky, P.S LEBEN UND TREIBEN ALS KÜNSTLER UND ALS MENSCH (Prague and Hamburg, 1830; 2nd ed., 1909); F. Schütz, LEBEN, CHARAKTER UND KUNST DES RITTERS N. P. (Ilmenau, 1830); G. Conestabile, VITA DI N. P. (Perugia, 1851; 2nd ed., rev., 1936, by F. Mompellio); F.-J. Fétis, NOTICE BIOGRAPHIQUE SUR N. P. (Paris, 1851; Eng. tr., 1852; 2nd ed., 1876); O. Bruni, N. P., RACCONTO STORICO (Florence, 1873; new ed., 1903); J.-G. Prod'homme, P. (Paris, 1907; Eng. tr., 1911; 2nd French ed., 1927); S. Stratton, N. P.: HIS LIFE AND WORK (London, 1907); A. Bonaventura, P. (Modena, 1911; 4th ed., 1939); J. Kapp, N. P. (Berlin, 1913; 15th ed., rev., 1969); E. Istel, N. P. (Leipzig, 1919); J. Siber, P. (Berlin, 1920); L. Day, P. OF GENOA (N.Y., 1929); A. Günther, P. IN LUCCA (Munich, 1929); A. Montanelli, P. A FORLÌ (Forlì, 1930); A. Codignola, P. INTIMO (Genoa, 1935); J. Pulver, P., THE ROMANTIC VIRTUOSO (London, 1936); R. de Saussine, P. LE MAGICIEN (Paris, 1938; Eng. tr., 1954); I. Pizzetti, N. P. (Turin, 1940); M. Tibaldi Chiesa, P.: LA VITA E L'OPERA (Milan, 1940; 2nd ed., 1944); N. Podenzani, IL ROMANZO DI N. P. (Milan, 1944); H. Spivacke, P.ANA (Washington, D.C., 1945); T. Valensi, P. (Nice, 1950); G. de Courcy, P.: THE GENOESE (2 vols., Norman, Okla., 1957; 2nd ed., rev., 1977); R. de Saussine, P. (Milan, 1958); A. Armando, P.: EINE BIOGRAPHIE (Hamburg, 1960); A. Codignola, ARTE E MAGIO DI N. P. (Milan, 1960); D. Botti, P. E PARMA (Parma, 1961); G. de Courcy, CHRONOLOGY OF N. P.'S LIFE (Wiesbaden, 1961); P. Berri, P.: DOCUMENTI E TESTIMONIANZE (Genoa, 1962); A. Kendall, P. (London, 1982); J. Sugden, P. (N.Y., 1982; 2nd ed., rev., 1986); X. Rey, N. P.: LE ROMTIQUE ITALIEN (Paris, 1999).

Source: "Niccolo Paganini." BAKER'S BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF MUSICIANS®, Centennial Edition. Nicolas Slonimsky, Editor Emeritus. Schirmer, 2001. Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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