Paganini, Classical and Gypsy Style


    Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840) was one of the most virtuoso of violinists (and also classical guitarists, apparently), whose compositions count amongst the most technically difficult, and awe inspiring. As he put it, ‘I bought the whole violin, I will use the whole violin‘.

    The rumour is that he sold his soul to play so well, but that would be difficult to reconcile with Pope Leo XII bestowing upon him, in 1827, the Order of the Golden Spur, for those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith, or who have contributed to the glory of the Church, either by feat of arms, by writings, or by other illustrious acts. Then again, he did have a reputation as a gambler and womanizer, eventually being diagnosed with syphilis – Paganini, that is, not the Pope. He delayed the last rites, thinking he wouldn’t die, and, wouldn’t you know, died without them – so we leave his soul to the mercy of God.

    Paganini was most renowned for his 24 caprices for the violin, ‘caprice’ being something done out of the blue, without cause, as in capricious. But these certainly have order, and have influenced composers and performers right up to the modern day. Here is Hilary Hahn performing the 24th caprice, in her own inimitable style, which Paganini would have much admired. I kept expecting her violin to catch fire. Ice those fingers! The purity of the notes, and those running double and triple (!) stops, as well as the staccatos! Quasi miraculis! Even through the less-than-ideal quality of this video, her gift, the fruit of hard work and discipline, shines through…

    And here is the same piece, done in gypsy jazz style – a term which may soon be cancelled, so enjoy while you might. Here, the violin, three guitars and, let us not forget the bass, bring out in the music what is latent therein: