Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840) is known as the greatest virtuoso of all time, but what of the composer? There are those who still dismiss his music as nothing more than a series of lightweight vehicles for his own diabolical antics.
Life and Music
Niccolò Paganini was born into a relatively humble Genoese family.
His father taught him the mandolin and violin, and then spent what little spare money he had on private violin lessons for him, ensuring a strict regime of 12 hours-a-day practice.
In 1801 Paganini journeyed to Lucca in Tuscany. Throughout this period he toured Italy, leaving audiences quivering in the wake of his prodigious talent.
It was not until March 1828 that the 45-year-old composer made his first professional appearance outside Italy. The Viennese audience on that memorable night was so awe-struck that he was promptly awarded the medal of St Salvator, and the title of 'court virtuoso'.
In 1831 Paganini moved on to Paris, where the audience was so roused by his superhuman abilities and unearthly, pale appearance that pandemonium broke out in the concert hall.
Fuelled by constant unfounded rumours that he had murdered a mistress, Paganini enjoyed a wave of popstar-style adulation for a period of four years, during which he toured Europe.
By the mid-1830s Paganini's technical ability had begun to fail him. This was largely brought about by failing health, including a breathing disorder and cancer of the larynx, which left him unable to speak during his last three years.
Paganini began planning a new violin method which he claimed would go beyond anything he had so far accomplished, but it was not to be. Having constantly refused the ministrations of a local priest, Paganini died on 27 May 1840.
Did you know?
Paganini made and spent a fortune, mostly on gambling, so that at one point he was forced to pawn his violin.