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He has come to be the personification of the instrument, the most famous violin player ever, during his life up to our times, thanks to his exceptional virtuoso playing and his personality. He composed a lot of music with guitar for his friends, amateur players, and used to play with them. These are the very interesting and original works for viola that Paganini wrote.
Serenata, for viola, cello and guitar, written before Quartet n. Paganini was famous for his prodigious technique, leading some people to say he had done a pact with the devil, but in his time he was also greatly appreciated for his singing, cantabile tone, showing also a clear influence from the Italian opera style. He was very interested in exploring the possibilities of producing new sounds and tone colours on the violin. He often used the scordatura , double harmonics and left hand pizzicato.
In his concertos the strings in the orchestra often play pizzicato to accompany the solo violin and the solo viola, too. At twelve he had already given several concerts in local churches and composed the Carmagnola, as set of variations on a French revolutionary song.
He was advised to study with Alessandro Rolla , leader at the Ducale theatre in Parma, violin and viola virtuoso, who very likely made him aware of the possibilities of viola playing, and who had already been employing some of the new tricks that Paganini will use more extensively, such as left-hand pizzicato, chromatic ascending and descending scales, the use of very high positions on violin and viola, octave passages.
From to he was in Lucca, in Tuscany, giving several very well received concerts, although in one he was criticised for having played jokes in his performance, such as imitating cries of animals and other strange sounds.
From he played in the orchestra there and composed several works, including the sonata Napoleone, for violin and orchestra to be played all on the G string tuned up to Bb. Italian tours From Paganini began his life as an independent solo concert performer. Till he did several tours of Italy, including Milan, Genoa, Venice, in Bologna met Rossini and they became friends. Then Florence, Rome, Naples, Palermo. In he completed the 1st violin concerto in Eb again using the scordatura, with the violin tuned a semitone up , later transposed to D by successors.
Looking for a challenge? They are much more difficult on the viola because of its size , yet the famous viola player William Primrose showed that it was possible to do it and even recorded some of them, which helped him a lot in his career. At the same time appeared six sonatas for violin and guitar, and six guitar quartets.
Paganini composed nine more guitar quartets, in all of them the violin has the main part in contrast with the other three instruments having a darker tone. Quartet n. In Paganini met Antonia Bianchi from whom he had a son in , Achille, who remained with him even after the separation from her. When Paganini met Berlioz , Achille was with his father and gave Berlioz that so much important letter and gift. In Paganini composed the 2nd violin concerto, in which the triangle in the last movement imitates the sound of a small bell.
This movement was called later La campanella and became so popular that Paganini played it without the preceding movements. If you can and are interested, you can find it here for sale. Between and in Germany Paganini gave more than concerts in 40 towns.
Even though he was so busy with concerts and travelling, he managed to compose his 4th violin concerto and two more sets of variations. Paganini wrote many sets of variations. They were the perfect way to display the endless musical and technical possibilities of the violin, thanks to his imagination and skills.
In the variations on God save the king, Paganini uses a lot of left hand pizzicato, something quite unheard of. It was a great event, despite the ticket prices were doubled the theatre was full. I think it was a shame that Berlioz missed it, he was in Italy at that time. Later he went to London, toured Ireland, Scotland and then went back to Paris. He wrote his friend Germi that in one year he had given concerts and travelled miles in those times, by coach!
Between and Paganini became interested in the viola as a solo instrument. In a private concert in London he played a Terzetto for viola, cello and guitar Mendelssohn played the guitar part on the piano. Some weeks after this concert Paganini told Berlioz about a big Stradivari viola he had and asked Berlioz to write a concerto for him to play this viola.
This was the origin of Harold in Italy. When the first movement was complete Paganini wanted to see it. He was a bit disappointed because, noticed that there were too many rests. His performance in London in was received with appreciation for his playing but reserves about the viola as a solo instrument they were not yet ready for it Most of his works for violin and orchestra were never published in his life and some are lost because he thought he was the only one who could play them.
Also another reason was the lack of copyright: a composer could either sell his works to a publisher after which anybody else could have copied or performed them , or play them himself and make money out of it. Anyway, it has been worked out that Paganini in one year earned so much that he could have bought kilos of gold.
Final years In the last years of his life Paganini had some misadventures that made his life bitter. In London he had fallen in love with the daughter of his pianist and wanted to marry her secretly in Paris. There was a scandal, reported on the press both in France and England and Paganini had to spend long time writing letters to newspapers to defend himself. This was not the first one of his troubled love stories.
Earlier in Parma he had been living with a young girl whose father then charged him with abduction, which caused Paganini to spend some days in prison.
Again in Paris, he was involved in the creation of a new music establishment, Casino Paganini, where he was supposed to give concerts twice a week. After losing a proceeding for breach of contract he had to pay a large sum. In Nice, which was part of Italy at that time, he became a dealer in musical instruments and invested large sums buying them. When his health worsened, his son called a priest but Paganini sent him away, the last incident of his unconventional character.
The bishop charged him with impiety and forbade a religious funeral. He died in Nice in , and there one day, by accident, I found this plaque that commemorates him.
La campanella : for viola and piano