Nicolo Paganini

Paganini - Violin AND guitar virtuoso!

He is mostly remembered for being a violin virtuoso, what many people don't realize is that he was also a classical guitar virtuoso. Born in Genoa, Italy in 1782 the young Niccolo was encouraged by his music loving father to play instruments at an early age though, not on violin OR guitar! In fact,  it was the mandolin that was to be his first instrument which was taught in a rudimentary way by his father. 

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Paganini was made to practice for hours and hours, and it was this early practice that laid the foundation of his considerable guitar technique skills on other stringed instruments (although it was said that later he practiced the violin for up to 15 hours a day!) Indeed, later in life, he was said to be "possessed by the devil" such was his alacrity on the violin being able to...make women swoon and strong men weep."

In his early years, after his father could teach him no more, he was sent to many fine violin teachers including Giacomo Costa, Giovanni Servetto and Allessandro Rolli who probably inspired the young Nicolo to take up the guitar. He made such rapid progress that every teacher he went to passed him on to another supposedly more experienced and knowledgeable one when he outgrew their technical and musical demands.

By the time he was nineteen, Paganini gave a highly successful concert in the town of Lucca (the city of one hundred churches), in the Tuscany region. Soon after, he became the concertmaster of the National Orchestra there. Although highly successful, he didn't always have the strength of character to evade common social ills, namely: alcohol and gambling. Luckily he was "saved" by a mysterious and, to this day, unknown aristocratic mistress who looked after him for three years.

It was said she was mainly a lover of guitar rather than the violin and due to her charms Paganini concentrated almost exclusively on the instrument in this period. Indeed, it is thought that he composed six violin and guitar sonatas, quartets for violin, viola, cello and guitar and other guitar works whilst staying with his mysterious lover.

He strangely refused to allow most of his compositions to be printed in his lifetime. An often forgotten fact was that he was made a "Knight of the Golden Spur" by Pope Leo XII. The Golden Spur was usually conferred on nobility, but also can be given to distinguish those who have served the Church or society as a whole.

By 1805,  he returned to the rather lucrative profession of touring the countryside. As usual he was feted everywhere he went, and his coffers bulged once again. When Princess Elisa Baciocchi (the sister of Napoleon) became ruler of Lucca in 1805, he returned there and became firstly a 2nd violinist in the court orchestra and then solo court violinist in 1807. He retained several other court positions up until 1809 when he tired of that somewhat restrictive life.

Check out this great video on YouTube of Li Jie playing the Caprice No.24. She's an adult now, but this was recorded when she was about 13 or 14. It's really phenomenal playing!!!

Paganini again turned to touring as a virtuoso and became wildly famous throughout all Italy and subsequently throughout Europe including Vienna, Berlin and even reaching Great Britain. His health had not been good throughout most of his life, and by his early fifties it was starting to wane seriously. He gave his last public concert in Turin in 1837. Within three years,  he would be dead at the age of just 57. Having composed numerous solos, duets, trios and quartets for guitar and other instruments he must be considered as both one of its finest composers and players in the long, rich history of classical guitar.

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More than Paganini...

Here are a few related pages in which you may be interested...

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