Niccolò Paganini: The Devil’s Violinist

Niccolo Paganini was one of the world’s great virtuoso violinists. His supernatural ability and suppleness earned him his title The Devil’s Violinist.

Niccolo Paganini
Niccolo Paganini  as The Devil’s Violinist (lowell-libson.com).

Niccolo fascinated and inspired his audiences, even other musicians in his every performances. Schubert, Rossini, Meyerbeer and Berlioz praised him while Liszt was stimulated by his performance and decided to achieve comparable wonders with the piano.

Because of mystical skill, there was a story that Niccolo’s mother, Teresa, made an agreement with the Devil. It was told that she traded his son’s soul for his career. Another rumor circulated that the womanizer Niccolo killed a woman and imprisoned her soul in his violin.

Niccolo’s appearance fueled the speculations. He was tall and thin. His face was long-drawn with hollow cheeks and long nose. He had thin lips curled with what it seemed as mocking grin. His intense eyes appeared to be flaming coals.  And he always dressed in black. In his performances, his scrawny fingers frolicked over the strings while his body weaved and flailed. His movement and tone seemed to warrant the legend that the violin was the “Devil’s consort” and that the violinist himself was the Devil.

Stories held that Niccolo pushed his audience to think he was controlled by the Devil to be able to execute such supernatural displays of technique.  In his performance in Leghorn, his string snapped but he continued playing with three strings instead of four. The feat amazed the audience. Since then, he would use worn strings so that he can conclude his show with three or even two when it snapped. This inspired him to compose a piece for one string.

Niccolo Paganini
His movement seemed to warrant the legend that the violin was the “Devil’s consort” (syfy.com).

Niccolo was born on October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Italy. His father, Antonio wanted his son to be a genius that he taught him to play mandolin at age five and violin two years later. He practiced up to 15 hours a day. At the age of eight, he played a Pie yel Concerto in a Genoa church.

Niccolo continued his study with teachers Giovanni Servetto and Giacomo Costa. At nine, he performed solo in Genoa auditorium playing his own composition La Carmagnole. He further explored with Ferdinando Paer and Alessandro Rolla. Later, he prospered playing in Lombardy and in Leghorn.

Because of his success, Niccolo succumbed to his other passions – alcoholism, women and gambling. On one occasion he pawned his violin. Despite his vices, he traveled extensively all over Europe and made a large sum of money. For the love of gambling, he opened Paganini Casino but lost most of his wealth.

He continued his concerts despite persistent illnesses. Doctor diagnosed him with syphilis and then with tuberculosis. In 1838, he lost his voiced completely. Niccolo had medical conditions called Marfan syndrome (accounting for his height and skinny fingers) and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (explaining his dexterity). Finally, he died on May 27, 1840.

Niccolo was buried in a village graveyard because the church rejected his interment believing that he was possessed by the Devil. The locals told stories that they still heard a ghostly violin from Niccolo’s grave.

 

Source:  Guitar Magazine     In Mozart’s Footsteps     Great Kat

Further Reading

The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

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