Paganini's popular reputation rested always on his phenomenal technique as a violinist, coupled with a showman's ability to dominate an audience and to stupefy those who heard him by astonishing feats of virtuosity. His playing served as an inspiration to other performers in the nineteenth century, suggesting to Chopin, in Warsaw, the piano Etudes, and to Liszt the material of the Paganini studies that he w rote in 1838. The very appearance of Paganini impressed people. His gaunt aquiline features, his suggestion of hunched shoulders, his sombre clothing, gave rise to legends of association with the Devil, the alleged source of his power, an association supported by the frequent appearance by his side on his travels of his secretary, one Harris, thought by some to be a familiar spirit or a Mephistopheles watching over his Faust. Stories of a pact with the Devil were denied by Paganini himself, who, with characteristic understanding of the value of public relations in a more credulous age, told of an angelic visitation to his mother, in a dream, foretelling his birth and his genius.
Paganini was born in Genoain 1782 and was taught the violin first by his father, an amateur, and then by a violinist in the theatre orchestra and by the better known violinist Giacomo Costa, under whose tuition he gave a public performance in 1794. The following year he played to the violinist and teacher Alessandro Rolla in Parma, and on the latter's suggestion studied composition there under Paer. After are turn to Genoa and removal during the Napoleonic invasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he became solo violinist to the new ruler, Princess Elisa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon. At the end of 1809 he left, to travel during the next eighteen years throughout Italy, winning a very considerable popular reputation. It was not until1828 that he made his first concert-tour abroad, visiting Vienna, Prague and then the major cities of Germany, followed by Paris and London in 1831. His international career as a virtuoso ended in 1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, he returned again to Italy, to Parma. A return to the concert-hall in Nice and then, with considerable success, in Marseilles, was followed by an unsuccessful business venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which was intended to provide facilities equally for gambling and for music. With increasing ill health, he retired to Nice, where he died in 1840.
Although he is popularly known principally for his violin music, Paganini wrote a large number of compositions for the guitar, an instrument of which he also demonstrated mastery. He left no less than 140 shorter pieces for the instrument, with 28 duos for violin and guitar, and a number of trios and quartets that make use of the instrument. He had had some familiarity with the instrument as a child in Genoa. When in 1801 he finally gained freedom from his family and established himself in Lucca, according to later legend he fell in love with a woman known to us only as Dida, whose identity is unknown but whose connection with Paganini is attested by dedications of some of his later compositions using guitar. These early years in Lucca were subsequently the subject of gossip, with speculation as to the nature of the affair in which Paganini was involved, or even suggestions that he had spent time, some eighty ears, in prison for the murder either of his mistress or of his rival in love. These rumours Paganini later took the trouble to deny. Whatever amorous intrigues had occupied him in Lucca, it seems that he devoted some attention to the guitar as well as to the violin, his technique of left-hand pizzicato in the latter to some extent suggested by the technique of the former.
The first of his sonatas for violin and guitar, the Sonata concertata in A major, was written in 1804 and dedicated to Signora Emilia di Negri, the wife of one of Paganini's earliest patrons in Genoa, the Marchese Giancarlo di Negri. In this sonata the two instruments are evenly matched in the three movements, an opening Allegro, a moving Adagio and a lively final Rondo.
The two sets of sonatas for violin and guitar, Opus 2 and Opus 3, seem to have been composed during early years in Lucca. The six sonatas of Opus 3 were dedicated Alla ragazza Eleonora, to the girl Eleonora, a relation of a priest and musician, Abbate Domenico Quilici, who may well have been of help to Paganini in the development of his more general musical ability. The first of the set of sonatas has a charming if brief second movement. Double stopping by the violin marks the first movement of Opus 3, No.2. It is followed by a movement more scherzoso than andantino. This leads to a sonata that opens with a violin melody of now familiar contour, capped in a second movement by a spritely Rondo, its principal theme answered by a dramatic minor episode. The fourth sonata starts with a suggestion of recitative, contrasted with a more lyrical figure, the whole operatic in conception. The second movement, marked Allegretto, has a conventionally Turkish flavour in its principal theme, soon submerged in pyrotechnics. The amorous double stopping that marks the first movement of the fifth sonata suggests that of Caprice No.21, answered by an opera buffa last movement that finds a place for virtuoso violin display and briefly lyrical moments for the guitar. The set ends with a melancholy A minor Andante, any such feeling quickly dispelled by the cheerful folk-song that dominates the second movement and the virtuoso display of left-hand pizzicato.
Paganini's variations on the Genoese melody Barucaba were written in 1835 and dedicated to Luigi Germi, a friend and lawyer who was of great assistance to him in financial matters. The sixty variations, three sets of twenty in the original version for unaccompanied violin, provide an opportunity for technical virtuosity from the violinist, while demonstrating the composer's ingenuity in his varied treatment of a very simple tune, repeated in conclusion. The present variations for violin and guitar are drawn from the third book, with an unchanged violin part, to which guitar accompaniment is added. The flowing Cantabile is of uncertain date and it has been suggested that it was written for Paganini's prot�g� Camillo Sivori, a native of Genoa and a violinist of very great ability.
Scott St. John
Born in London, Ontario, the Canadian violinist and violist Scott St. John has impressed critics and audiences, with a number of awards to his credit, including the 1988 Canada Council Competition, which brought the loan of the 1717 Stradivarius violin that he plays. A graduate of the Curtis Institute, he made his New York debut, playing violin and viola, in 1988, as first-prize winner of the Alexander Schneider Violin and Viola Competition. Other awards have included first prize at the 1992 Munich International Violin Competition. Scott St. John has appeared as a soloist with major orchestras in America, Europe and Japan, including the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras and the Royal Philharmonic in London.
The guitarist Simon Wynberg was educated in South Africa, later taking a Master's degree at the University of London, spending the years from 1978 to 1991 in the English capital. He has recently settled in Toronto. Simon Wynberg has won a very considerable reputation as a soloist and as a chamber musician, as well as for his research into guitar repertoire and his resulting editions and publications. He founded and directs the annual Blair Atholl Festival in Scotland and enjoys a distinguished career on both sides of the Atlantic. His recordings include an acclaimed set of ten discs devoted to the guitar works of Zani de Ferranti and a Bach Recital Album.
ReviewsThe sheer joy which emits from this music making is at once infectious and hypnotic - Gramophone