Nicoló Paganini was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1782. His parents were a cargo handler and shipping clerk. He began to play the mandolin when he was 5, and changed to the violin aged 7. His father made him practice all hours of the day and would refuse to feed him if his playing was not satisfactory. Subsequently he received violin lessons and composition lessons from local musicians. In 1794 he played for Mass in the church of S Filippo Neri, and was widely acclaimed. He was composing at this time, and his youthful works already display the love of unusual effects which was to prove one of his trademarks.
Paganini gave a concert to raise funds to travel to study with Alessandro Rolla in Parma . When he arrived, he was told that the master was ill. While waiting, he picked up some sheet music which was lying around and began to play. Rolla appeared and told the boy that he could teach him nothing, and to go to see Paer. Paer taught Paganini composition until late 1796.
In 1800, in order to escape possible conscription in the army during Napoleon’s Italian Campaign, the Paganinis moved to Livorno, where Nicoló gave several concerts. The following year, the young Paganini moved to Lucca and quickly established himself as an outstanding violinist. He was appointed leader of the National Orchestra and spent his time composing, teaching and playing. In 1805 the new ruler of Lucca, Princess Elisa Baciocchi, disbanded the orchestras and formed a new one. Within 2 years, Paganini rose from the second desk to solo violinist of the court. After this orchestra (which Paganini frequently conducted) was disbanded, he became disgruntled and decided to leave the court to become a freelance violinist.
Paganini toured Italy for several years, and established himself as a dazzling soloist. He developed a style that impressed audiences, but felt that he ought to write some more concertos for himself to perform, as was the custom for virtuosi giving recitals. He wrote his first in 1819 and two more in 1826. He was first published in 1820, beginning with his most famous work, the 24 Caprices, op. 1, at first widely denounced as unplayable. Paganini was happy to prove his critics otherwise! Rumours circulated that this exceptional violinist had sold his soul to the devil, so fiendish was his playing. The 24 Caprices, especially their climactic set of variations, have themselves been the basis for sets of variations by composers as diverse as Brahms, Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski.
He continued to tour in Italy and in 1828 began a tour of Europe which would last until 1834. He played as far afield as Vienna, Prague (where he had to have all his teeth removed in an operation), Germany, France (especially Paris, where he was criticised for not playing at a charity concert), and finally London and throughout the British Isles. However by 1834 the audiences were waning, and a return tour of England was a flop, partly due to a hand injury and his experiments with the viola. Returning home to Parma, he quickly returned to form and was soon made the master of music at the ducal theatre. In 1837 he went to Paris to back the Casino Paganini, an illegal venture which lost money. His health began to suffer, and he died in 1840. Over the course of his life he accumulated many valuable instruments, including 11 Stradivari instruments, 2 Amati violins and four Guarneri violins.
- MIDI FILE - "Moto perpetuo" for solo violin (5'12'')
- MIDI FILE - Capriccio no.2 for solo Violin (3'49'')