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Niccolò Paganini - Violin Virtuoso and Technique Innovator

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Introduction

Benjamin Scott December 4, 2002 Niccol� Paganini - Violin Virtuoso and Technique Innovator The virtuosic achievements of Niccol� Paganini were so profound that violinists today are still influenced by him. There are many legends surrounding Paganini, most of them describing his unconventional performing style, his incredibly difficult compositions, and his supposed connection with the devil. In order to understand the accomplishments and stories of Paganini, one needs to learn the background of the violinist. Niccolo Paganini was born on October 27, 1782 in Genoa, Italy. He began the study of the violin at a very early age. He was taught by his father, Antonio, a dock worker and amateur musician. His father, dreaming of wealth which a prodigy might bring him, applied cruelty in keeping Niccol� at his musical tasks, punishing each mistake severely, and not permitting relaxation or play. Paganini rapidly progressed in his studies, and began studying with Giovanni Cervetto, and later Giacomo Costa. He also studied composition with Francesco Gnecco.1 At the age of twelve, Paganini already gave concerts in local churches, and had composed some music. The next year, Paganini was sent to study with a famous violin teacher named Alessandro Rolla. Rolla, upon hearing young Niccolo play, refused to take Niccolo as a student because he claimed he could teach Niccolo nothing. ...read more.

Middle

One innovation that Paganini began is the practice of memorization. Musicians before Paganini usually used music during a concert. Paganini, on the other hand, would boldly walk onto the stage, shake back his long black hair, place his violin under his chin, and begin to play without the aid of music. Audiences were astounded. They marveled at the thought of one man memorizing an entire program of music. According to Robin Stowell, "Paganini's most important contribution to the development of violin technique lay undoubtedly in his manipulation and expansion of existing techniques to their utmost potential."4 These techniques include "scordatura [mistuning the violin in order to play in another key], his execution of certain bow techniques, his combination of left-hand pizzicato with bowing, his use of harmonics in single and double stopping, his una corda playing and the extraordinary tour de force for which he was renowned".5 Paganini's abnormal physique accounts for his novel methods of technique. According to many accounts, when standing, his left shoulder was about an inch higher than the right, but still unrestrained. His unique posture resulted in a triangular stance and playing position. Contrary to the modern school of violin playing, the neck of the violin pointed down, both arms where held close to the body, and one foot was placed slightly forward. ...read more.

Conclusion

Carl Guhr is one of the closest people to solving the mystery. He was so impressed with Paganini's playing that he attended concerts frequently, and observed everything Paganini did. He wrote a book called Paganini's Art of Playing the Violin, an analysis of Paganini's methods. Some of the facts that he observed were: the use of thin strings, a flatter than usual bridge, tuning the violin by the way he wants the instrument to sound, and his unique position and manner. Through the many stories, myths, and documents about Paganini, as well as his own compositions, one can undoubtedly label Paganini as one of the greatest violinists who ever lived. His technical innovations and virtuosic performances have been unsurpassed, and his contributions to violin technique are still widely practiced. His compositions are still some of the most difficult, but incredible, pieces in violin repertoire, and are performed regularly. Thin strings or a thin body, long hours of practice, a raised shoulder blade, or an intimacy with the devil - any or all of these things, or even none of them, can explain Paganini's secret. 1 Neill: Niccolo Paganini 2 Neill: Niccolo Paganini 3 Kendall: Paganini: A Biography 4 Stowell: "Niccolo Paganini - Technical Innovator?" 5 Stowell: "Niccolo Paganini - Technical Innovator?" 6 Schwarz: Great Masters of the Violin. 7 Schwarz: Great Masters of the Violin. ...read more.

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