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Nicol Paganini (1782-1840)


Nicol Paganini was nearly 50 years-old when he first toured England. He was a member of an elite class of player-composer, mostly performing his own works. Always suspicious, he carried orchestral parts around with him but solo parts were performed from memory, perhaps in part to avoid music publishing pirates. After the French Revolution the thrill and daring of the musical virtuoso, typified by Paganini, became a symbol of emancipation. His dazzling technique and unique posture made him irresistable to audiences. Born in Genoa, Italy, Paganini studied initially with his father and then with other teachers in Genoa before moving to Parma in 1795. He composed his first sonata in 1790. He began touring in 1797, and in 1805 he was appointed by Napoleons sister, Elisa Bacchiocchi, to the position of Court solo violinist at Lucca, where he stayed until 1808. In the following year he began to tour Italy, performing his own music as a soloist. Between 1828-1835 he toured Europe - visiting some 40 cities, including those in Austria, Germany, Poland and Bohemia, as well as Paris and London for the first time in 1831. The watercolour on the left, by or after Henry Edward Dawes, c.1830, is from the Foyle Menuhin Archive, purchased in 2004 for the Museum from the Estate of Lady Menuhin. Paganinis first visit to London in June 1831 was preceded by reports about both his playing and his perceivedas-scandalous financial activities. Paganinis letter (in French) to the Editor of The Times was published on 2nd June 1831 in response to local criticism in the press about the rumours of high prices being charged for his forthcoming concerts (at the same level as for the opera), which Paganinis tour manager Pierre Laporte, from the Kings Theatre, was said to have arranged at Paganinis request. In the letter (left) presented to Yehudi Menuhin by Columbia Artists Management in 1967, Paganini wrote: Sir; Oblige me by inserting in your next paper the following letter, which I pray you to translate literally: The evening of my first concert in the Kings Theatre is now so near, that I feel the duty of announcing it myself to implore the favour of the English nation, which honours the arts as much as I respect it. Accustomed in all the nations of the continent to double the ordinary prices of the theatres where I have given my concerts, and little instructed in the customs of this capital, in which I present myself for the first time, I did believe that I could do the same: but, informed by many of the journals that the prices already established there are higher than those on the continent, and having myself seen that the observation was just, I second willingly the desire of a public, the esteem and the good will of which I ambition as my first recompense. Nicolo Paganini, London June 1'. In Britain Paganini travelled in style in a grand black carriage with four black horses which he had hired in London, with his pianist riding behind him on a horse and his servant and a porter as outriders. His arrival with his entourage in towns in England would have been spectacular. In an English journal on 26 March 1831, the correspondent EJG, in anticipation of Paganinis visit, wrote: Paganini, at first sight, raises a shudder; his frame is of almost hideous leanness; it is a tenement in which nothing but physical debility would seem to dwell He is never free from a most distressing cough; and a complication of other infirmities either convulses him with pain, or strips him altogether of the power of exertion; but from the instance he grasps his instrument his powers of nerve come into play His hands are broad, dry and powerful; and to this it is owing that he wields a mechanism of play to which no other performer can dream of attaining. The flexibility of his fingers is most astonishing; even to the throwing back of his thumb flat upon the back of his left hand. I know not whether it arises from his bodily organisation, or from intense application, but his left shoulder is considerably more depressed than his right. His arm is twisted inwards to an uncommon degree, and affords him, consequently, extraordinary facilities in fingering and general handling of the violin. To the left is a lithographic print from Dublin, reproduced from a drawing by the Irish artist Daniel Maclise executed on the occasion of Paganinis London debut on 3rd June 1831 (the original drawing, which also shows an audience comprising members of the orchestra, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum). Notice the position of his left thumb, his pose and direct, challenging and theatrical gaze. Paganinis debut performance in London was as much remarkable for the reporting in the press of the reaction of the audience, including the accompanying musicians, as for the many depictions by local artists of this event. Paganini himself wrote of the number of images of himself on sale in the shops in London - a mass of portraits done by various artists has appeared in all the shops; each shows my features, more or less, but none has yet appeared among these prints that really resembles me I laugh myself to death and let them do as they please. In contrast, most images offered generally by artists in Italy and German were of the head-and-shoulder variety and, in local taste, perhaps more respectful. Because of the cost of the tickets, attendance by most artists at Paganinis concerts would have been prohibitive, and this probably accounted for so many variations on a similar theme as artists rushed out derivative prints to try and capture the market. To the left is a lithograph called The Modern Orpheus ... to be continued, and this shows the major English musicians of the day watching Paganini with astonishment and disbelief. They include cellist Richard Lindley, violinist Nicolas Mori, conductor Sir Michael Costa and double-bass player Domenico Dragonetti, most of whom were among the first professors at the Academy (founded 1822). The artist, Richard Lane, was highly respected in the new printing process of lithography, so important to musicians for the cheaper production of music, including by Moris own firm, Mori and Lavenu. Lower left are two variations on a similar theme, one of which shows three strings dangling from the scroll, implying that Paganini is playing one of his pieces on the G string.

Perhaps the most captivating of all the drawings in the Foyle Menuhin Archive is this audience image (left) which shows

Paganini in a pose which depicts also the tapping of his foot, which he was noted to sometimes do as he played. Sir Edwin Landseer, with a few strokes of his pen, managed to capture much of the idea of Paganini, though not in the exaggerated form which constituted most of the caricatures by British artists, which concentrated on conveying the contorted body image. Landseer produced these drawings for his hosts at the social soires he attended at the homes of his own wealthy patrons. The image also depicts a view from the platform into the audience rather than from the auditorium itself, the faces of the spectators showing looks of astonishment with their open mouths. In particular, with the implementation of a single and simple prominent hand just below the stage, the artist conveys the excitement and awe of those listening to the performance. A member of the audience noted we looked at interest at him from our abysm in the pit a lucky interval between a gentlemans head and a ladys bonnet favoured our endeavour and there we beheld the long, pale face of the musical marvel he made divers uncouth obeisances and then put himself in a masterly attitude for his work with strongly-marked prominent features, wears his black hair flowing on his neck like an enthusiast, has a coat of ancient cut which astonishes Fops Alley; in short, is very like the picture of him in the shops when he makes his acknowledgements he bows like a camel and grins like a goblin or a mountain-goat. Landseers early studies with Benjamin Haydon, who encouraged him as a youth to undertake his own anatomical dissections, could be said with caution to have influenced his spidery sketching of Paganinis hands and the concentration on the grip of his bow many images of this great violinist will show the importance to artists of conveying the physiology of Paganinis hand, arm and bow. Daniel Maclise also did a separate hand study of Paganini. The famous French silhouettist, Augustin Edouart, was very proud of his silhouette of Paganini (left). He used a smaller version of it, set against a lithographic background, in his treatise on silhouettes, as one of 16 exemplar plates (he cut them by hand with a scissors, rather than using any mechanical aid). In this publication he writes the hand, by its motions, is very expressive; of all the parts of the body, the most active and most rich in articulation. He records his concern for gesture and expression and the perfection he has attained in representing these in his own work. He cut this image of Paganini in Edinburgh in 1831 or 1832 (conflicting dates), and records with pride that Paganini himself thought this not to be a caricature. Note that because of the technique in which it was made (hand-cutting), the strings and bow were drawn in, in ink. Cut from black paper, the image is laid down on pale blue paper with the background sketched in. This playbill (left) from the Kings Theatre has many errors and show how hurriedly it must have been produced; it is also difficult to separate visually the music from the composers and performers involved. It records, for instance, the Larghetto recitativo and Variations on the Cavatina Panti Palpititi, ie the mezzo aria Di tanti palpiti from Rossinis Tancredi, and the Overture to Don Giovanni by Rossini. The playbills in the gallery show how Paganinis concerts were constructed; in the regions of Britain and in Ireland, he sometimes included more items with a local folk song appeal, often performed by the singers who accompanied him, and sometimes played to great effect by himself. As well as his major concerts and some charitable performances, Paganini also played at many private soires in London, including at the home of his dentist, Samuel Cartwright, a patron of the Landseer family. This portrait of Paganini (left), signed D. Maclise and dated 1831, but not actually by Daniel Maclise, was allocated to the Dover Museum in 1947 by the government upon the death of its owner, Lady Jane Anne Gordon Cory, who lived in Belgravia. It has never been displayed in public and the Academy is fortunate to have secured it on loan for an initial five years. In contrast to the famous portrait by Delacroix done in Paris c.1832, full of expressive and Romantic swirling paint and set in darkness - Paganini was in his touring period always associated with death and cholera, an idea he seemed to like to contrive - the small window here perhaps associates him with light. You can also see both ends of his broken strings. In contrast with the many caricatures, the few painted images of Paganini in Britain were more noble and, perhaps, unexpressive. Cholera hit Paris in 1831 and London in 1832. Paganini returned to Britain in 1833/4. Towards the end of the period, he was playing at the more populist Adelphi Theatre, as well as Drury Lane, and perhaps found it hard to pull in the extensive audiences (and money) which once flocked to his performances. Following his return to France, and various excursions into business ventures etc, he retired to Nice, where he died in 1840. This French lithograph represents him, shrouded, as having just passed away. Paganini owned various violins including a Strad, but played for most of his career on an instrument by Guarneri del Jesu, (left), which he called the Cannone - he referred to it as the voice of the law. He is said to have owned it from about 1802, although the circumstances of its acquisition are unclear. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, the Parisian maker, carried out some restoration in 1833-4, during which he made a copy of it. The Cannone was willed to the City of Genoa. In 2006 it was displayed alongside the Viotti Strad in the String Gallery - the instruments represented the Classical versus the Romantic - the idea perhaps of Apollo versus Dionysus. A copy of the Cannone was made in the five days it was at the RAM, by the Academys instrument custodian and two colleagues. Paganini was equally regarded as a guitarist, and he also wrote his Sonate per grand viola which he played in London in 1834 in the Hanover Square Rooms in response to his dissatisfaction with Harold in Italy, written for him by Hector Berlioz. His own works ranged from his famous Caprices, to violin concerti, chamber and vocal music. The Academy is grateful for the requent bequest by the late Michael Kottka of a beautiful bust of Paganini by the French sculptor Jean-Pierre Dantan, as well as a small painted plaster statuette of the violinist, by or after Dantan, which was formerly in the collection of the English violin dealer, Withers. A small bow, probably made by the firm, accompanies the work.

Janet Snowman, 2011