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Paganini, Niccolò(nēkōlō` pägänē`nē), 1782–1840, Italian violinist, whose virtuosity became a legend. He extended the compass of the violin by his use of harmonics, perfected the use of double and triple stops, and revived the practice of scordatura, the diverse tunings of the strings. Paganini made his debut as a child prodigy in 1793 at Genoa, his birthplace. In 1801 he retired to a villa in Tuscany and did not resume his concerts until 1805, when he became court violinist to the princess of Lucca. After he left (1813) her court, his success in Milan carried his fame throughout Europe. His retirement in 1835 was followed by the loss of his voice and, later, by death from cancer of the larynx. Paganini composed numerous pieces, most of them bravura variations for violin. Among the few compositions published during his lifetime are the 24 caprices for violin that were adapted for piano by both Schumann and Liszt.
See biographies by J. Pulver (1936, repr. 1970) and S. S. Stratton (1971).
Born Oct. 27, 1782, in Genoa; died May 27, 1840, in Nice. Italian violinist and composer. Son of a petty tradesman.
At age 11, Paganini gave a solo recital in Genoa, including in the program his own variations on the French revolutionary song “La Carmagnole.” From 1797 to 1798 he gave recitals in northern Italy. He lived in Tuscany and Genoa from 1801 to 1805, and from 1805 to 1808 he served at the court in Lucca. From 1808 he devoted himself entirely to giving concerts, and from 1828 he toured many European countries.
Paganini’s personality was surrounded by fantastic legends, fostered partly by his unusual “demonic” looks and partly by the romantic episodes in his life. The Catholic clergy persecuted him for his anticlerical statements and his sympathy for the Carbonari movement. After his death, the papal Curia would not allow his burial in Italy. His remains were not moved to Parma until many years later. H. Heine captured Paganini’s personality in the novella Florentine Nights (1836).
Paganini was one of the founders of romanticism in music. He captivated his audiences with the enthusiasm of his performances, brilliant poetic images, flights of imagination, dramatic contrasts, and virtuosity. His art of free improvisation reflected the unusual features of the Italian folk improvisational style. He was the first violinist to play from memory in concert. The founder of modern violin technique, he also influenced the development of pianism and the art of orchestration. Paganini was a major composer. His 24 Capricci for unaccompanied violin and two concerti for violin and orchestra are especially popular. He also composed various pieces and variations for violin and instrumental ensembles, as well as many guitar pieces. Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff adapted some of Paganini’s violin works for piano.