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Nicolo Paganini, whose European fame as a violinist entitles him to a notice here, was born at Genoa in 1784. His father, a commission-broker, played on the mandolin; but fully aware of the inferiority of an instrument so limited in power, he put a violin into his son's hands, and initiated him in the principles of music. The child succeeded so well under parental tuition, that at eight years of age he played three times a week in the church, as well as in the public saloons. At the same period he composed a sonata. In his ninth year he was placed under the instruction of Costa, first violoncellist of Genoa; then had lessons of Rolla, a famous performer and composer; and finally studied counterpoint at Parma under Ghiretti and the celebrated maestro Paer. He now took an engagement at Lucca, where he chiefly associated with persons who at the gaming-table stripped him of his gains as quickly as he acquired them. He there received the appointment of director of orchestra to the court, at which the Princess Elisa Bacciochi, sister of Napoleon I., presided, and thither invited, to the full extent of her means, superior talent of every kind. In 1813 he performed at Milan; five years after, at Turin; and subsequently at Florence and Naples. In 1828 he visited Vienna, where a very popular violinist and composer, Mayseder, asked him how he produced such new effects. His reply was characteristic of a selfish mind: "Chacun a ses secrets" In that capital, it is affirmed, he was imprisoned, being accused of having murdered his wife. He challenged proofs of his ever having been married, which could not be produced. Then he was charged with having poignarded his mistress. This he also publicly refuted. The fact is that he knew better how to make money than friends, and he raised up enemies wherever his thirst for gold led him. Avarice was his master-passion; and, second to this, gross sensuality.
Paganini in Prison
The year 1831 found Paganini in Paris, in which excitable capital he produced a sensation not inferior to that created by the visit of Rossini. Even this renowned composer was so carried away, either by the actual genius of the violinist or by the current of popular enthusiasm, that he is said to have wept on hearing Paganini for the first time. He arrived in England in 1831, and immediately announced a concert at the Italian Opera House, at a price which, if acceded to, would have yielded #3,391 per night; but the attempt was too audacious, and he was compelled to abate his demands, though he succeeded in drawing audiences fifteen nights in that season at the ordinary high prices of the King's Theatre. He also gave concerts in other parts of London, and performed at benefits, always taking at these a large proportion of the proceeds. He visited most of the great towns, where his good fortune still attended him. He was asked to play at the Commemoration Festival at Oxford, in 1834, and demanded 1,000 guineas for his assistance at three concerts. His terms were of course rejected.
Paganini died at Nice, in 1840, of a diseased larynx ("phthisie laryngee"). By his will, dated 1837, he gave his two sisters legacies of 60,000 and 70,000 francs; his mother a pension of 1,200; the mother of his son Achillino (a Jewess of Milan) a similar pension; and the rest of his fortune, amounting to 4,000,000 francs, devolved on his son. These and other facts before related, we give on the authority of the "Biographie Universelle."
Paganini certainly was a man of genius and a great performer, but sacrificed his art to his avarice. His mastery over the violin was almost marvellous, though he made an ignoble use of his power by employing it to captivate the mob of pretended amateurs by feats little better than sleight-of-hand. His performance on a single string, and the perfection of his harmonics, were very extraordinary; but why, as was asked at the time, be confined to one string when there are four at command that would answer every musical purpose so much better? His tone was pure, though not strong, his strings having been of smaller diameter than usual, to enable him to strain them at pleasure; for he tuned his instrument most capriciously. He could be a very expressive player; we have heard him produce effects deeply pathetic. His arpeggios evinced his knowledge of harmony, and some of his compositions exhibit many original and beautiful traits.
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