Inspired by Nieves Concostrina
I love listening to the radio and I usually listen to the program of Nieves Concostrina about history ‘Acontece que no es Poco’, this time regarding Paganini’s life (click there if you want to hear it too). I like the approach she gave to this mythical figure, and I started looking for more information to know more. This Saturday is the 177th anniversary of his death, so I share with you some hints of why I think he was ahead of his time.
Creative solving problems
Niccolò Paganini was the third of the six children of a Genoese low-class family in the 19th century. His father worked in the port packing merchandise, but he was also a music ‘lover’: he locked his 5-year-old son in a room, so as to practice violin even for 12 hours, until his fingers bled… (listen to the end of the radio program ‘Espacio en Blanco’).
Far from throwing the violin out the window, he began to compose his own music when he was only 19 years old, and also became a master of the guitar and the mandolin. He started as a self-taught player and this fact gave his music a very personal shine and unique style. As a child, he liked imitating the sounds of the animals with his violin.
He was pale and very thin, and his twisted posture and strange movements made him look like a puppet (take a look at the first moments of the Klaus Kinski movie). In addition, he was in very poor health and suffered from the health care system of that time: syphilis and tuberculosis were ‘cured’ with mercury and opium. To make things worse, he had Marfan syndrome (like Pharaoh Akhenathon and Abraham Lincoln). This disease affected his extremities, which were very long and flexible: he could put his thumb behind his hand and touch it with the little finger (yes, I have tried it too…impossible).
The truth is that thanks to his extremely flexible and long hands and innovative postures, he perfected an extraordinary technique that surprised the best teachers to such a point that people thought he was inspired by the Devil itself (described in this enlightening documentary).
Niccolò took advantage of his extravagant appearance and fame to start wearing black clothes or playing in the dark (even in cemeteries). When he started losing vision, due to his numerous illnesses, he wore blue glasses that accentuated his ghostly appearance and created even more interest.
Despite being mistreated by his father, he took care of his only son Achille alone and with much affection. They went everywhere together and it was Achille who acted as a translator by reading his lips during Niccolò’s last two years of life, because he had lost his voice because of the tuberculosis, according to this interesting article.
The fan phenomenon
Paganini created the fan phenomenon in the beginning of his first European tour on 29 of March, 1828.
(If you want, read this review</u >). It leaded to the first merchandising : Paganini-style clothing, a brand of cigarettes and restaurant dishes named after him. The audience enjoyed so much his first performance in Vienna, that his first concert had to be extended two weeks more, and even the lower class sorted it out to pay for a ticket to be able to attend his concerts.
“…More and more complicated operations, have given the human hand the high degree of perfection required to conjure into being the pictures of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini.” – Friedrich Engels
His relationship with money was very frustrating. As a child, his father used to take advantage of him to get more money. Later on, Niccolò spent his own money mainly in gambling. Moreover, many of those who hired him to give concerts did not pay him.
Tired of so much economic hardship, he decided to write so difficult musical compositions that he was the only person he could play them brilliantly (his 24 violin whims are very famous). He also invented the intermission, which is the period of 15-20 minutes between the first and second part of a play (explained in this program). He used this rest to go and look for the theater owner: if the owner did not pay him, he would leave without finishing the concert.
He is known by the famous phrase “my violin always has dinner at home” because the famous noble families invited him to dinner at their house to play the violin for free… and he had already decided that nothing came for free!
Technique and spectacle
Inspired by his studies of mandolin and guitar, he incorporated into his compositions triple chords and pizzicatos, while playing inexplicably fast with the bow … He also liked improvising and removing strings one by one, to finish playing the whole composition on a single string without any difficulty … Bravissimo!