Paganini, 24 caprices, Op. 1

“No one’s fame will ever be comparable to his fame, no one’s name will ever be comparable to his… Never will anybody fill his gigantic footsteps… And I state positively: there will be no second Paganini. The combination of an incredible talent and the special circumstance of his life that soared him to the heights of fame – this is a unique case in the history of art… he was great.”

In the year 1815, Paganini spent nine days in prison under false charges against him. The greedy father of his lover Angelina Cavanna accused Paganini of kidnapping and raping his daughter. The charges were soon dropped, but this event changed the rest of Paganini’s life. One of the most popular legends states that while in prison he met the devil and acquired his unrivalled technique. According to another untrustworthy legend, his enemies cut the strings of his violin right before a concert. Whether or not these legends are true, both have outlived Paganini by centuries. It is hard to say, but perhaps Paganini himself contributed to the spread of this gossip that was well received by easily impressed laypeople. What can be said for sure is that great musicians among his contemporaries such as Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Liszt admired him as a genius medium between the music and the listener.

The title page of the author’s manuscript says “24 Capricci dedicati alle artisti”. Who exactly are the dedicatees of these compositions? Their unique nature is stressed by the fact that at the time they were written nobody but the author was able to play them. It is also impressive how the pieces vary in their form, length, style and guiding ideas but are still uniquely linked in the first opus.

Concerts with Niccolo Paganini’s participation were diverse in terms of program and collaboration. In one concert, there could be overtures, opera arias and symphonies. The Signore himself played only a few pieces – mostly compositions of his own. Paganini, a virtuoso who boldly advanced the world of violin in terms of repertoire and technique, could hardly imagine a concert consisting only of the 24 caprices he wrote. However, in these days, two and a half centuries later, it is no extraordinary feat to either perform or record all twenty-four pieces at one time. Even still, as was likely the case 200 years ago, lay people as well as music lovers are reluctant to attend such events.

While it is arguable that these pieces are overly complex and monotonous in a concert setting, this recording aims to put both of these arguments into question!

If you look through the thick texture of this music, you can see themes that are amazingly beautiful in their simplicity. These themes are based on folk music, opera arias, imitations of sounds in nature and other instruments. The incredibly difficult passages that include octaves, thirds, and tenths create an amazingly playful musical dialogue. Listeners and players opinions of these caprices are merely matters of perspective.

Capriccio means “a whim”. When did this word also come to mean “etude”? Similar pieces by Paganini’s contemporaries like Kreutzer, Rode and Dont are more methodological nature, written systematically and not intended for public concerts. Unfortunately, the pieces by the genius Paganini, although 8 9 completely different in their nature, have been put into the same category as these etudes.

It is important to note that each of the caprices displays different aspects of the diverse fantasy of their author. Less important, but still notable, every caprice also focuses on a particular aspect of violin technique. True virtuosity manifests itself not only through speed or precision, but also through the effort taken by the performer, with apparent ease, to present the complex material.