Peter Sheppard Skaerved (Recorded 2005)
Engineer/Producer-Jonathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds)
Viotti’s greatest British pupil was the young Nicholas Mori (1797-1839), who would become the first professor of violin at the new Royal Academy of Music. Despite the fact that he was the pre-eminent violinist in London, active as a teacher, soloist, chamber musician, publisher and professor, Mori is not celebrated today.
In 1831, The Times published an extract from the Musical World. This consisted of a list of contemporary and recent violinists. This also attempted to put Paganini’s achievements in context, by comparing him to a selection of violinists known to their London readers. It may seem facile to point out that the early 19th century listeners could only know the playing of any of the great virtuosi, by hearing them live, hence the profile of this list of violinists. These included: Spagnoletti , who led some of Paganini’s concerts and ended up litigating against him: “Charming, fluty quality of tone; graceful freedom in bowing; genuine Italian taste.” The police witness in Spagnoletti’s case against Pagnini was incomprehensibly, called ‘Sargeant Spankie’. Paganini’s great Parisian rival Charles Philippe Lafont was described as: “Suavity and elegance, especially in cantabile movements.” Nicolas Mori was described thus: “Rich, full and beautiful tone; polished taste, masterly variety of style, and extraordinary brilliancy of execution.” However Paganini’s supremacy was summed up in just one word: “Everything”.
So this piece is an incredibly short scrap left in Eliza Wesley’s album. There’s no question what Mori wanted to show off, at the end there, that he had a bit more of a stretch than Paganini’s. This Prelude raises two issues with reference to the contemporaneous representations and memories of Paganini. If one looks at the stretch required to play this final chord, it puts the hand into Paganini’s position, repeatedly depicted by artists of the time, from Dantan to Maclise. This extended hand position almost became a widely recognized visual representation of Paganini, as well bas being a fundamental technical feature. It was not an innovation; it is necessary in order to play much of the music of Paganini’s most illustrious technical forbear, Locatelli.
But the Mori prelude is also relevant to Franz Liszt. If you look at Liszt’s first response to hearing Paganini in Paris in 1832 , one of the features that really struck audiences, and struck him was the rapidly arpeggiated chains of diminished seventh chords, across the whole instrument, such as Mori has indicated here.
The twenty year old Franz Liszt wrote to Pierre Wolff from Paris on May 2nd, 1832:
‘Here is a whole fortnight that my mind and fingers have been working like two lost spirits, Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them with fury; besides this I practise four to five hours of exercises (3rds, 6ths, 8ths, tremelos, repetition of notes, cadences, etc., etc.,). Ah ! provided I don’t go mad, you will find an artist in me ! Yes, an artist such as you desire, such as is required nowadays ! “And I too am a painter !” cried Michael Angelo the first time he beheld a ‘chef d’oeuvre. . . ‘ Though insignificant and poor, your friend cannot leave off repeating those words of the great man ever since Paganini’s last performance. ‘Rene, what a man, what a violin, what an artist ! Heavens ! What sufferings, what misery, what tortures in those four strings !
Nicholas Mori was born the son of an Italian wigmaker on the New Road. He was first exhibited as a prodigy at eight years of age, playing a concerto by Bartelémon, who had given him lessons when he was three years old. He had regular contact with Viotti during the time that the violinist lived in England. Viotti took an active part, along with his friend, Mrs. Chinnery, in the cultivating of Mori’s mind, and physique, as well as his playing.
A playbill for Mori’s ‘benefit’ at the Kings Theatre, on the 14th March 1808, advertises both his teacher and his patrons. The bill depicts the eleven-year old violinist, with a very large violin for his size. On the music stand next to him, are works by Corelli, Bartelémon, and a ‘Concerto’ by Viotti. The text reads:
“Young Orpheus, Master Mori, Born 24th January 1797-Under the patronage of Their R. H.s the Duke and Duchess of York, and Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge. His benefit will be the 1st March 1808 at the Kings Theatre.”
Another playbill, for a, 1833 testimonial concert, shows the respect in which Mori earned in the course of his career. This concert was given in the ‘Kings Concert Room’ of the Kings Theatre, where Pierre Laporte was manager. Laporte had organised Paganini’s first British concerts two years earlier,. The bill announces that , “Mori respectfully informs the Nobility, Gentry and his friends in general [my italics] that his Evening Concert” will take place on the 17th May. The programme included Mori playing a Maurer Concerto, the world premiere of Spohr’s Nonet which has a splectacular violin part, and selections from Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies. The participants included the greatest singers of the day Pasta, Malibran, Schroeder Devrient, Clara Novello, Rubini, Haitzinger, Tamburini, Seguin, amongst others. The instrumentalists billed included Bochsa, introducing all his new harp effects, Moscheles and Mendelssohn, as well as Puzzi, Lindley, Dragonetti, and Moralt. The leader for the part of the programme where Mori was playing solos, was announced as Spagnoletti, and conducted by Sir George Smart. This is quite simply the most astonishing assembly of talent. The poster suggests: Mr Mori solicits an early application for Boxes and Tickets. With such a line-up, this was good advice indeed.
In 1831, The Musical World described Mori’s artistry.
“Rich, full and beautiful tone; polished taste, masterly variety of style, and extraordinary brilliancy of execution.”
In 1819 Mori married the widow of the publisher Lavenu, and went into partnership with her son. He made the first British edition of the Paganini Caprices Op 1 in 1838, but this brought nothing new to the works, and in fact, seem to be very little but a reprint of what had already been common currency on the mainland for over fifteen years. Nicholas Mori was one of the most ‘capped’ players in the history of the Philharmonic Society. The cellist, Robert Lindley, clocked up no fewer than 147 featured appearances between the founding of the society and his last appearance in 1850. Mori, a founder-associate of the society, would have, exceeded his total had he not died earlier. He appeared no fewer than 92 times before his last appearance, eleven years before the end of Lindley’s career.