Paganini’s dream of ravioli and chamber music….

Posted on October 20th, 2011 by


Paganini's Ravioli recipe

On Wednesday 19th, at the Library of Congress I was handed this wonderful document from their collections-a rather alarming recipe for Ravioli!

Food was very important to Paganini, and particularly Genovese cuisine. In his letters, from the time he left Italy for the first time in 1828, it is a theme that returns again and again. His hunger and continental table manners were mocked on his first visit to London in 1831:

‘Prig-a-Guinea, being the grand lion of the feast, was seated tho the right of the officiating goddess of the table, which place he had no sooner occupied tha, placing his huge snuff-box on his right and his pocket hankerchied on the left, and laying aside the ‘diner nappy’, as poor Mrs Landseeer calls it, he commenced most dire execution, by the aid of his fingers, on the fish, flesh and fowl placed before him. Now and then a pinch, then a salute to the carver, then a blow with the kerchief, that it exhibited altoghether such a unique picture of incongruous feeding and filthiness as never before bewildered the imagination of an Englishman. ‘

In September 1820, Paganini was able to gift his mother 30,000 francs, which settled her for life. She was able to take a new house in Vigne, where the violinist was able to stay for his time in Genova, and enjoy the ‘divine’ minestrone, made by her hands. In October 1828, a few months into his barnstorming tour of Europe, Paganini found himself in Prague. His stormy relationship with Antonia Bianchi had finally broken down, expensively for him, and he suddenly found himself a single father, travelling with his son, Achille, who he clearly adored. Exhausted, he went down with a severe infection of the saliva glands, and he underwent a painful operation, which by all accounts, he endured with impressive fortitude. He wrote to Luigi Germic that his recovery would be assured if he could find lodgings near a ‘signora’ who could cook ‘divinamente anche alla genovese’. (Letter to Luigi Germi, 20th October 1828)

He repeatedly described his dream of retiring from the exhausting travelling life, and buying a house in the countryside outside Genoa. There, he planned, he would be able to live with like-minded musicians, playing Quartets-he had very serious plans for studying and performing all of the Beethovens, and eating well, most particularly, Genovese cuisine, cooked by his beloved mother. However, this may not be his mother’s recipe.

On the 30th August, he wrote to Germi again, this time from Baden Baden. He wrote about his plans for his ‘future villa in the countryside’ (which he had tasked Germi to find and furnish), where he planned to live. There they would be able to play duet and quartets, and eat the delicious Raviola cooked by ‘Camilla’, who would later marry the lawyer.

 Paganini was a great gourmet, and according to at least one authority, a great cook himself.  In Ireland, he was introduced to an artist whose notoriety rivaled his own. This was Lady Morgan, who wrote a scurrilous novel, The Wild Irish Girl (1810), a romantically nationalistic work, under the nom-de-plume of Sidney Owenson. The heroine of the book speaks a bizarre mixed-up language, of Latin, Greek, and Gaelic; the author reinventing literary aesthetics much as Paganini recast the acceptable approach to the violin. Like Paganini, her work was very profitable. In 1831, she cooked a superb dinner for Paganini, who acclaimed her with, “Bravissimo! Eccellentissimo!”  . Perhaps her cooking reminded him of his mother’s ravioli, which he sorely missed.  Lady Morgan noted in her diary: “Poor Mrs Casey broke down from Nervousness (or whiskey) in the kitchen, and I had to dress half the dinner myself, which everyone allowed was supreme, particularly my matelote d’anuille and my dinde farci a la daube!”  Not all the Irish were as nervous as the unfortunate Mrs Casey. After he played La Campanella in Dublin he was greeted with:”   ’Arrah now, Signor Paganini, have a drop of whisky darlin’, and ring the bell again.” 

Paganini-24th Caprice live at the National Portrait Gallery

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Dantan 'charge' of Paganini ca. 1831 (photo PSS 220211)

Peter with Paganini's del Gesu 'Il Cannone'. Rehearsing, London 2006. Photo: Richard Bram