‘A Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness’

Posted on January 13th, 2010 by


Paul Pellay’s Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness is one of the most colourful and technically challenging works ever written for the violin. Each of the seven books has a particular character, or set of references. There is a book based on Goya’s Black Paintings, one based, line by line, on an Unagaretti poem. There are more then a few political pieces, not a few of them aimed at the then Republican Adminstration. President G W Bush is the target of not one but two of these highly satirical movements. The second of these, Grand Triumphal March for the Texan Devil, is written on three staves-one for the violin, one for stamping, and the other for body percussion. Perhaps the most moving and atmospheric movement comes in the book which references the time which Paul spent in Memphis. This book contains Ice Particles Descend , a violinistic evocation of the slow terror and beauty of an ice storm. 


On the 6th Oct I completed the recording of the remaining 3 books of ‘The Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness’ in the wonderful church of John the Baptist, Aldbury


Sketch by Paul Pellay for Book 6 of the cycle 'Con(di)vergences'


On the 23rd and 24th August, I recorded  4 books of Paul Pellay’s extraordinary cycle-the Thesaurus of Violin Fiendishness, in Aldbury church.

 Here are an outtakes from the  recordings, the first based on Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’.




 Goya’s two passions were music and conversation, both of which were progressively denied to him as he lost his hearing from the 1790s The inventory of the  Quinta del Sordo , the summer house on the outskirts of Madrid, where Goya painted his astonishing Black Paintings  in the 1820s informs us that along with his collection of music, Goya owned particular equipment for playing chamber music, most particularly, an English made mahogany table with fold up music stands built in. The music collection included, alongside Lafont, music by Kreutzer, Rode, Baillot, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. These might have been brought to Goya’s salons by the violinist/mountebank Alexandre Boucher himself, who may, or may not, be the actual composer of La Marseillaise. But most excitingly, it lists his string instruments, which included a fortepiano , three violas, and three violins, made by Ortega, Gaudagnini, and Guarneri del Gesu. So it seemed that Goya was playing the type of violin most beloved by the virtuoso (Paganini) whose imagination was closest to his own. Whether he ever knew of Paganini, we cannot know, but this only increases my sense that the two had a peculiar connection-even if only in hindsight.   

Perhaps the most touching moment in Pellay’s 2 hour cycle is from Book 3-‘Mid-South Recollections’. This book is entirely rooted in Paul’s profound love of America, particularly of the landscape and culture of Tennessee.

This movement is set in Milan Tennessee. It is entitled Morpheus in Milan, and incorporates the melody-‘Tell me where the Ivy Climbs’.

Engineer-Jonathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds)

Find out more-go to> https://www.sheppardskaerved.com/composers/paul-pellay/