Scena Amorosa

Posted on January 29th, 2010 by

Scena Amorosa

With Paganini’s ‘Red Book’. Library of Congress, 20th June 2012. Photo: Richard Bram

The Scena Amorosa which Paganini described having composed for the Princess Elisa Bacciochi, is one of the 24 opere perdute (lost works) listed in the Thematic Catalogue  of Paganini’s music  Paganani gave an account in a letter published in the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano (No 42):

“ Seeking variety in the sonatas played at Court, one evening I removed two strings from my violin, and improvised a sonata entitled Scena Amorosa, using the g string for the man (Adonis) and the e-string for the woman (Venus).”

Whether or not the Scena will ever be found, it is worth remembering that like most composers of his day, Paganini was in the habit of recycling material, so it is not unlikely that the material either came from another work, or appeared elsewhere. One of the violin/guitar works that also survives from this period are two pages, one for each part, of a piece entitled Entrata d’Adone nella reggia di Venere(The Entry of Adonis into the palace of Venus). Naturally, the most famous description of this extremely erotic and tragic story is as told by Ovid.

PSS, Mihailo Trandafilovski and Rachel Meerloo playing Paganini’s ‘Divertimenti Carnavaleschi’

Paganini – Divertimenti Carnavaleschi (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Rachel Meerloo) 

Some authorities have suggested that this lost piece was in some way related to Paganini’s Duetto Amoroso MS111 for Violin and Guitar. This  attribution seems to stem solely from the use of the word ‘amoroso’, and not from any clear connection. Paganini was prone to use ‘amoroso’ as an expressive indication  in his music, perhaps more than eany other composer.; the Capriccio No 21 is a good example. However, the Duetto is interesting, in that each of its ten movements is given a title suggestive of the course of a love affair, the only time that Paganini did this. After an initial introduction, Principio , the titles of these movements stretch from a Preghira , which may well be a prayer to Venus, through Acconsentito, Timidezza, Contentezza, Lite, Pace, Segnali d’amore to a resigned  Notizia della Partenza  and finally Distacco. At the very least, this piece offers an insight into Paganini’s essential pessism, no doubt borne out in his own experience, as to the course to true love.

Landseer depicts Paganini astonishing a London audience in 1832

Paganini was very likely aware of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis; it is fascinating that the work which Berlioz dedicated to him later in his life, in gratitude for his moral and financial support was his Romeo and Juliet.  This work was the epitome, as Berlioz saw it, of instrumental music’s power to expressive that which cannot be articulated in words, that he “had to give his imagination a latitude that the positive sense of the sung words would not have allowed hi, and he had to resort to instrumental language-a language more rich, more varied, less limited, and by its unilateralness incomparably more powerful in such circumstances.” [Boorstin P 464] Sadly Paganini died before he had a chance to see it. The string writing of this work shows more evidence of Berlioz’ incorporation of Paganini’s technical innovations thatn almost any other orchestral work to this date. There is extensive use of Paganini’s signature technique, of artificial harmonics. This was in no small way courageous; Berlioz’ memoirs provide plentiful documentation of his tussles with orchestral players over his technical demands, and Berlioz’ mixing of different techniques of natural and artificial techniques are of the type which give string players pause to this day.

Berlioz’ manifesto on the subject of expression, might have come from Paganini’s mout. In 1835, he wrote:

” Expression is by no means the sole aim of dramatic music; it would be foolish and pedantic to disdain the purely sensuous pleasure of melody, harmony, rhythm, and instrumentation, independently, of their power to depict the passions.” [Barzun 495]

I am convinced that the Scène d’amour from this ‘Dramatic Symphony’ is in part, an homage to Paganini, and that Berlioz may have had in mind the gentle pastoral of the Capriccio No 20  when he wrote it. The music which associated with the farewell at the end of the ‘balcony scene’ is extraordinarily reminisicent of this work. It would be charming to imagine that Berlioz came to imagine this as being a heartfelt farewell to his old friend and supporter.

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”