Paganini texts in the Library of Congress Washington/Paganini Project

Posted on October 20th, 2011 by

Brighton Chain Pier-September 11th 1832 (anonymous drawing-Sheppard-Skaerved collection)

Paganini in Washington. A long term collaboration with the collections of the Library of Congress-Washington

Paganini never visited America, although the subject of a tour came up a number of times.

Letter from J Watson. New York, 8 November 1835, ‘Invitation to America. “We await the pleasure of seeing you in America where I pray fervently that you will come–you will be very satisfied with the outcome. I am certina htat you will earn twice the money that you have [earnt] in England.’

His admirer and disciple, Vieuxtemps, did. It struck me as interesting today that Vieuxtemps’ ommagio  composed for the tour, seems to have been composed in imitation of Paganini, almost as if he was trying to imagine what the Genoan what have written had he gone. It is very much composed in the spirit of Pagnaini’sNel cor piu non mi sento.

The opening of Vieuxtemps 'Souvenirs d'Amerique', imitating Pagnaini's improvisational style. Vieuxtemps heard Paganini in London, at a private performance, in 1834.


4th April 2012

Paganini-The celebrated performer....

A day of ideas, working with Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford, curator of the Music Division’s instrument collection at the Library, and   Anne McLean, Senior Producer for Concerts and Special Projects.

Possibilities in the collection, a rattlebag:Signor Paganini, the celebrated violin performer on one string-“Signor Paganini, during one of his performances at the Kings Theatre, June 1831”-Comic Song 1830 ‘Great Paganini’ – Liszt-Etudes d’execution transcendante d’apres Paganini, pour le piano (1st edition) – Notice sur le celebre violinist Nicolo Paganini, par C. Imbert de Laphaleque – Nikolai Paganini ego zhizne, ego naruzhnoste i nieskoleko slov o tainie ege iskustva (St Petersburg 1831)-Douze sonates pour le violon composees et dedies a Monsieur Andrée Ardisson, par N. Paganini. Oe. 2, et 3 – Trois airs varies pour le violon pour etre executes sur la quatrieme corde seulment composes par Paganini avec accompt de piano par Gustavo Carulli –  Paganini’s leben und treiben als künstler und als mensch; mit unpartheiischer berücksichtigung der meinungen seiner anhänger und gegner, dargestellt von Julius Max Schottky – Biographical sketch of Nicolo Paganini London 1831 – Harrys, Georg, 1780-1838. Paganini in seinem reisewagen und zimmer, in seinen redseligen stunden, in gesellschaftlichen zirkeln und seinen concerten – L’Heritier, L. F. (Louis François)’Some account of the celebrated violinist, Nicolo Paganini’1830 – Anders, G. E. (Gottfried Engelbert)’Nicolo Paganini. Sa vie, sa personne et quelques mots sur son secret’ 1831

-working with the instruments, manuscripts and iconography concerning Paganini housed at the L.O.C., to put together an interlocking comibination of performance, film, recordings, documentation, exhibition and virtual material that might shed some light on the relationship between travelling virtuosi-composers, audiences and instrument technology in the first 50 years of the 19th century.

-link this to the material in the Maia Bang Hohn collectino below

-filming with a variety of instruments in the collection, and a cross-section of bows, explore Paganini and other virtuosis’ approach to various instrument technologies.


Paganini and Vuillaume’s Steel Bow , Exploring Francois Xavier Tourte , Paganini, Posture, Iconography , Gorton Caprices for Paganini’s Violin , Paganini’s Bows, Caprices Live


Maia Bang Hohn collection-Library of Congress.


Box 10 No. 807

Caricature of Paganini in playing position with the following text:‘A breathless silence ensued and every eye was watching the ction of this extraordinary voilinist, an involuntary cheering burst from every part of the house, many rising from their seats to tview the spectre as he glided from the the side scenes to the front of the stage, his gaunt and extraordinary appearance being more like that of a devoteee [about] to suffer martyrdom than one to delight you with his art….’

To put this into context-Heinrich Heine noted: “ his face, even more skeletal in the dim light of the stage, was suffused with the most incredible pain and humility that a tremendous feeling of compassion overcame our desire to laugh./Had he learnt his demeanour from an automation or a dog? Was his beseeching gaze that of an invalid at death’s door or did it hide the mocking face of a shrewd miser? Was this a living being who was about to die and whose task was to entertain the public with his convulsions in the arena of art, like a doomed gladiator? Or was he a ghost from beyond the tomb, a violin-playing vampire who was sucking out the money from our pockets, if not the blood from our hearts?” 

Journal des debats April 23rd 1832:”Paganini..reparait dans ces jours de peste, cet home noir. Ce sombre genie á la tête penchée, aux cheveux flottants au corps brise et qui plié sur la hanche droite; le voilà qui rejette en l’air don srchet et son âme…c’est certainement la plus bizarre et la plus sublime creature des temps modernes, tout celà un jour de peste-un vendredi saint…”

Box 7 No 5 Letter, Leipzig 13 Feb 1829

Paganini talks of his intention to play at a lower fee for ‘les amateurs de musique’….

It seems that Paganini’s legendary parsimoniousness, his apparent greed, was not entirely one sided. The Leipziger Abendzeitung carried the following in 1829 (No  95): “The concert management  first of all charged a large sum for the hall, then trebled the fees for the large orchestra and also insisted on a singer… Paganini agreed to the trebling of the fees and accepted the singer, but asked for a reduction in the size of the orchestra which was too big for his concert; this however the management would not allow. He merely said: “It is odd that someone else should tell me how many violinist I should need for my concerts”  -and walked off.”  (Vyborny Zdenek The Real Paganini-Music and Letter, 42:4 (1961-Oct) P353)

On the 8th April 1832, Paganini wrote to his lawyer,  Germi: “ Touched by the sorrow for the evil which has afflicted many of the population, and wishing to redeem my own debt to humanite, I desire to give a concert of which the profit would be consecrated to the victims of the cruel plague which has distressed the the captital.”

Box 7 Letter No 7

Manchester 15 Januery 1832( to his Sister Nicoletta):On the death of his mother: ‘Ho pianto e piango ancora la perfitta dell nostra  amatissima madre; ma consoglianoci della speranza di riverderla in Paradiso!’ ….

Writing in the Gazette Musicale de Paris (14 June 1835), Joseph D’Ortigue related the story: “…the mother of one of out most illustrious virtuosi, then still a child, predicted to him his future glory: ‘Nicolo [sic], ‘ she told him one day as she took him on her knees, ‘you will be a great musician. A radiantly beautiful angel appeared to me last night; he bade me choose a wish to be realised; I begged him to make you the first amongst violinists, and the angel promised it to me.” This child, once grown up, was known as Paganini.” [1]    (Gibbs Gooley 311)

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.

Box 7 No 9

Written by his son, Achille, signed by him 3rd Sept 1837:Letter to Madam Hahnemann, wife of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of modern Homeopathy, on the subject of his illness. (Paganini was suffering from an almost complete paralysis of the larynx)……

Paganini, like Malibran, was a devotee of the newly fashionable practice of Homœopathy, and a patient of its most famous practitioner, Samel Hahnemann (1755-1833). Hahnemann had arrived in Paris in 1821; his writings Materia medica pura so incensed the medical faculty of Lepizig University that he was barred from practising. In Paris, he became a society celebrity, and built a clientele from the royalty to celebrities.Half a century after Hahnemann’s death, achieved a parallel with the serum therapy which emerged from Louis Pasteur’s work, and Homeopathy enjoyed a new vogue. /I wonder whether there was not a touch of the homeopathic about Paganini’s presentation of himself to his public at from the time of his arrival in the French capital. The ‘first law’ of Homœopathy, similia similibus curantur is a formalized version of Hahnemann’s dictum: “In order to cure disease, we must seek medicines that can excite similar symptoms in the healthy human body.”   Paganini’s presentation of himself, almost as the ‘Spirit of Cholera’, or even in his evocation of the horrific, the occult, and the morbid in his choice of music, its underlying ‘idea’ (as Poe would have it), could be seen, in this ‘Time of Cholera’ as edging to wards a homœopathic therapy. (Porter 391)

Box 7  No 208

A fascinating contract between Paganini, Ignaz Mosches and Nicholas Mori on the publicction of: ‘Les Gems de Paganini’, containing two ‘airs’ of Paganini -signed 25 July 1832.-

There was a rash of publications of Paganini transcriptions in 1831, many of them predating Paganini’s arrival in London. A vital part of the groundwork of publicity was achieved through the amateur music market, and it is worth remembering that in many cases, the promoters of concerts and tours, were the owners of music shops themselves, as was the case with Weiss in Liverpool. In 1830, Nicholas Mori’s firm of Mori and Lavenu published a Ricordanza di Paganini-Fantasia  by one E. Perry, which brought together themes from the 1st Concerto, La Campanella, Sonata Militaire, Nel Cor Piu…, and a Rondo for the G string, in an inventive circular form. In 1831, Henri Herz published a Marche et Rondo on La Clochette (La Campanella); Ignaz Moscheles  aroused Paganini’s ire by the extent of his ‘cashing in’-it was not possible for Paganini to profit in any way from this slew of publication, other then through audience sizes, especially as his own list of publications was so small, as he noted to Ricordi. Moscheles published is Bijoux a Paganini in the same year. . In the same year, an anonymous work L’École de Paganini for piano, appeared, complete with an engraving of the composer, based on the same works as the Perry Fantasia. Whether this was an organized campaign or not is not clear to me; but one thing is for sure-by the time the audience packed into the Kings Theatre for Paganini’s first concert in June 1831, they all knew what he looked like, and were whistling the tunes that he played, as much as any audience on their way to a rock concert today; but rather than having listened to his music on CDs or MP3’s, they had played it at home on the pianoforte, perhaps gazing at his engraving, newly framed above the piano.

Box 7 N0 215

From the minister of Public Works in Paris, Comte d’Argout-concerning Pagnaini’s concert ‘from which the profit will be destined to alleviate the syfferings which could arise from the Cholera.’  April 1832

The Comte d'Argout, as depicted by Honore Daumier in 1832

18th April 1832 ‘Next Thursday I will give a concert at the the Gran Teatro for the benefit of the sick. Rossin has fled from fear; on the other hand, I have had no desire at any time to be anything but useful for humanity.’

Box 7 No 220

Luxembourg. 29th April 1829 From the Comte de, L.s. Invitation: ‘The Glory of your great virtuosity  has created excitement through all the inhabitants of our city , who are passionated for Art, and most enerstly desire that you might give them the chance to admire your illustrious talent.’

Box 7 No 223

From Francesco Urbani, London 1834: An invitation to America, with information as to which route to take there…

Box 7 No 227

Letter from J Watson. New York, 8 November 1835, ‘Invitation to America. “We await the pleasure of seeing you in America where I pray fervently that you will come–you will be very satisfied with the outcome. I am certina htat you will earn twice the money that you have [earnt] in England.’

Box 7 No 245

Josef Raucher, Amateur & member of the Academy of Petrarch, noting that at the rehearsal for his concert of the 17th December 1836 in Nice, Paganini played Raucher’s violin.

Paganini rarely played in rehearsals, and as this entry confirms, would often not even bring his violin until the concert itself. A brief glance at how little Paganini played in rehearsals, even in public might give us a clue here. One article reported that, “ a lady belonging to Covent Garden Theatre, who had never hear Paganini, requested leave to be present at one of he rehearsals of his concerts, it happened that Paganini did not bring his violins with him, but borrowed one from a member of the orchestra, and instead of playing, made a kind of pizzicato obbligato. After the rehearsal was finished, the lady addressed Mr. Cooke-”   Oh dear, Mr. Cooke, what a wonderful man he is, I never knew what music was capable of.”    Cooke replied.”   Indeed Madame, he is truly wonderful; but allow me to observe that on this occasion you are indebted rather to your imagination than your ears, for the delighted you have experienced.”  “ How, My Cookee?”  “ Why, he has not even touched a bow.”   Extraordinary, “ exclaimed the lady, “ I am now more than ever confirmed in my opinion of his, for it, without playing, he can affect in such a manner, how much more wonderful are the sensation he must produce with the bow.” 

Box 7 No 257

Announcement cut from a Brunswick Newspaper 5 August 1830. A Hotelier discovered to have refused to accept Paganini’s settling of a debt, and donated the sum to the poor of the city.

Paganini’s visit to Brighton in in 1831 provides a useful example of his regional work in the UK. He stayed at the Old Ship Hotel on his first visit, and according to Clifford Musgrave’s Life In Brighton stayed there several times over several years. The hotel was also where he gave his first concert in Brighton on the 9th December 1831. The journalist George Augustus Sala, whose mother was a celebrated actress, encountered Paganini when he was a very young child. Sala remembers him, not so much for his playing, but his appearance of avariciousness. He recalled this in his memoir Things I have seen and people I have known. Sala described how his mother would organize a benefits concert to help the family circumstances,-hoping that the prestigious artists that she engaged to play could be persuaded to forgo their fees. Sala recalled how she connivingly utilized her very young child in this ruse-he was no more than four or five at the time. He remember that after the concert, “Duly washed, waxed and polished, “ he was taken by his mother to backstage, to the artists rooms, to where they would be waiting to settle their fees. The idea was often successful- the sight of the clean, well turned out, but clearly hungry children, was too much for most of them. “But Madame Malibran “swept up her thirty guinease”   without merely patting the little boy benignly on the head as she put them into her reticule”   When Madame Sala went to Paganini’s room after the concert, the boy remembered… “He looked at me long and earnestly; and somehow, although he was about as weird a looking creature as could well be imagined, I did not feel afraid of him. In a few broken words my mother explained her mission and put the fifty guineas down on the table. When I say that he washed his hands in the gold, that he scrabbled at it, as David of old did at the gate-and grasped it, and built it up in tiny heaps, panting the while. I am not in any way exaggerating. He bundled it up at last in a blue cotton pocket handkerchief with white spots and darted from the room. And we-my poor mother convulsively clasping my hand-went out onto the landing and were about descending the stairs, when the great violinist bolted again from his bedroom door.”    Take that, little boy, “ he said, “Take that;”   and he thrust a piece of paper, rolled up almost into a ball into my hand. It was a bank note for fifty pounds.”  


Box 5 No 379

Playbill of the Royal Garden Vauxhall, advertising a ‘Fancy Fair Fet Champetre’ in aid of the Royal Dispensary for Disease of the Ear.’ Artists inlcluding Paganini and others.-

9th May 1833 ‘I may be allowed to state that I have played for charitable institutions in different parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, that were called  to assisted decayed musicians, their widows, and this year I felt happy in having arrived just in time to do the same, though even before my debut. ‘

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

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

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