Paganini at the Library of Congress

Posted on December 22nd, 2011 by

Paganini at the Library of Congress


A word of explanation. I am deepening my interaction with the collections of the Library of Congress, Washington. This will have a particular focus on the Paganini holdings-both instruments and documents, in the collection.

As this builds, I will use objects in the collection to look at ideas that emerge from Paganini’s extraordinary career.


Maia Bang Collection Box 5 No 379:Playbill of the Royal Garden Vauxhall, advertising a ‘Fancy Fair Fet Champetre’ in aid of the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear.’ Artists including Paganini and others.

Paganini played just once at Vauxhall, on the 15th May 1833. This was at at fund-raising event for the ‘Royal Dispensary…’ which happened annually. The first Fet Champetre had taken place the year before, and had been held in Regent’s Gardens (now Regents Part). The Royal Dispensary had run into diffcuties in the early 1830’s and enthusiasm for fundraising had been whipped up by a sermon preached by the Rev. Richard Ponsonby at the fashionable church of St Martin in the Fields:

“To me indeed, it seems difficult to imagine any institution more entirely deserving of your support than which now implores it, whether you consider the wide extent of its influence, or the deplorable state of those whom it purposes to relieve.”( A Sermon Preached…in aid of the Royal Dispensary for the Disease of the Ear. London: Published by J.G. and F. Fivington, 1834)

Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 by Thos. Rowlandse-Mrs. Weichsel (Billington) singing. Dr. Johnson is seated at a table,with James Boswell and Oliver Goldsmith. The Prince of Wales is whispering in the left ear of Perdita (Mrs. Robinson). LC-DIG-pga-03193

In 1833 the event had been moved to Vauxhall, which had a musical tradition stretching back over 200 years. Perhaps Paganini’s participation had been stimulated by the critics of his supposed avariciousness in the press; this dogged him throughout his career. The week before the concert in Vauxhall, he published the following open letter:

Paganini-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.”

A balloon race and Grand Fete Champetre, 9 August 1836-note the concert advertised lower left.

In his Sketches by Boz (1836-7), Charles Dickens looked back with nostalgia on the glory that had been Vauxhall Gardens, whose glory days seemed to have passed:

“There was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how Vauxhall Gardens would look by day, he was greeted with a shout of derision, at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall by daylight! A porter pot without porter, the House of Commons without a Speaker, a gas-lamp without any gas-pooh, nosense, the thing was not to be thought of.”








Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin, plays Niccolo Paganini – Adieu a Londres 1833


Box 7 N0 215:From the minister of Public Works in Paris, Comte d’Argout-concerning Pagnanini’s concert ‘from which the profit will be destined to alleviate the syfferings which could arise from the Cholera.’  April 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.’

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


Plus -overview of letters in Genoa: Fonti Paganiniane a Genova, Biblioteca de Conservatorio di Music ‘Niccolo Paganini’, Archivio Storico de Comune, Biblioteca Universitaria

Milan-3rd February 1816

Paganini on Charles-Philippe Lafont: ‘…suona bene, ma non sorprende’

Milan 25th February 1815

Paganini reports on playing chamber music with local musicians-playing quartets and quintets with Frantisek Krommer. Again on Lafont: ‘il violino di Lafont ha fatto nascere un fervido desidirio di rissentire Paganini.’

Turin 24th December 1817

Paganini reports that he had started to practise, but had ‘bruised his finger’

Turin 21st January 1818

Paganini experiencing problems-neither in in Turin nor  Milan, was he able to secure a theatre in which to play.

Turin 25th February 1818

More problems with his Turin sojourn: his third ‘Academy’ (concert) was cancelled as a result of the offence that he had caused subscribers by refusing to play an encore at the preceding concert.

Turin 11th March1818

Asks his lawyer/friend Germi if he has been practising ad playing chamber music? Paganini notes that he has met the composer and violinist di Savignano (who has written 60 conncertos), and who Paganini notes, was a passionate admirer of the italian style, finding the music of Beethoven ‘lacking in melody’.

Turin March 1818

Notes that he has composed a quartet  in the style of Carega, in a very concertante style, with a very extravagant Minuet and Trio.

Bologna July 1st 1818

Paganini meets the Polish violinist Karol Lipinski at Piacenza, an admirer of his style, and plays quartets with him. Plays Haydn Quartets at Bologna with the violinist Felice Bologna (‘primo violino a Bologna’), reporting that whilst his style was intermittendly touch with ‘una certa magia’ in general, his playing was insecure.

Florence 20th August 1818

Meets with Rossini, and they discuss a Waltz falsely attributed to the great composer. Paganini finds himself harried by a group of drunken Danish artists  and musicians from the bohemian artistic community.


Naples 2nd August 1820

Promises to send ‘corde armoniche’

Naples 27th October 1820

Impressed by the quality of the violinist Pierre Rode. He confirms his intention to send ‘le corde armoniche’ by the ‘very next ship’.

Naples 12th December

A brief letter to confirm the purchase and shipping of the aforementioned strings.

Milano 28th June 1823

…Paganini notes that he is thinking  about his violinst and that  that he would have silver [covered] strings made for the G String.

Milano, 29th November 1823

Paganini, about to leave for the country residence of his friend, General Pino-asks ermin to send ahead of him, ‘various bows’ , ‘guitar music’ and tobacco.

Vilanova, Como, 17th January 1824

Paganini  staying in a village close to General Pino. He notes that he has tried a number of  bows, which, he says, are are of uniformly excellent manufacture, but which for him will need a wider band of hair and a greater elasticity in the middle of the bow… he also notes that he hopes that the bill to the luthier Mantegazza for adjusting his Guarneri, the Cappa, the silver strings and the pitch (la pece)

Nice 1st February 1840

Paganini notes that the violins made by Vuillaume ‘in imitation’ of his Guarneri  cost 300f for the standard model , and f500 for the more finished and sonorous instruments-he noted that the one which he had, was perhaps, the best…promises to send the solicitor Brun the 2 Mozart Quintets and 2 Spohr Quartets.

Nice 1st February 1840

Paganini notes to Vuillame that he had receieved f500 from Sivori, and that the bows that eventuall arrived were not the amount that fitted with the price. From Giordano he had news of his Andrea Guarneri violin, of Sivori’s small violin, and of a Neapolitan guitar…

Nice 4th’ April 1840

Paganini was pleased that his son Achille was still playing the piano. He inquired as the prices charged by the Bevilacqua workshop, and whether he still had the ‘German table pianos, and how much they might cost?’