Paganini at the Library of Congress, 20th June 2012 Photos: Richard Bram

Posted on June 21st, 2012 by

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

With Paganini in the Background, playing the 'Brookings' Niccolo Amati 1654 with the Vuillaume Steel Bow



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

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.

20th June 2012

…an absolutely inspiring day working with the team at the Library of Congress. Highlight of this, the chance to work with Paganini’s ‘Red Notebook’ his touring memorandum book, full of poetry, concert receipts, travel records, mute design, appointments. Instruments used  Del Gesu (Kreisler), Stradivari 1698, Niccolo Amati 1654, bows by GB Vuillaume (the Steel Bow), Antonino Airenti, Stephen Bristow.

Niccolo Amati 1654 'Brookings'

Peter Sheppard Skaerved with Paganini's 'Red Book' 20 June 2012 Photo; Richard Bram

Preparations for filming. Violins by Stradivari, Del Gesu, Niccolo Amati, Bows by Antonino Airenti, Anonymous early C19th, G B Vuillaume & Steven Bristow

Filming at the Library of Congress, in my version of Paganini's posture...! 20th June 2012 Photo; Richard Bram

Working with Paganini’s ‘Secret Red Book’-Library of Congress, Washington DC


With the 'Red Book' at the Library of Congress. June 2012


29th June 2012

I now have scans of the whole ‘Red Book’, so I can start a more detailed overview.

So I will begin with a little puzzle. The very last page includes nothing but a drawing. My immediate response to this is that Paganini was experimenting with a new design for a violin mute. Here it is:

Possible mute design, from the Red Notebook.

June 30th

The Red Book, as I have noted below, does not work sequentially, with the exception of a desultory attempt to number the first two pages.

These are just first impressions garnered from the few hours that I spent on my trip to Washington to film on June 20th 2012.

The Cover of Paganini''s 'Red Book', marked 'Verses, Stories and Sonnets'. Photo, Richard Bram

At first sight, the book is very familiar to anyone who uses a notebook as I do, and works with 18th and 19th Century ‘albums’. It has been remarked that it is odd that Paganini did not fill the pages of this book in order. Frankly, I would have been surprised if he had of done. There is(as I have just noticed) a desultory stab at numbering the first two pages. In the early 19th Century, it was common to use note books in this way unless they were bought with pre-numbered entries, such as the Tagebuch  which Beethoven used in 1812 and 1813. The use of these numberings could itself lead to slight oddnesses. In Beethoven’s case, it resulted in an apparently organised, but in point of fact, meaningless abutment of philosophical quotes, personal reminders, numbered next to day-to-day minutiae. The only use of the numbers is that it tells us the order in which they were entered (not the date).

I would, however, go a little further, and point out that coming from Italy, and its particular mixture of religion and superstition, Paganini, like others of his day, was prone to a deliberate ‘carefulness’, an avoidance of ‘numbering’ his personal life, which had origins of which he was unaware, but to which he may have been sensitive. The numbering of pages in books was always a vexed issue in the early church. The priest Elias Salomon, writing in the late 13th Century, called the numbering of pages for ease computus, a system which had no relation to the liturgical function of the book, or the church year. There was a fear that such simplicity laid its users open to heresy, and reports of choir masters cutting off the corners of such pages so that their charges did not fall into sin, by using something which made a religious task too easy, and therefore treacherous. Naturally, the possibility of the introduction of the Arabic number system, which included the number ‘zero’, which was long anathema in the Church, was long regarded as fraught with peril. Of course, I am not suggesting that Paganini and his contemporaries were tortured by medieval ecclesiastical guilts and fears, but that this concern may lie at the heart of why personal books-albums, commonplace books, and even as in this case, a book which was in some part, filled with accounts and ledgers, were oftentimes kept in apparent dis-order.

I don’t seem to suffer from this. I fill in my notebooks in order, and take (heretical?!) pleasure in numbering the pages after the book is finished.

Two notebooks. It was pointed out that Paganini's Red Book is not so dissimilar to my own notebook. Library of Congress 20th June. Photo Richard Bram


The ‘Red Book’ begins with very good intentions, with a series of Sonnets copied out in the handwriting of Paganini’s lawyer and old friend. Indeed the back cover is inscribed with ‘Sonetti di [Germi {crossed out}]. My feeling is that he gave Paganini the book, with the poems as a ‘start’ as a travelling gift, and then added to it later-halfway through there is a lengthy translation of a story, (Lalla Rookh ‘Madre Indiana’)beginning in Germi’s neat hand, but which seems to changed into multiple hands, and might ( I am spit-balling here) even include the occasional word written by Paganini’s young son, Achille (by Antonia Bianchi), who nearly always travelled with him.

Lalla Rookh

Halfway through the book is the translation ‘from the English’ of part of the romance ‘Lalla Rookh’ (1817) by the much celebrated Thomas Moore. I am unclear as to whether this was included, and wonder whether the two friends embarked on this as a translation exercise-the title notes that it is a translation from the English.  That might explain the various hands noted above, which begin very neatly, and end, well, not so much.

The Irish poet and folk-song lyricist, Thomas Moore (179?-1852) based his song, Love thee dearest, which was later based on  the second movement of Giovanni Battista Viotti’s 5th Violin Concerto. But Moore was a capable musician, whose Irish Melodies, which appeared from 1808-1834, came to confirm him as Ireland’s leading ‘bard’ – the most famous of these, later ‘varied’ by Paganini’s great imitator, Ernst.  Thomas More was sure that the French Revolution had profoundly changed the disposition and behaviour of Britain’s upper classes, bringing an “Increased reserve of manner, and or course, a proportionate restraint on all within the circle which have been fatal to conviviality and humour…”  Moore links Viotti to the circle of intellects around the Lord Byron (1788-1824), a lifelong admirer of Napoleon, who dedicated The Corsair to Moore, remarking that his “lyrics shine in hot-pressed twelves.”

Another poem in the ‘Red Book’ is dedicated to the daughter of Bernhard Eskeles (1753-1839). Eskeles was a partner in the Viennes Bank of ‘Arstein & Eskeles’ was also a music patron(he was also a distant cousin of Felix Mendelssohn). For any 19th century traveller, the assurance of a good relationship with banks in the cities to be visited was vital, as it was simply too risky to travel with large amounts of currency. Paganini was introduced formally to ‘Arnstein & Eskeles’ by  Carlo di Tommaso in a letter written in Milan on March 1st 1828, the month before he left Italy for the Imperial Capital.

Marianne von Eskeles

On the 11th June, Paganini noted in a letter to Germi that after his ‘trionfi’ in Vienna, he had deposited 60,000  Austrian Lire in the ‘Banka Eskeles’. The personal link to the Eskeles family raises a tantalising ‘what if’. Paganini arrived in Vienna in 1828, the year after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose chamber music he admired passionately. The names of Paganini’s Vienna contacts are the Beethoven circle. At one point in the ‘Red book’ Beethoven reminds himself to take a letter from Beethoven’s piano student Ferdinand Ries,  to Sir George Smart in London. If Beethoven had still been alive, there is no question that they not only would have met, but (I believe) collaborated. Music history might have looked very different.

Ferdinand Ries-G minor Sonata Op 87/Concert Recording-London 2003
Peter Sheppard Skaerved with Aaron Shorr, Piano-
Engineer/Producer-Jonathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds)

Paganini’s care and interest in his concert receipts was often misunderstood. The ‘Red Book’ provides another angle on this, as it contains a number of ‘comp lists’. This is part of a performer’s life to this day, and coming up with the balance between receipts and the goodwill created by free tickets is a delicate one for musicians to this day. Paganini would, it seems often deal personally with the box office, shortly before the concert, handing over the comp list, and checking receipts.In 1830, Paganini noted in a letter to Germi that he had run into his onetime rival, Charles-Philippe Lafont, at the box office of the thetare in Baden Baden. Lafont was queuing up with his family, and Paganini ran into him at the precise moment that he was paying for his ticket, which seems to have given him considerable satisfaction. There are two lists of free tickets for Berlin, which are topped, both times by the opera composer, Gaspare Spontini, Kapellmeister and principal conductor of the Hofoper.

Charles-Philippe  Lafont-Variations on ‘La Vestale’ (Spontini) Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Guarneri del Gesu Il Cannone-strung with Gut strings and Paganini’s bridge design/live performanceLondon February 2006

Gaspare Spontini

 The ‘Red Book’ lists a selection of people that Paganini met in the course of his ‘grand tour’ of Europe, beginning with the arrival in Vienna in April 1828. The list of acquaintances in ‘Warsaw’ inludes one ‘giovine Pianista’…the young Chopin.

Paganini played in Warsaw Cathedral on May 24, 1829, on the Coronation day (as King of Poland), of the Tsar of Russia. The performance was attended by the twenty-year old Fredryck Chopin, who, referring to a later concert in Warsaw, when Paganini invited the Polish violin virtuoso, Karl Lipinski, to appear with him in a Kreutzer Duo Concertante,  said: -“If I were such a pianist as Paganini is a violinist I should like to engage in a similar competition with a pianist of equal powers.”

Paganini’s The Carnival of Venice certainly ‘conquered’ Chopin. Three years later, he would write the following about Paganini’s playing:

“I confess that I played like Herz, but would wish to play like Kalkbrenner. If Paganini is perfection , the Kalkbrenner is his equal.” It was at the end of 1829 his own set of ‘Paganini Variations’ appeared.

Upon hearing Chopin for the first time, in 1834, Felix Mendelssohn was moved to write  to his mother that he was: “ quite a second Paganini executing all sorts of impossibilities which one thought could not be done.”

In the middle of 1829 Chopin was invited to a supper party at a Salon in Vienna, and  was asked to improvise variations, the normal calling card of any visiting virtuoso in informal company, ‘playing for their supper’. So Chopin asked for a theme. None of the various Chopin commentaries that I have read seem to pick up on the the significance of the theme that they asked him to play. The chosen theme  was the Preghira  from Rossini’s ‘Sacred Opera’, Mose in Egitto. This opera had not been produced in Vienna, but had been, had been popularized by Paganini as the basis of his Sonata a la preghira , during his triumphant visit the previous year. Paganini’s Sonata was one of his most frequently performed works on his grand tour; clearly ‘his’ melodies had permeated the popular consciousness, another significator of the effectiveness of his passion for melody. Rossini’s tune, was made famous by Paganini. Chopin’s own variations on Paganini’s O Mamma Cara , entitled, like so many other works at the time,  Souvenir de Paganin was written in 1829, was not published until 1887.

When I suggested to Aaron Shorr, Head of Piano at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, that he programme this piece, we realised that this piece was not part of the known Chopin canon.  In his words, “When Peter convinced me to play this piece, it was not a Chopin piece that I had come across or even knew, except from a small mention in the Paderewski Edition. Paderewski actually dismissed this particular work as a minor trifle, and it is unusual to find any Chopin that is as little known as this.

“Looking into it, I was first struck by the presence of a germ  of the style of the works that would follow this one. Firstly, it will be very obvious to you, if I take the opening; I was very struck by the opening few bars, which direcly prefigure the end of the  E Minor Etude, one of the most unusual endings of all time. In that piece, the ending seems to come, as it were, out of the blue. But we see that it is here in a different guise, in the introduction to the Carnival of Venice. .

“What I found particularly interesting, was the response that Chopin had to Paganini. This was very different to that of Liszt or Schumann. The Liszt-ean response to Paganini obviously, came out in the Etudes based on Paganini’s caprices. Theirs was a very virtuosic response to the idea  of Paganini. However, what Chopin seems to have taken, and passed on to his pupils, was the idea of cantilena. He seems to have been so struck by how Paganini was able to take this wonderful theme, and then spin a ‘string of pearls, as Chopin described it, of this main theme.

“You can hear, first of all the harmonic basis of the piece, the simple ‘one-five’ chords that Chopin set to this theme. This recalls Chopin’s most famour Berceuse. In fact, as soon as I played the Paganini variations, it became clear to me where the Berceuse had ‘come from’. Of course, this is a much later work. It wouldn’t be stretching the point too far to suggest that the Andante Spianato ‘s sound world, can be traced back to this early work/“So, to be able to spin these variations off this very simple harmonic setting was something for which Chopin was renowned, something completely different to the approach, that Liszt had. And perhaps this mining of great jewels from unpromising veins, was something which Chopin recognised in Paganini”

Berlioz was the only authority who noted what Chopin had achieved. The reverie into which he fell, hearing Ernst play The Carnival of Venice was of the evenings when he heard Chopin play in St Petersburg.

“It was an unforgettable moment when he reappeared and amid thunders of applause, after performing those glowing, grandly conceived works of this in his most imposing style, and as a farewell gesture to his audience played the variations on The Carnival of Venice (which he had the audacity to composer after Paganini, and without imitating them)-a piece of sublime whimsy in which invention and technical wizardry are so skillfully blended that in the end one ceases to be astonished at anything and simply sits back, lulled by the constant rocking movement of the accompanying theme, as thought solo violin were not executing the most prodigious feats of agility and conjuring cascades of gleaming, iridescent melody the while.” Somehow Paganini’s Carnival of Venice had the ability to summon up the entire romantic notion of the romance of this crumbling city.

A vital part of a touring performer’s tool box was the letters of introduction and transit which were necessary, not only to travel, but perhaps more importantly to gain access to the right salons, to the chamberlains, theatre directors, politicians, churchmen, police chiefs and ambassadors who could open or close doors. In preparation for arrival in Vienna in April 1828, the ‘Red Book’ lists no fewer than 19 references which would be necessary to not fail in the Royal Imperial Capital. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most fastidiously prepared  sections of the ‘Red Book’. Paganini, of course, had a huge advantage, as indicated by the letter which is recorded, to the Austrian Ambassador in Berlin, from ‘Pr Metternic’ [sic].

Prince Metternich in 1825, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Shortly after arriving in Vienna 1828  Paganini wrote: “This evening I will play at the house of Prince Metternich, and tomorrow again at a charity concert in the Redoutensaal“. It was Metternich who had been responsible for Paganini’s long delayed visit to Vienna. He first heard Paganini in the winter of 1818-19 in Rome-at the house of Prince Kaunitz. Paganini wrote: ‘Prince Metternich, who was then in Rome, could not attend this concert owing to an indisposition, but came to the Palace the next morning. To oblige him, I took the first violin that came to hand and played something for him, which pleased him so much that he came again the same evening….It was on this occasion that Prince Metternich invited me to come to Vienna. I promised to visit that city first after leaving Italy.

In a letter written to Germi from Naples, on the 20th July 1819, he noted that  he actually planned to go to Vienna in the spring of the following year, after having stayed in Palermo, at the invitation of Metternich, who had promised to assist him with presenting Academie. From Vienna, he suggested, he could go to Paris and then London. This was of course, exactly what eventually did happen, but only after a decade of prevarication. The Prince Metternich was later instrumental, alongside the Archduchess Marie Louise of Parma (who became Paganini’s patron in 1836), in sponsoring Achille Paganini’s legitimacy.

He was rewarded for his efforts by being given the medal of the Austrian Royal Household. It is noteworthy that his show-stopping variations on Paisello’s  ‘Nel Cor piu non mi sento’ were taken from the opera La Molinara which was very popular in Vienna. It had already inspired variations by Beethoven, Hummel, Vogler, and Gelinek, to name but a few of the many composers listed in Whistlings Handbuch.

Paganini-Capriccio Nel cor piu non mi sento (Magdeburg MS)/Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Antonio Stradivari 1699)/

I noted above, that Paganini had run into the violinist Charles Philippe Lafont in Baden Bade in August 1830. This links very neatly to the mention of Ludwig Spohr in the ‘Red Book’. Paganini note in a letter to Germi written on the 12th December 1829 in Karlsruhe, that he was on his way to give concerts in Kassel, where ‘Spohr was waiting for him’. Paganini and Spohr had actually met years before-he had heard the great German violinist play a concert in Venice, on the 14th October 1816. In his Selbstbiographie, Spohr reported that:

‘Paganini came to see me that morning in order to give me many congrutulations for my concert. I asked him to play something for me, backed up by the friends who were present. But he gave me a marked refusal asserting that this was the result of a fall which had caused trouble with his arm.’

Appropriately enough, the mention of Spohr in the ‘Red Book’ is health linked. During their time in Kassel, it appears that the question of Paganini’s healt had come up and Spohr recommended his physician who suggested he take the waters at Baden. This was not any old doctor, but the pioneering Surgeon and Opthamologist, Karl Himly, founder of Ophthalmologische Bibliothek,  the first publication about to ophthalmic medicine in Germany. It was in Germany that it was reported that Paganini had experience trouble with his eyes. Spohr wrote Paganini a letter of introduction to Himly, noted in the Red Book:

‘Letter from Cassel to Gottingen from M.r Spohr to the care of the celebrated doctor Sgr. Hmly who advised me to take the water cure of the Bath at Baden Baden, and the same letter procuring me a concert at Gottingen’

Karl Himly, image by Ludwig Emil Grimm 1826 (British Museum)

There are a number of accounts of Paganini wearing glasses with blue-tinted lenses. These were certainly not reading spectacles; it was widely presume that he wore these to ameliorate the glare from the lights around him. Standing between the orchestra and the audience, facing down, ensured that he was not facing the bright light from the orchestra’s music stands, if the orchestra was ‘fitted up on the stage’. His downward gaze ensured that he was not blinded by the brightest light in the concert hall, which was usually often became the huge centrally placed chandelier in. This also meant that Paganini effectively made himself the one dark spot in the hall; the combination of this placing, his posture, pale features, and old-fashioned dark clothing could only contribute to this effect. As Colonel Maxwell Montgomery wrote after encountering Paganini in 1814:

“ I have become acquainted with the most outré, most extravagant, and strangest character I ever beheld, or heard in the musical line…His long figure, long neck, and long forehead, his hollow and deadly pale cheek, large black eyes, hooked nose, and jet black hair, which is long and moren than half hides his expressive Jewish face-asll these rendered him the most extraordinary person I ever beheld.”

In many theatres,the new Gas Lighting was replaceding the candles and oil lamps, and the practice of dimming the lights during performances, even theatrical, had not yet been introduced.Even though the new gas lighting could be adjusted by the turn of a screw, the new bright theatres were still the essential novelty; this being so, Paganini’s sensive eyes would go on being tortured, and he was forced to lower his eyes or wear dark glasses.

For all this, Paganini’s  dark glasses would not have been prescribed for sunlight or stage lights. It was popularly believed that the effort of seeing through green or blue glasses could adjust an ophthalmic problem, through a form of exercise. In point of fact, this is, within limits, true. The eye can be therapised through such muscular and dilatory exercise, but only within half a dioptre. If the dark glasses had been designed to protect the eyes from glare, then they would have been much larger than the small lenses which were generally prescribed. Curiously, it is precisely these glasses that Gary Oldman wears as Count Dracula in the scene where he wanders the streets of  19th century London in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There are no depictions of Paganini wearing these spectacles, but there have been questions raised as to whether one of the six extant Landseer drawings of the violinist actually depicts him wearing an eyepiece. Whatever the reason for his purchasing them,  the blue tinted lenses might have helpe Paganini deal with on-stage glare, a problem which vexes most performers at some time in their performing careers.His glasses are preserved to this day in the archive of the Paganini Conservatorio in Genova, Italy.

 One image which has proved useful, and which has already formed part of our exploration at the Library is ‘Le Paganini du Charivari’ (Paganini of the Racket-makers). This image, which seems to date from an 1839 edition of Le Figaro , the year before Paganini’s death, cariactures the virtuoso, with a rampaging mob, and urinating dog, playing with a walking stick and a shovel, and wearing blue-tinted spectacles.

Le Paganini du Charivari.Caricature du Figaro(No.9)


Paganini in Southampton

One  page of the Red Book, includes no more than an address, of a ‘Mr Wellman’ in Southampton. This provides a laconic reminder of the importance of local promoters for Paganini, touring the British Isles between 1831 and 1834. On the 30th and 31st August 1832, Paganini gave two concerts at the ‘Long Rooms’ in Southampton. This was the ball room of the ‘Dolphin Hotel’, established in 1775, where Jane Austen also enjoyed dancing. As he travelled around the UK, the paucity of suitable theatres, meant that Paganini often gave concerts in just such multi-purpose rooms. The Ballroom of the Ship Hotel in Brighton has a plague commemorating his performance there from 1832.

The Long Room was behind the bay window on the 1st Floor (English style) on the right


The bill for Paganini’s concert at the  Long Rooms , in Southampton, gives a useful overview of the flavour and problems Paganini faced touring in the provinces in the UK. Top of the bill, literally, is the promoter, a  “Mr Wellman”, who announces that he

 ” has the honour to inform the Nobility and Gentry of Southampton  the County of Hants his Grand Evening Concert, will take place on Thursday Next, August 30th, on which occasion he has engaged the celebrated Signor Paganini, who will perform four of his most Favourite pieces, and will be accompanied by a First Rate pianist from London, etc.”

If one were only to read only up till this point on the playbill, one might easily be deluded in to thinking that there was no orchestra available. This concert took place took place eight monts after the s orchestral concert at the Albion Music Hall in Leeds, and by this point, Paganini was touring with the brilliant Pio Cianchettin, who began his career as a child prodigy (‘Mozart Britannicus) as accompanist.

Cianchettinni would have first met Paganini in Milan in 1816-where he played on the same bill as the violinist in 1816

However, further down, the bill explicitly states that “The orchestra will be complete in all its Departments and formed of the principal talent of the County. Leader Mr Klitz.” Mr P.Klitz was an accomplished pianist and violinist, as well as a composer of ballads. He ran a music shop in Lymington, which survives to this day.

The Klitz Family business continues to this day. Here is establishment, in the orginal building, in 1955

Clearly, Paganini had not intention, after the debacle in Leeds, of risking performing with the ‘principal talent of the county’. However, it is clear that Mr Wellman was not goint to take the risk of disillusioning his public, who would have demanded an orchestra ‘complete in all of its departments’. Perhaps this is where the slight lack of clarity as to whose concert it was, Paganini’s or Wellman’s may have originated.

Southampton High Street in 1828. The sign for Wellman's Music Shop is just visible on the right. Engraving by Skelton

However, the cause of the separation may have been more practical. Perhaps Paganini had demanded a careful rehearsal, with all the players, and stipulated the same condition as he demanded in Dublin a year earlier , as recorded twenty years later in the International Magazine:

[he stipulated that] if he required a rehearsal on a dark morning, when extra light might be indispensable, the expense of candles should not fall on his- a contingency which by no possible contrivance, could involve a responsibility exceeding five or six shillings.

Historically, the cost of candles fell on the shoulders of theatre performers. In late seventeenth century London the audiences were sometimes confined to the ‘court class’; the result being that the audiences were  to small to even cover the costs of these candles, let alone providing the performers with an income.

It is not inconceivable that the combination of the expenses of Paganini’s fees, the extra cost that would accrue with hiring the whole orchestra for the morning, and Paganini’s stipulation regarding the lighting expenses would simply have been too much for the hapless Wellman. It is clear that he was concerned that the attraction of Paganini might not be enough to cover his expenses, Paganini is sharing equal billing with Madame Pietralia ‘from the kings Theatre-Italian Opera House’ and Mr Field, ‘ from the Bath Concerts’ who between them would over ‘admired ARIAS from the most esteemed authors’ and ‘some of the most popular Melodies’ . Miss Petralia sang Pacini and Rossini, and Mr Field offered  ‘ The Trumpet of War’ and ‘ The Soldier’s Last Sigh’, very much John Braham material.

Pietralia, Signora Costanza, sharing the Bill with Paganini in London in 1831

In addition, the orchestra was playing a Haydn Symphony, unspecified, and an Overture ‘(by desire)’ by Boildieu, the Caliph of Bagdad.  This full programme was fattened further by an unspecified trio of flute, cello and piano, are billed to play a trio by Crouch, and with the addition of a harpist, a quartet by Nicolas Bochsa; it is not made clear whether the pianist in these two works would the ‘First Rate Pianist from London’. (presumably Pio Cianchettini) Paganini himself is billed to play a ‘Prelude and Rondo Brillante’, which does not match up to any one piece, but may be the finale to his first concerto, with an improvised prelude. The first half concludes with his variations on Mamma Cara, better known now as the Carnival of Venice, which he had first introduced in 1829. The concert finishes, in Paganini’s unique fashion, without either the orchestra ‘ complete in all its departments’ or a ‘first-rate pianist from London’, just Paganini ‘(By Desire)’, playing his Nel cor piu non mi sento variations, on Paisello’s la Molinara.

Niccolo Paganini-Capriccio Nel cor piu non mi sento Violin-Peter Sheppard Skaerved

So an extraordinary combination of factors conspired to render Paganini’s regional concerts in Britain, truly motley experiences. This concert alone shuffles back and forth between full orchestral works, piano and violin, piano chamber music, operatic and popular arias, leading up to  the star billing playing unaccompanied, not a situation which would be tolerated in the classical world today.

Like many of his fellow promoters, ‘Mr Wellman’ was presumably trying to satisfy both the appetites and social pretensions of his audience; he is most concerned to inform the ‘Nobility and Gentry…’ of the performance. In 1976, Cyril Erlich noted the dilemma faced by musical organizations at the beginning of the 19th Century, as to whether to admit the newly successful mercantile class:

“Consider the dilemma of the Philharmonic Society’s directors in 1821, when faced by an application from the proprietor of a confectioners shop in Bishopsgate Street. Picture their relief at their sponsor’s assurance that, while he might ‘occasionally be sen in his Counting House like other mercantile men…I defy any person to prove they ever saw him serving in the shop; his is as much above such a thing, as a hundred,who would not disgrace the Philharmonic concerts.”

Lord Byron had been similarly concerned about the social condescension that was increasingly necessary to attend ‘popular’ concerts, that he would have to rub shoulders with

“The pert shopkeeper, whose throbbing ear aches with orchestras which he pays to hear…”

There was certainly no assurance, when Paganini gave his concerts in small venues in the provinces, that the ‘better class’ of audience might not find themselves rubbing shoulders with some one ‘in trade.’ One report noted that:

“Last night, when he made his final exit, a great portion of the aufience in the pit stood up, and waved their hats, and cheered heartily.” Such behaviour would have hardly seemed the correct behavious of ‘likely people’.

Some journals attempted to reassure their readers of  the classiness of Paganini’s audiences, as illustrated by an entry in the Windsor and Eton Express  on the 24 May 1834.

‘ Signor Pganini’s concert at the New Rooms on Tuesday evening, was attended by upwards of 200 of the most respectable inhabitans os Windsor, Eton and the neighbourhood; and the company -judging by the rapturous applause that follwed every performance of the Signor’s- was highly delighted and astonished.”

Such social neurosis was not helped by reports such as the following, which appeared in The Harmonicon about a year before Paganini arrived in London.

“The celebrated artists,  Paganini, was summoned this last autumn to perform before the Queen of Bavaria, at the castle of Tegernsee, a magnificent residence of the Kings of Bavaria, situated on the banks of a lake. At the moment the concert was about to begin, a great bustle was heard outside. The Queen having inquired the cause, she was informed that about sixty of the neighbouring peasnt, having being informed of the arrival of the famous Italian violinist, were come under the hope of hearing some of his notes, and requested that the windows should be opened, in order that they also might enjoy his talent. The Queen went beyond their wishes, and with truly good-nature, gave orders that they should all be admitted into the saloon, where she had the pleasure of remarking their discernment, and the judicious manner in which they applauded the most striking parts of this distinguished artist’s performance”.

Schloss Tegernsee, Bayern

The report in the Windsor and Eton Express notes that the audience for Paganini’s concert was relatively large; “Upwards of 200…” Until the changes in instrumental design at the end of the 1700’s, it is not uncommon to find soloists expressing unease at the possibility of playing solos to such large numbers of these. Writing on the 30th January 1801, the Count Zizendorf reported on Beethoven and Punto playing Beethoven’s wonderful Sonata op 17: “The grand concert for the benefit of the wounded in the large Redoutensaal…Punto’s hunting horn could not be heard at the back of the hall.”

The bottom of the  Southampton bill reveals the more prosaic nature of the rather self-aggrandising Mr Wellman. The small print reads:

“TICKETS. 7s, 6d, to be had at Mr Wellman’s Music Warehouse, 170 High Street.”

Concerts being promoted by music shop owners was certainly not uncommon. ‘Mr Weiss’, who promoted Pagnanini’s concerts in Liverpool, was in the same trade. A few years later, the prickly critic of the Tatler, Leigh Hunt, engaged in a fire fight with the English opera composer John Barnett, composer of The Mountain Sylph, as to whether his music had suffered since he became the proprietor of a music emporium.

The ‘Finale’ announced to the Southampton concert is ‘God Save the King‘ although it is not clear whether this is Paganini’s astonishing solo variations on this, which he played with the violin in a bizarre scordatura tuned down a major third, or the full company of instrumentalists and singers.

It would be a tantalising possibility that Paganini himself might have played his variations as an ornamentation to the full set of verses to the anthem, which at this point was not yet known as the ‘National Anthem’.  The full quota of verses for God Save the King   stretches to six verses, the last of which is perhaps one of the worst examples of English bigotry, exhorting Marshal Wade to success gainst the ‘unruly Scots.’ This goes far beyond the frustrating of the ‘Enemy’s’ ‘Knavish Tricks’ familiar from verse two. One hopes that Paganini was not so ill-advised as to play this on his trip around the Scottish provinces; however, bearing in mind hs skilful manipulation of the Imperial Court in Vienna., I am sure that this was well within his understanding.

July 1st Lucy Anderson,   George F. Anderson and ‘Silly Billy’

There are two references in the ‘Red Book’ to the husband and wife George Frederick Anderson  and Lucy Anderson (nee Philpot) . The first reference ‘pour London’ simply notes that George Anderson’s address in London, from the ‘end of March’ will be ‘2 New Cavendish Street, Portland Place’.

New Cavendish Street today, looking pretty much the same as when Paganini walked there

George Anderson, born in 1793, was active as an orchestral leader, and married the virtuoso pianist Lucy Philpot, in 1820. She later became the piano tutor to both Queens Adelaide and Victoria and her family. I discovered her inscription in the extraordinary album kept by Eliza Wesley, underneath the entry for John Braham:

‘Lucy Anderson Pianiste and Instructress to Her Majesty Queen Victoria-August 3rd 1842

Lucy Anderson lived till 1876. Here, the 'eminent pianist' in later life

Lucy Anderson’s entry is even more succinct, but appears, to me, to be in her handwriting.

‘Madame Anderson/Pianiste a Londres’

Anderson was the piano student of the first Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, the multi-talented William Crotch, and the first woman to appear as piano soloist at the Philharmonic Society Concerts (in 1822). Anderson was not only the dedicatee of Hummel’s Grand Military Septet, but also renowned for her political and career savvy. She would have been a vital person for Paganini to know, not least for her royal connections. Paganini, encouraged by his secretary George Harrys, gave very careful though as to how the establishment needed to be ‘worked’ in London. Lucy Anderson and her husband would have been seen as important conquests.

In June of 1829, Paganini composed a Chant Patriotique  MS 62. The title page reads: “Composed on the occasion of the accession of his Brittanic Majesty, and King of Hannvoer, William IV/words by George Harrys.” Harrys, the ‘fiddler’s secretary’, also seems to have drive its publication, in a version for Voce, Choir and Piano, by the Hannover based firm of Bachmann and Nagel; it seems likely that he organised this publication without Paganini’s knowledge.

King William IV, by David Wilkie (Mendelssohn's preferred British artist)

When William IV came to the throne, it was widely assumed that his would be a reign of liberal form, but it is clear that the inititiative with Paganini’s composition was to curry favour in advance of his arrival, rather than political idealism. Harry’s words give a good idea of the tenor of this work.

Oh fortunate day, what a day of ….!/Great King! You dry all of our tears!/You would best perceive our joy/If you could read in our hearts./The hand of the Divinity/Has crowned you to our acclaim./Receive the homage and tribute/Due to your magnaminity.”

One would hardly think that this could be possibly have been writteb for the King who inspired, if that is the word, the epithet ‘Silly Billy.’ The shameless pandering initially failed to add any lustre to Paganini’s cabinet of decorations, but in July 1831, Harrys’ plan achieved a degree of success.  The correspondent of The Court Journal reported: ‘ July 9th…Calling again in the evening, I found Paganini alone, and wrpapped up in his customary ari of abstraction. He looked the very model of a hermit. He was seated at his dinner and begged me to follow his example. After a few glasses of capital Bordeaux wine, he rose from table, went into the adjoining room from whence he presently came out  with an air of triumph, ‘Annello è venuto’ (the ring is come). This was the beautiful gift bestowed by his Majesty William IV, accompanied by a letter, in which the Royal donor was pleased to express, in high terms, his sense of the Signor’s unrivalled talents. Such occasions as this must, indeed, produce the most exciting gratification in the mind of a great artist…’ Two days later , Paganini wrote to Germi: “At the invitation of the King, I played at the Palace; now I am wearing a ring.l; his jeweller was here, to take measurements from a Finger-I stretched out the first finger of my right hand.”

Paganini seemed to have been much pleased at his Godlike gesture, but Harrys was unable to witness this small triumph; he was long fallen from grace.

July 3rd

Perhaps it is worth noting that this book can be seen as the most astonishing cross section of necessary connections for the touring musician of the period. Throughout the book, there are lists contacts and ‘indirizzi’. Some of these are truly tantalizing, such as entry 21 on Page-view 31. This says, simply:

21: Mr. Mendelssohn Bartoli, Lepziger Str. 3

Leipziger Strasse 3. Berlin

Not all the Mendelssohns were impressed upon hearing Paganini.  Fanny Mendelssohn wrote on March 9th 1829: “He had the look of an insane murderer, and the gesticulations of a monkey.” Her brother, however, played chamber music with Paganini in London.

Page 39 notes:

‘…to the care of Mr Stodart, Golden Square

This was the address of the Piano firm run by William Stodart, who in 1820 had introduced the wildly innovatory ‘compensating’ piano. The Broadwood firm had attempted to prevent the movement of frame and action due to temperature and humiditiy fluctuations.  William Stodart came to the conclusion that this movement was unavoidable, so in 1820 had his technicians James Thom and William Allen, attach hollow pipes onto the frame, brass tubes mounted about the brass strings, iron matched to the iron, so that changes in tension would be matched by the “compensation frame”, sothe instrument would (hopefully), not go out of tune.I have heard the result, which is that when the piano ‘compensates’ there is a rather alarming ‘pop’ from the instrument. All the same, this technology was in use till the 1850’s. Paganini was fascinated with instrument technology-so I imagine that he would have been fascinated by this.

The 1828 Stodart 'compensating' piano (at the Royal Academy of Music)-the label showing the 'Golden Square' address.

Charles Dickens later described the atmosphere which Paganini would have encountered in Golden Square, in Nicholas Nickelby:

Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practising vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.

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.


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

Responding to Paganini materials in the Library of Congress

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.’

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

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?’


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

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