Antoine Bott-Caprices in the manner of Paganini

Posted on August 3rd, 2012 by

[In preparation-August 2012]

 Antoine Bott-Caprices in the manner of Paganini

Ludwig Spohr wrote of Paganini’s visit to Cassel: “In June 1830, Paganini came to Cassel, and gave two concerts in the theatre, which were of the highest interest to me. His left hand work, as well as his intonation, are marvellous in my estimation. In his compositions, as well in his playing, however, I found a certain mixture of childlike lack of taste and the stamp of genius, so that the total impression , after hearing hi repeatedly, did not entirely satisfy me.” (Spohr Selbstbiographie, II, p 180)

An early image of Ludwig Spohr, whose career dominated the 19th century

However, Paganini did make a great impression on at least one violinist there, Antoine Bott, a disciple of Spohr’s. According to François-Joseph Fétis, Antoine Bott, was ‘a good violinist at Cassel. He was born in Gross Steinheim in 1790. In between 1838-42, he conducted a musical society at Cassel. We have two sets of caprices by this artist for violin, written in the manner of Paganini,, with an instructive preface as to the execution of this music, in German and French.’ Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale… Volume 2. By François-Joseph Fétis.

Antoine Bott’s fascinating introduction to the playing techniques used in his ‘6 Caprices’ a journeyman’s guide to Paganini’s new approach-with my scribblings

These caprices give a fascinating window into an informed journeyman’s approach to Paganini. Two things are immediately clear from studying them. Firstly, Bott, had a copy of Paganini’s 24 Capricci. And secondly, that he had heard Paganini ‘live’. These six large concert caprices are the result of a melding of these two experiences, and provide us with a fascinating window into the contemporary reaction to Paganini.

Over the next few days, I will explore aspects of these 6 Caprices in a series of workshop recordings.

Caprice No 1 – E flat Major Allo Spirituoso 

Bott 1

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Workshop Recording-August 2012 (New York City)

This first caprice is relatively short, and sets the improvisatory tone for the whole set. Whilst the key signature is in E Flat, the piece ends resolutely in A Flat. This is not as uncommon as one might think at the beginning of the 19th Century, and when one thinks of the use of ‘prelude/cadenzas’ to move from one piece to another, one key to another, this piece may have been conceived (or heard) as an exemplar of moving to the sub-dominant key. Charles de Beriot’s-‘Prelude and Improvisation does the same thing.

Charles de Beriot- Prelude and Improvisation
(Live Performance at Library of Congress 2009)

Perhaps most interesting and useful, from a performance practice point of view is the explicit notation of long passages of portamento semi-quavers on one finger (‘4’ or ‘2’). This was clearly an effect that Paganini used, but in the decidedly non-improvisatory aesthetic applied (almost as mandatory) to his music today, it is eschewed. Sibelius clearly had the effect in mind when he wrote the extensive passage in ‘fingered harmonics’ in his Concerto, and indeed, the wonderfully free-minded Tossy Spivakovski played this passage (as Manoug Parikian pointed out to me) with one finger, suoni reali with the thumb off. Paganini would have approved. The combination of this, plus the wailing octaves without string crossings that Bott requires, minds me of Leigh Hunt’s description of Paganini’s playing:

‘Ghastly with whinigs thin…’

This caprice includes one effect that appears rarely in Paganini’s manuscript output-alternating left hand pizzicato and bowing in double stops.

Bott’s double stopped alternating arco/left-hand pizzicato

I suspect that he heard Paganini improvise this. In his ‘Bemerkungen’ Bott writes:

‘In plucking the fingers of the left hand most pluck the strings very neatly and distinctly. The bowstroke, meanwhile, must kept short and for the most part, up-bow.’