Paganini in Leeds, Paganini with Lablache, Calumnies, Mary Shelley

Posted on January 23rd, 2016 by

Paganini and British Royalty

In June of 1829, Paganini composed a Chant Patriotique MS 62. The title page reads: “Composed on the occasion of the accession of his Britannic Majesty, and King of Hannover, William IV/words by George Harrys.” Harrys, the ‘fiddler’s secretary’, seems to have driven 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.[i]

Portrait by Sir Martin Archer Shee

William IV by Sir Martin Archer Shee

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 initiative 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 magnanimity.”[ii]

One would hardly think that this could be possibly have been written for the King who inspired, if that is the word, the epithet ‘Silly Billy.’ The shameless pandering certainly 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 wrapped up in his customary air 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…’[iii] #

Two days later, Paganini wrote to Germi:

“At the invitation of the King, I played at the Palace; now I am wearing a ring; his jeweller was here, to take measurements from a Finger-I stretched out the first finger of my right hand.” [iv]

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

Taglioni, by the 14 year old Princess Victoria

Taglioni, by the 14 year old Princess Victoria

Two years later Princess Victoria heard Paganini at Drury Lane. On June 27th 1833,  Bellini’s  Norma  was presented  as one part of Laporte’s own benefit night.  The bill was luxurious indeed, offering the so-called ‘four talents of Europe’, being Paganini, Pasta, Malibran, and Taglioni. That astonishing programme announced that Paganini, “who has obligingly offered his services” to “play some of this celebrated variations”; Act III of Rossini’s Otello with Malibran as Desdemona; the ballet La Sylphide with Taglioni in the role that she had created for the Opéra, Paris the previous year; and a group of pas de deux featuring Fanny Eisler. The London correspondent of the  L’Eco¸ Milan, referring to Paganini as the “Man-Violin,” reported that his success that the benefit had been “colossal.”[v]

The 14 year-old Princess Victoria wrote:

“We came in at the beginning of the second act of  Norma, in which Madame Pasta sang BEAUTIFULLY. After that Sgnr Paganini played by himself some variations most WONDERFULLY; he is himself a curiosity. After that was given the last act of Otello; Desdemona, Madame Malibran, who sang and acted  BEAUTIFULLY. After that was performed La Sylphide; Taglioni danced BEAUTIFULLY and looked LOVELY. Fanny Elssler danced also very well. We saw the whole of the last act and much of the second. It was Laporte’s benefit. I was VERY MUCH AMUSED. We came home at ½ past 1. I was soon in bed and asleep.” [vi]

[i] Catalogo Tematico
[ii] George Harrys-Inno Patriotico
[iii] The Court Journal, Gazette of the Fashionable World, Saturday December 1 1832, No 188, P. 786
[iv] [Fuld 239]
[v] L’Eco¸ Milan (July 10th 1833),
[vi] [181 April Fitzlyon]


Preludio-Mary Shelley sets the scene


“Genoa! My birthplace-proud city! Looking upon the blue waves of the Mediterranean Sea-do you remember me in my boyhood, when your cliffs and promontories, your bright sky and gay vineyards, were my world? Happy time! When to the young heart the narrow-bounded universe, which leaves, by its very limitation, free scope to the imagination, enchains our physical energies and, sole period in our lives, innocence and enjoyment are united. Yet, who can look back to childhood, and not remember its sorrows, and its harrowing fears? I was born with the most imperious, haughty, untameable spirit with which ever mortal was gifted. I quailed before my father only; and he, generous and noble, but capricious and tyrannical, at once fostered and checked the wild impetuosity of my character, making obedience necessary, but inspiring no respect for the motives which guided his commands. To be a man-free and independent or, in better words, insolent and domineering-was the hope and prayer of my rebel heart.”  [i]

These words were published in 1831, but they are not by Paganini. In fact, they are not by an Italian at all, but the most influential woman writing in English of her age, Mary Shelley.  Shelley’s confused relationship to Italy mirrors the enthusiasm with which Paganini was greeted on his arrival in Great Britain. I have to say that they also mirror my own somewhat feverish anxiety at confronting him, even long after his death. But the first time that I visited Genoa, I succeeded in missing him altogether; I was there to play a concert of music written for me by Hans Werner Henze. It had been seven years since we had last spoken, following the kind of falling out that, it seems, performers and composers have always been fated to have, and I was so anxious about the reunion, that the beauties of the city around me escaped me. I only noticed the traffic, the grime, and the graffiti. It would be Paganini who led me back.

Mary Shelley's portrait by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Mary Shelley’s portrait by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Mary Shelley’s associations were bound to be confused; she had first arrived in the Genoa just a short while after her brother’s rotting body had been cremated on the beach near Via Reggio. Maybe her own reaction in London to the person of the Genoese Paganini,  described by Jules Janin in 1834, as a “Living Corpse” [ii], was more than a little conditioned by these traumatic associations with the city. But Mary Shelley’s somewhat contrived nostalgia for Italy, her imagining of herself as romantic Italian, ‘free independent or, in better words, insolent and domineering’ was not atypical of her time. This posture would reach its apogee in the dim eye which E.M.Forster would cast on the British pretension to Italian culture and sentiments. But Mary Shelley was no Lucy Honeychurch.[iii] The English idea of nobility derives from Castiglione’s epitome of the Renaissance Courtier, but with the implicit caveat, a concern, that a devilry must surely lurks behind that which the English find most attractive in Italian culture and character. As Forster reminded us, not without irony, the ‘Inglese italianato e un diavolo incarnato’; perhaps the fanatical response to the dark power that Paganini was seen to wield, was an echo of this old Italian proverb[iv]

Mary Shelley attended Paganini’s concert in London on the 18th July 1831, a month after his tumultuous first appearance in the capital. She left no record of her reaction to him, but later that year, wrote a new introduction to her Frankenstein, which the Standard Novels publishing house was bringing out in a second edition. She described the terror of the idea of Frankenstein breaking over her, and then the relief, which perhaps Paganini would have understood, that what terrified here would “terrify others”:

“I opened my (eyes) in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of red ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still, the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and the white high Alps were beyond. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story,-my tiresome unlucky ghost story O! If I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night! Swift as light and as cheering was the idea which broke in upon m. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others, and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow” [v]

One thing was clear to me, when I returned to the city in 2005, that it was inevitable that anyone born in Genoa, would turn their thoughts to travel. The very nature of the city, its landscape, its docksides, the ships clustering in the harbour, spoke of the excitement of departure. It was perhaps inevitable that an ambitious spirit born there, would dream of conquering the world.

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

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

Paganini’s arrival in London in May 1831, was greeted with wild enthusiasm, as years of anticipation and speculation was finally satisfied; the Italian mountain had come, finally, to Mahomet. His appearance on the British music scene was seismic; never before had a performing artist of any kind so galvanized public opinion from top to bottom, and stimulated debate as to who, and even what he was:

“Paganini is a native of Nova Zendia, we believe…a celebrated Irish violinist” “Very well, weryr well indeed. But Paganini is Sicilian.” “Not quite right yet. Paganini is a Corsican, and therefore a Frenchman, on the authority of Napoleon.” “Guess again, for you are as much out of the way as your brethren…Paganini is Genoese, that is to say, if his own account is any authority.” “All non-sense…Paganini was born at Lynn in Massacheusetts (sic). He is the son of a poor woman, and made shoes in that town for many years…”[vi] and so on.

There is no question, that the popular British imagination was most ready for Paganini’s arrival. Reading the poetic and journalistic responses to his presence, his music, his mien, it is almost as the writers were responding to a quasi-Messianic manifestation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s wilder self, as if the violinist Paganini was the poet reborn, bardlike, spinning his own musical Kubla Khan :

“And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills, /Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing trees. / And there were forests, ancient as the hills, / Enfolding Sunny spots of greenery. / But oh that deep Romantic Chasm? That slanted down the green hill, athwart a cedarn cover./ A savage place, as holy and enchanted/ As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/ By Woman, wailing for her demon lover./”[vii]

The musical landscapes and wild imaginings that Paganini’s appearance, stage persona and music suggested to his British listeners echoed Coleridge’s exotic and diabolic tales. Indeed, Coleridge’s wistful self-portrait, at the end of Kublai Khan might better be applied to the Genoan violinist:

‘Beware, beware, his shining eyes, his waving hair, / For he hath fed on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise.’[viii]

[i] Mary Shelley-1831
[ii] Jules Janin 1834
[iii] E.M.Forster-Room with A View
[iv] . [Mason-The English Gentleman P 51]
[v] (Gray 495)
[vi] undated newspaper cutting Axelrod
[vii] Samuel Taylor Coleridge-Kubla Khan 1798
[viii] Ibid.


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

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

At the turn of the 19th century, young professional musicians launched their careers by travelling between major cultural centres giving concerts and attempting to attract offers of suitable employment. Mozart’s letters home from Paris give an insight into this process. Paganini, however, was in his mid-forties before he travelled to Vienna for his first international tour in 1828. As a travelling virtuoso making his living by attracting paying audiences, Paganini had to be able to appeal to as wide a range of tastes as possible. His programmes included pieces which feature farmyard impressions, evocations of the supernatural and well-publicised stunts like playing complex music only on the G string. He exploited his poor health, taking advantage of his cadaverous appearance during the frightening epidemics of the 1830s.

Paganini endorsed Schottky’s biography of him as countering the “calumnies of his enemies” but he seems to have allowed rumours to circulate uncountered for many years before leaving Italy for the first time. He had a reputation as a miser – “Signor Paganiente” (Mr Pay-Nothing) – and the prices at his concerts provoked satire and press coverage. He was alleged to be a convicted murderer who had developed his one-string virtuoso technique in a prison cell. He was supposed to be in league with the Devil, to gamble, a dangerous rake … only in Prague and in Belgium that some people seem to have been too scared to go to his concerts at all; elsewhere he was constantly the subject of musical comment or gossip in the press.

Of course, violinists have often been assumed to be feckless wastrels. In 1802, Wilhelm Triest wrote a pen-portrait of the popular cliché, one which Paganini, seemed far from anxious to contradict, but maybe to uphold, perhaps pre-empting the adage that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ Triest’s list of the common solecisms of the debauched violin virtuoso, included:

“Immodesty, bizarre temperament, and a general tendency towards gambling, the opposite sex, and alcohol.” [i]

Niccolo Paganini (depicted as if in prison) Attributed to Daniel Maclise. Interestingly, this is the only close up painting of Paganini playing that I know. Look at the fascinating depiction of the bow hand, related to the guitar hand position, and the careful depiction of the artfully broken e a and d strings.

Niccolo Paganini (depicted as if in prison) Attributed to Daniel Maclise. Interestingly, this is the only close up painting of Paganini playing that I know. Look at the fascinating depiction of the bow hand, related to the guitar hand position, and the careful depiction of the artfully broken e a and d strings.

The story of his being imprisoned was given further, if apocryphal, credibility, by Stendhal in 1824. It has to be noted that this work was published four years before Paganini left the Italian peninsular. In his Vie de Rossini, Stendhal alleged that Paganini had learnt the violin whilst incarcerated. He wrote:

“This radiant soul did not learn his wonderful craft through eight long years of practise at a conservatoire, but unlucky in love was, as is often said, for a long time confined to prison. Alone and abandoned, as he lay in chains, all he had was the Violin. He learnt, to give expression to his deepest feelings through his tones, and the long nights of his imprisonment were sufficient for him to attain a mastery of this means of speech.” [ii]


Paganini was (publicly) infuriated by the book. In a letter written to Germi from Venice on the 24th July 1824 he begged him to write an article denouncing Stendhal, whose writing he found ‘idiotic’. He was so incensed that he copied out the whole offending passage in the letter that he sent to his friend and lawyer. [iii]

Whatever calumny Stendhal was perpetuating, one thing is worthy of note. He observed that the imprisonment could be a reason for a speech-like precision of expression which Paganini had cultivated, his ability to articulate emotions and ideas on his violin, never witnessed before.

Of course, Paganini was very aware of the publicity that accrued from the publication of Stendhal’s misleading piece, and the denunciation which Germi was enjoined to write. On the 27th November 1824, writing from Trieste, he noted that Germi’s refutation of Stendhal’s libel had ‘caused a furore in Venice’. Mission accomplished. [iv]

With 'Il Cannone' in rehearsal, London 2006 (Photo Richard Bram)

With ‘Il Cannone’ in rehearsal, London 2006 (Photo Richard Bram)

The story of Paganini’s imprisonment refused to die. In 1904 Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin published A Village Stradivarious; in the following passage, a schoolboy identifies with Paganini:

“He was caught occasionally, but not often; and even when he was, there were mitigating circumstances, for he was generally put under the teacher’s desk for punishment. It was a dark close, sultry spot, but when he was well seated, and had grown tired of looking at the triangle of black elastic in the teacher’s ‘congress’ shoe, and tired of wishing it was his instead of hers, he would tie one end of a bit of thread to the button of his gingham shirt, and, carrying it round his left ear several times, make believe he was Paganini languishing in prison and playing on a violin with a single string.”[v]


[i] [Gooley P 89]

[ii] Vie de Rossini, Stendahl

[iii] 24th July 1824 [La Pagina No 55],

[iv] [La Pagina No 60]


[v] 1904 Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin published A Village Stradivarious

Paganini, Bells, Lablache

Working with Paganini's travel notebook at the Library of Congress. Photo Richard Bram

Working with Paganini’s travel notebook at the Library of Congress. Photo Richard Bram

On the 12th August 1826, Paganini wrote Luigi Germi that he had almost finished a new concerto, which he hoped to premiere at the Teatro S.Carlo in Naples the following month. Exactly five months later, he wrote him again: “I have still not yet played my first concerto in Naples, nor has my second; with a un campenell obbligato…I would prefer that my compatriots hear these pieces, before they are performed in Vienna, London and Paris…”[i] These letters were the first references to the finale of his 2nd Concerto, which would eventually become known as La Campanella (after, the high F sharp bell which duets with solo harmonics).  The inclusion of any percussion instrument beyond timpani was unusual in a concerto, and Paganini rightly guessed that it would prove irresistible to concert promoters. He used a triangolo in the Rondo of the 4th Concerto, but this would be the only other time.  This movement was so successful, that he recycled it a number of times.

La Campanella was the first widely successful non-dramatic orchestral work to make a noticeably successful use of a bell. This is not to downplay the success of the violinist/composer Andreas Romberg’s Goethe-oratorio Lied von der Glock. It would be some time before Hector Berlioz trumped both works with the stroke of midnight in his Symphonie Fantastique, as (pace  Goya) “the sleep of Reason brings forth monsters”.. In his Genius of Christianity Chateaubriand had written of the power of church bells in the western tradition; it is more than likely, that Paganini had encountered him working for Elise Bacciochi in Lucca:

“On the face of it, it seems to be a rather remarkable thing to have found a way, by means of a singly hammer stroke, to awaken in one instant in a thousand hearts the same emotion. Considered moreover as harmonious sound, a bell unquestionably possesses a beauty of the first order, which artists call grandeur.” [ii]

Eventually, the following work would be announced, in a concert directed by the violinist Edward Eliasson, in July 1833 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. “Grand Descriptive Piece-the Matins of the Monastery of St Bernard with Chant of the Monks, Chimes and in three parts…to conclude with the celebrated Rondo della Campanella.”[iii] The Allgemeine Musicalische Zeitung described this work, scored for violin male voice choir, and orchestra, as ‘ziemlich bizarre’ after Paganini performed it in Berlin.[iv]

Johh Orlando Parry's take on Paganini's 'one string trick (playing on the G-String)

Johh Orlando Parry’s take on Paganini’s ‘one string trick (playing on the G-String)

The first London performance of the 2nd Concerto, was on the 30th June 1831, and provoked great enthusiasm. At one performance, extra excitement was added when the great bass Luigi Lablache himself played ‘the little silver bell’. [v] Paganini was very  amused at the sight of this great bear of a man, the greatest singer of his day, busy with so humble task, especially when an engraving of the event appeared in a popular transcription of the work published while he was in England. [vi] The correspondent of The Court Journal noted:

‘July 7th. I called to leave with Paganini a copy of his newly published ‘Rondeau alla Campanella’, the frontispieces to which represented the Signor engaged with his violin, and Lablache subordinatedly occupied with in tinkling the bell. He was much amused with it, but asked, with a laugh. ‘Cosa dira Lablache?’- (What will Lablache say to it?)’.[vii]


Simple silhouette of Paganini, apparently made during his last visit to the UK in 1834. Even this crude rendering gives a powerful idea of his unique posture.

Simple silhouette of Paganini, apparently made during his last visit to the UK in 1834. Even this crude rendering gives a powerful idea of his unique posture.

Musical meetings are serendipitous. However assiduous I might be, I cannot bring myself to read everything that I should. But, the lucky find, the moment of grace, however insignificant it might seem, should be seized:  a conversation with a stranger on a train on an airplane. So it was one afternoon, sitting backstage in a concert hall. Nothing earthshattering. Just a score left on a pile of orchestral parts. But a score nonetheless, and a free hour, and a need to think about anything but violin fingering.

The score was Rakhmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. To my shame, I realised that I had never looked at this piece (despite having expressed an opinion of it on a number of occasions). The very first thing that struck me was that Rakhmaninov (like George Rochberg, had taken the opportunity to draw a direct line between Paganini to Beethoven). After the initial flourish which opens the work, we are introduced to Variation 1. Of course, we have not officially been introduced to the Theme, so this is labelled ‘Précedente’. Paganini’s theme is introduced immediately afterwards. Under normal circumstances, I would have waved my hands in the air, and scream out: ‘But of course this is the Theme; it is the very fundamental of the Theme-the bass line.’ Which is precisely, of course, what Rakhmaninov wants me to say-the ‘elephant trap’ that he has dug; and into which, I have, of course, tumbled. As I fall, I cry out-‘it’s Eroica!!!’

He’s playing with the opening of the last movement of the symphony, which begins with a flourish and then, nothing but the simple fifth and octave based ‘bare bones’ of the simple harmony which is the essence of this melody, the charming little Kontretanz, which found its way to Eroica by way of the piano variations and the Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven’s piano variations begin even more comically than the orchestral movement, but also emphasise this line, pointing away from ‘Airs Variés’ to the world of chaconnes and passacaglias.  Rakhmaninov’s piece brings Beethoven’s piano back to the orchestra, whilst reawakening the very motion between instrumentations and different gravities which is the very essence of Beethoven’s piece.

But I am still in the trap; emphasising the notion of the Theme being a bass line, I have overlooked the obvious. This is a piece of solo violin music. Paganini’s 24th Caprice is a set of melodic variations. Any bass line that I might associate with it is a projection. Paganini did not see the need to provide accompanied versions of any of his solo works, caprices or variations, or in the case of this particular work, both. Even Bach could not resist the temptation to occasionally rework movements of his solo violin pieces into cantatas, or as lute pieces. But Paganini did not feel, it seems that his Capricci needed any help, any elaboration, nor accompaniment. Like it or not, this bass line is not a given for Paganini’s piece, it is an intrusion; the freedom of Paganini’s treatment of his own Theme rests on it not being there. The power of Rakhmaninov’s complicated joke relies on our forgetting that.

The closest that we have to a Paganini accompaniment to the Caprice No 24 is a manuscript set of parts in the ‘Kungliga akademiens Bibliotek’, Stockholm. This matches an edition, which it is not possible to date with any accuracy, published by Francesco & Co, of Lucca. In this version, the violin part is unchanged, but there is an accompaniment for string quartet, which in the 19th century was often shorthand for string orchestra. The accompaniment is labelled “tutti” which lends weight to my feeling that this is an orchestral transcription, and at one point provides a brief interlude. The manuscript version is entitled “Introduction samt Thema med Variat. For Violin of (sic) Niccolo Paganini”. The fact that this title is in misspelt Swedish does not lend credence to its authenticity, but the age of the copy is enough to suggest that, at the very least, that it was prepared during Paganini’s lifetime. The Catalogo Tematico of Paganini’s works notes that during his lifetime, there were editions of this caprice, with accompaniment of piano or violin, published by seven major publishers, including Ricordi. One of them, by Constallat, is fascinatingly entitled “Bataille, Thème et Variations”.[viii] Paganini obviously, never visited Sweden, but had an early link to the country. In May 1830, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported Paganini as saying: “At the age of seventeen years, I made a tour of northern Italy and in Toscana, appearing many times at Livorno, where I composed bassoon music for a Swedish amateur, who did not find it difficult.” [ix] But that’s all we have.


The instrumentation of the Rakhmaninov’s Rhapsody provided a further jolt. Amongst an array of percussion instruments, a Glockenspiel is requested. However, it is pointedly labelled in the first printed (1934) score, as Campanelli.


(Sidebar: Looking at this, it struck me that sometimes, in accepting that we cannot possibly adduce a complete reading of a creator’s motivations and or terms of reference when we look at their work, it might be better not to try, to accept, that all we can really see, is what we are looking for, and what we stumble over. It’s not exactly Heisenberg, I acknowledge, but it works for me. The point is that the small revelation of the treatment of the Variation Précedente, and its relationship, or not, to Beethoven has helped me to realise that a work such as Rakhmaninov’s Rhapsody can yield small moments of clarity to which can be useful.)


‘Campanelli’ catches my attention, because it is so specifically Italian, especially in the context of a pianist writing a piece based on Paganini. The first pianist to write a significant work based on Paganini’s music (that has survived the test of time) was Franz Liszt; the third of his Grandes e?tudes de Paganini is a transcription of La Campanella. His contemporaries, Vicenzo de Meglio, Henri Herz and Ignaz Moscheles  all included La Campanella in their various Paganini transcriptions. In consequence, it seems impossible to write a piece for piano, based on Paganini’s work, which includes the word Campanell- (this will come clear) on the title page, or requirements, the ‘dramatis personae’ of the piece, without a question coming to mind.

The Italian for Glockenspiel is Campanella,   of which the plural is Campanelle.  It is clear that Rakhmaninov does not want a literal reading of Campanelli which is Bells (although Campane is more often used). This of course, is the title of Rakhmaninov’s favourite composition, his 1913 ‘choral symphony’. That work is unique in depicting Russian life through the bells that accompany it: the sleigh bells of his youth, the joyous campanology of marriage, the demonic alarm bells of fear, and finally, the passing bells of death (with death himself “laughing and roaring and howling”). The sleighbells of a Russian Christmas found their way into a violin concerto by one of Rakmaninov’s contemporaries, Aleksandr Glasounov, in its pointedly ‘Paganini-esque’ finale.

I cannot resist the notion that Rakhmaninov has inserted this requirement as another of his ‘elephant traps’, inviting the knee-jerk response, whilst drawing a parallel between Paganini’s clochette/campanella, his own use of bells, and the Due Campane (two church bells) in Berlioz’s Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat from the Symphonie Fantastique, which was Berlioz’s monumental riposte to Paganini’s ‘witches dance’, his very own Le Streghe. And all of this, just from a tinkling F sharp bell, and the simplest melody: A E A E…..

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 In Leeds

Paganini played twice  at the Albion Street Music Hall, Leeds,  on the 17th and 18th January 1832 . An engraving of this visit  reveals the hall’s lighting system. Uplighters illuminate the wall behind the stage, and the apse above. This system of reflected light from a semicircular apse above and behind the stage, is surprisingly effective, and works well for small halls. It is still in use in the small recital hall/studio which the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Lord Leighton, built for himself in Holland Park, London (This was a stage on which Joseph Joachim played many times).

Paganini at the Albion Music Hall, Leeds. 1832 Lithograph by Henry Andrews Taylow

Paganini at the Albion Music Hall, Leeds. 1832 Lithograph by Henry Andrews Taylow


The audience are  jammed in tight, sitting on benches not chairs, with couples standing the whole length of the central aisle to the stage. Cloaks and coats are flung over the balconies of the gallery seats above, to protect againsts the Yorkshire winter weather. One is lead to wonder whether the Windsor and and Eton Express  would have found this audience to be the ‘most respectable inhabitants’ of Leeds.

Paganini stands centre  stage, right on the edge of the stage, his violin held low towards th audience .Behind him, an orchestra, which appears to either be painted on the wall behind, or disappearing into thin air, as well as a pianist stage left, the only other musician who is clearly visible. The pianist (Edward Booth) depicted at the large piano, is the only apparently solid musician on stage aside from Paganini. In fact the lithograph was made by an artist friend of the pianist, one Henry Andrews Taylor, who seems to have been experimenting with a lithograph stone, which as one contemporary commentator pointed out, ‘the process was perhaps as little known as the works of John (sic) Sebastian Bach were to provincial musicians. It had not passed, in its now familiar commercialised form, into the hands of the wholesale printers, to lose its soul in the pursuit of business prosperity.’

The publicity for Paganini’s Leeds concerts promised much. The ‘Leeds Mercury’ for the 14th January 1832 announced: “The orchestra will be complete and effective, and Messrs. Sykes and Sons are in Treaty with several eminent vocalists.”

Despite the promoter’s promise that ‘’the orchestra will be complete and effective’, the report of the first concert in the Leeds Intelligencer consisted of a heated discussion on what constituted an effective orchestra. Pointedly referring to the ensemble assembled on stage at the Albion Music Hall as a ‘band’, the correspondent clearly considered the ‘band’ that Messrs. Sykes had put together, “… neither numerous not efficient; the occasion and the audience considered.”[i] A second concert was arranged for the following night. It ‘went off’, it seems, more satisfactorily. The Leeds Intelligencer was vague as how this was achieved.

The fact was, that Paganini could not countenance playing his second concert with Messrs. Sykes’ group, so they were not engaged for the repeat performance. A local pianist, a Mr Booth, was engaged to provide a piano accompaniment in lieu of the orchestra. His grandson reported: “The orchestra was so unequal to the occasion that Paganini (after his first experience of its quality) came to the pianist with a request that he would be so could as to oblige him with a pianoforte accompaniment to his subsequent solos.”

Paganini did not travel with the full scores of his works, just the sets of orchestral parts. The brave Mr Booth had to improvise the accompaniments from Paganini’s own solo parts, which as a rule he refused to show to anyone (except Germi or Habeneck).  Mr Booth seems to have acquitted himself well, all though it is unclear as to whether he played completely alone, or with the orchestra ghosting the music behind him, which might be one interpretation of the disappearing musicians in the lithograph of Paganini’s appearance(s) at the Albion Music Hall. The   Leeds Intelligencer was non-committal- “the Band improved.” Perhaps the reviewer was so impressed by the sonic improvement of the concert (without the clumsy efforts of ill-suited musicians, Paganini was actually audible)that he failed to notice that the orchestra was no longer ‘fitted up on the stage’. At any rate, the sound of the performance, orchestra or not, was certainly much ‘improved.’

However painful the whole experience proved, it would not be Paganini’s last performance at the Albion Music Hall. He returned the following year on the 2nd September 1833, but only offered one concert. [ii]