Paganini and Style

Edited: May 21, 2017, 12:24 PM · I have been working for some time on a practice method for the Paganini caprices and came across some interesting information concerning the 21st caprice. It is well documented that Paganini would use a single finger many times in succession. ( Francois Fetis wrote (Paganini) will at times, employ one finger instead of another, but more often he uses one and the same finger for several notes.)

In 1830 Carl Guhr, a contemporary of Paganini published a book, Über Paganinis Kunst die Violine zu spielen. In the forward he writes in the English translation, "For a long time I was so fortunate as to hear this great master constantly, and to converse with him on his manner of playing."

In a musical example in the book he uses the opening of Caprice 21 which is an amoroso melody in 6ths. The fingering in the example is third and second finger throughout. When the same melody appears up an octave first and second fingers are used throughout. This is contrary to any modern edition of the work, and this reinforces the cantabile style in the piece.

Replies (11)

May 21, 2017, 1:09 PM · Very Interesting, Mr. Berg. Thank you for posting this. I think the reason using the same finger pattern reinforces the cantabile style is because instead of thinking about a different finger pattern, the violinist can focus more on matching the style of the higher octave to that of the lower octave. I wonder why the modern editions would not keep that fingering. Was it Paganini's original fingering or was it Guhr's fingering?
May 21, 2017, 2:22 PM · Yup!

He would usually use the same finger for a melodic singing line to imitate a singer.

Also relates to the octave jumps in melodic passages. Whereas modern players just skip to the next string, Paganini slided up with the same finger to imitate a soprano singer.

Notable example is the oft-repeated octave jump from the first E on the D string to the one above it on the A.

Authentically, the finger (1 or 2) should slide up to 7/8th pos on Sul D. :)

May 21, 2017, 2:28 PM · We do not have to my knowledge any evidence of Paganini's fingerings in most of his works. However, Guhr was contemporary and wrote "For a long time I was so fortunate as to hear this great master constantly, and to converse with him on his manner of playing." So this is on good authority.
Edited: May 21, 2017, 3:20 PM · We have Waltz as fingered by Paganini for Sivort's benefit (I have the fingerings wriiten out, can provide if wanted). :)

But, it is instructive indeed that when asked about the lack of fingering in the Caprices, Paganini said:

"Do you not see who I have dedicated them to (All the Artists)? :D

May 21, 2017, 5:15 PM · I see about the fingerings. Would you be willing to share your Paganini practice method when your work is complete?
May 21, 2017, 9:36 PM · Bruce - I am only aware of David (1854) and Reuter (1924), that somewhat consistantly uses 2-3 throughout. Do you know if there are any other editions?

And personally I don't think it matters that much in this instance, since I suppose Paganini intended a singing slide rather than a glissando, so he probable didn't let each and every shifting sound like a gliss but rather only on certain places. And that can be achieved with just about any fingering.

Edited: May 22, 2017, 1:35 AM · To mention Ricci once again !!! He also talks of the way Paganini played and has examples of fingering. (Ricci on Glissando) He mentions also about scales with one finger, and shifts using the same finger, and creeping about the fingerboard for safety reasons. (i.e. Avoiding Trombone like shifts). EDIT - Oh dear, I missed the f out ... thank heavens for editing !

I think players up to the Kreisler era (or just beyond) emulated singers more and would go up the string rather than make string crossings, at least where possible. I think cellists amy also do this even these days, and it does, in my opinion, give a more cantabile effect to phrasing.

A very interesting subject Bruce. Thanks for bringing it up.

May 22, 2017, 6:53 AM · @Peter: We now have a 'delete post' button. :)
May 22, 2017, 10:53 AM · Peter, your original Trombone comment regarding Trombone defecation was hilarious! It just fits some trombone players I've known.
Edited: May 22, 2017, 11:56 AM · Bruce and Helen, I also recommend the book, Ricci on Glissando for insight into Paganini's technique, a totally different style from today's.
Edited: May 22, 2017, 12:34 PM · @A.O. Thanks - I have now deleted.


I think Ricci was very respectful about trombone players as i am also. I wasn't meaning to be funny, and I don't think he was, but Ricci's description is accurate when applied to violin shifting.

EDIT: I've looked back and of course I see now it was my typo (which was genuine) and this was the joke, and not Trombonists. (i.e. "Shift" without the "f")

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