Paganini's Most Difficult Violin Work

December 12, 2019, 12:07 PM · We all know Niccolò Paganini's crazy virtuosic talents and his difficult pieces.

Paganini
Violinist Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840). Painting by Georg Friedrich Kersting.

Yesterday, I learned of another one of those pieces from TwoSet Violin: his "Introduction et Variations sur le Thême 'Nel cor più non mi sento' pour le Violon Seul de Nicolo Paganini." (Gotta love those old-fashioned long titles - for anything - academic papers, books, plays, pieces of music, etc. :P)

This piece is crazy difficult, and Eddy in this video does a great job of breaking down some of the most difficult techniques. To really appreciate how much time and effort goes into working on a piece like this, I also listened to a professional recording of the work alongside this video.

As a composer before a violinist, this made me think about the importance of accessibility when writing music. Unless you have the world's best musicians at your disposal, it is so important you are able to make sure your music isn't too difficult as to be unapproachable by everyday musicians. If you have the time, patience, and energy to spend learning a difficult work - or playing one you yourself wrote, like the Violin Devil himself - it is certainly a feat to hear a string of techniques one after the other thrown together into the work.

Musically, it is stunning to me how Paganini wrote a work that both is a show-off piece for the violin but also is a wonderful theme and variations all the same. He used all the same cues and ideas of 19th century composition, and added all of his stylistic flair as well. It would be interesting to see a work that, like Paganini, stretched the limits of the violin, but through modern techniques. The Berio Sequenza for solo violin comes to mind - I still might spend some part of my life learning that in the future, once I've settled down from college!

Anyways - hope you enjoy this piece! I picked a video that had a score on YouTube (some of the notes are incorrectly written in the score/the violinist adds things to it) - feel free to comment any versions you prefer.

Have a great rest of your day!

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Replies

December 13, 2019 at 01:33 AM · It’s such a good point, from the compositional standpoint. If you make a piece too difficult to play, then what kind of life will it have? People love “Eine Kleine Nachmusik” and no listener (and few players) ever complain that it’s “too easy”! It’s just well-crafted, and it sounds good even if you have high school kids playing it (depending on the high school kids!)

When Wynton Marsalis wrote his violin concerto for Nicola Benedetti, she complained it was too easy and sent him back to the drawing board to make it more challenging. I very much wonder what the first version was like for both listener and player; I wonder if I might have liked it better, both as a listener and as a violinist who might consider learning a new piece!

December 13, 2019 at 06:42 AM · That Paganini piece is technically astonishing, but musically vacuous. I listened to it. I can't think of any reason why I would ever listen to it again. Truth be told, I feel that way about most of the 24 Caprices too. It took Sergei Rachmaninov to make at least one of them into music. But what do I know?

December 13, 2019 at 07:16 AM · In my opinion God save the king is more difficult.

December 13, 2019 at 07:54 AM · anybody knows who is the violinist in the video-with-notes?

December 13, 2019 at 10:01 AM · Agree with what Mark said. I listened to that piece for 30 sec, pretty cool but not cannot find it interesting enough to listen further.

December 13, 2019 at 03:58 PM · Leonid Kogan's recording of this piece is spectacular. You either 'get it' or you don't - Paganini more like this than other popular composers, I find.

Luckily there's something for everyone!

December 13, 2019 at 08:24 PM · Fortunately for the likes of most of us, there is a large body of music by Paganini that is accessible to violinists of, say, grade 5 level and up. This music includes several dozen short sonatas for violin with guitar accompaniment that he composed for his high-born aristocratic lady pupils in the Court of Lucca, where he was Master of Music. These “Lucca” sonatas are in two-movement format, the first movement being a slow lyrical piece reminiscent of an Italian operatic aria (Paganini was an opera buff), and the second a lively dance tune based on a folk dance or popular song of the time.

December 13, 2019 at 08:51 PM · I watched the Two-Set video and was both awed by Eddy's ability to get this piece up to a listen-able level in a few months, and his generosity in sharing a project still in progress.

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