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Laurie Niles

Ten-Minute Tangent

May 8, 2013 at 8:47 PM

One of the many wonderful things about teaching young students is the fact that I get to be the first to tell them certain fascinating, even awe-inspiring things about the violin, its history and its heros.

That is, if I remember.

It's pretty easy to forget, actually, while tending to other important details:

"What does that sharp mean in this key signature?"
"The frog is getting lonely, please visit the frog more often!"
"Your thumb, your thumb…!"
"Nice vibrato, keep doing it!"

Yesterday, I raised the topic of Paganini, almost as an after-thought: "You are playing Witches Dance! You must hear the original!"

I fished out our friend Emil Chudnovsky's recording of "Le Streghe" from my tower of CDs and let it roll.

Here is another favorite, with Eugene Fodor (Skip to 3:20 if you want to go right to the part excerpted in the Suzuki book. Then of course you'd best go back and listen to it all!):


That's right, in the middle of Suzuki Book 2 is an arrangement of Paganini's "Le Streghe," translated as "Witches Dance." One might not be thinking of Paganini quite yet, when working with a Book 2 student. But why not? There it is!

"Have you ever heard of this gentleman, Niccolò Paganini?" I asked.

Paganini(By the way, Eugene Fodor himself corrected me, when I kept saying "Paganini" like "magazini" while interviewing him -- "It's POG-anini! Not PAAAG-anini! Say it right!")

She had not heard of Paganini -- I had not expected that she would have. So as we listened to "Le Streghe," I told her about this wonder of the early 19th century, who amazed people so thoroughly that they were convinced he had sold his soul to Satan in return for that wicked technique. (Another explanation for his amazing technique could possibly be: a great deal of practicing, combined with an unusually wide hand-span, which many believe was actually due to Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition which causes unusually long limbs and fingers.) I also told her that Paganini wrote "some of the hardest music for the violin," which she had no trouble believing, while listening to "Le Streghe"!

Such things are worth the occasional five- to ten-minute tangent, yes?

From Rachel Neville
Posted on May 8, 2013 at 10:16 PM
I want someone to make a movie about Paganini with a really well-written script. I realize the well-written script might be too much to ask for. Also, I heard one of the Paganini caprices for the first time ever last Friday. The violinist was Yee Eun Choi. She kind of blew my mind. How's that for a tangent!
From Elizabeth Field
Posted on May 9, 2013 at 1:48 AM
Wonderful to introduce kids to Paganini early on! An interesting fact, he played on a pre-modernized violin (baroque set up), as he was supersticious and wouldn't let anyone take the top off. Gut strings, a light transitional bow and no chinrest, the techniques he used were actually high baroque with a much greater range of the fingerboard. BTW- the picture you have included is a fake. Its not Paganini. There is a good drawing somewhere though, it should be on line.
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 9, 2013 at 6:42 PM
Ol' Poganini is looking might svelte in his little black dress. And how about that bow hold. I mean look at his thumb.
From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on May 9, 2013 at 8:21 PM
Hi Elizabeth, that is not all entirely correct. I recommend reading Carl Guhr's Paganini's Art of Violin playing for more information on Paganini's set up including string gauges. Also he had quite a few violins and bows, including bows by Eury and Italian makers, he was also a big fan of Vuillaume's metal violin bows (he thought of them as superior to wood). See if you can track down the book as translated by Joseph Gold, he is an expert on Paganini and provides corrections to Guhr's work. Happy violining!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 9, 2013 at 9:55 PM
No way! Maybe I'll swap it out! It does appear to be someone with freakishly long fingers, though!
From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on May 9, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Oh yeah, that's def not Paganini Laurie! That picture is an antique joke, I have a blow up somewhere, the model has wax on his nose and everything :-) Check out those hands!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 10, 2013 at 5:21 AM
My bad....LOL!
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 10, 2013 at 8:24 PM
Darn that kinda wastes my comment about the dress.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 11, 2013 at 12:03 AM
So I subbed out the picture, but here's a link to the erroneous one of "Paganini" with a wax nose and weird dress, if anyone is curious!
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 12, 2013 at 3:37 AM
Darn now we have to start putting our chins on the other side of the tail piece.
From Anna Ashmole
Posted on May 12, 2013 at 8:23 AM
Here is a story about Paganini receiving a wooden shoe through the post, with a letter saying that the writer 'having heard much of his genius, begged as a proof thereof he would perform in public on an instrument made out of this sabot'. Apparently Paganini had it converted into an instrument of sorts and did indeed perform on it!

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