December 12, 2013 at 06:09 PM · I am looking for some opinions on the 24 Caprices by Niccolo Paganini.

1.Which ones are considered the most difficult?

2.Which Caprices are the most popular?

3.Which recordings are the best?

Replies (22)

December 14, 2013 at 08:06 AM · 1. Depends on the person but I think the most difficult are 1, 4 and 6.

2. #24. and annoyingly so.

3. Rabin, Perlman, Kavakos, Ehnes, Kogan, Kaler.

December 15, 2013 at 02:06 AM ·

December 16, 2013 at 08:45 PM · In my humble (very, very, very humble) opinion, that famous theme of #24 has the most depth of anything Paganini ever wrote. There's a reason that the likes of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and Ysaye and Milstein and others wrote variations on it. It is truly haunting and is as great a melody as has every been written by any composer. What one may think of the variations or of the other caprices is another matter.

#24 is probably the most popular. And I think there are certainly many great recorded performances of it. In addition to those mentioned above, I happen to like the 1946(?) live Carnegie Hall performance by Ricci. The audience applauds briefly after his spectacular pizzicato passage, obscuring the next variation, and the sound quality of course leaves something to be desired. But the performance is a truly great one.

December 17, 2013 at 02:27 AM · @ Michael,

thanks for your post.

What concerns the violinists I am a little hesitant about Rabin. I personally find his interpretation too plain and for the sound a little too rough despite technical qualities.

Lately I was listing a lot to Shlomo Mintz recording of the 24 caprices.

December 17, 2013 at 02:32 AM · @ Marcus,

I agree, No 24 is really a gem of the violin literature. Is the Ricci recording available?

December 17, 2013 at 04:26 AM · Greetings,

for me them the classic version of no 24 is by Heifetz. Interesting to see how much he moves around. I would love to have heard Kreisler play that work. A really excellent no nonsense modern performance is Hilary Hahn.



December 17, 2013 at 07:12 PM · Andreas:

The Ricci version is available on a (I believe) 2-cd set of the the live performance of his entire non-accompanied recital, performed in Carnegie Hall in I think 1946, right after WWII. Ricci, of course (like Heifetz and Menuhin and others) played for U.S. troops frequently during that war. Ricci would have then been in his mid-20's, and was certainly in great form.



December 17, 2013 at 08:00 PM · For me, the version that is most in the spirit and the tradition of the Paganini Caprices is by Alexander Markov -- larger than life with dazzling virtuosity and abundant musical and violinistic creativity and imagination. The fact that the performances are not quite perfect doesn't bother me a bit. In any case, this is far more accurate and clean than the classic recording by Ricci. It shows how much technical standards have risen in the past half century.

December 17, 2013 at 08:05 PM · I'm not sure I'd agree that the theme from #24 has anything resembling "depth." To me it's just a silly little tune. I'd even call a little inane, up there with Twinkle Twinkle. As a whole, the caprice is prevented from having any musical depth due to its form as a theme and variations; there's no room for any kind of interesting harmonic development. Maybe it's so popular with violinists because it's also one of the easiest.

Instead, I much prefer several others, including 11 and 21. The latter two are much more interesting, and speak more to Paganini's music world: opera. In #11 for example, look at the dramatic modulation in bar 9, which begins in E-flat after 8 bars of C and then G. I'm not sure even Beethoven would have modulated so suddenly from G to E-flat.

But even without regard to the harmony, I see much less in the way of interpretative opportunity for #24. You play it in tune, nice sound, get the 10ths, and you're fine. You can't do that with many others--they require more musicality.

December 17, 2013 at 09:08 PM · I think it would be better if the tenths were played with left-hand pizzicato.

December 17, 2013 at 09:31 PM · In the "Spring" Sonata Beethoven ends the first theme in C major (measure 25). He begins the transition into the second theme in Ab major. This is a chromatic-third (or -mediant). In fact, it's very much like what Paganini did in the 11th caprice.

The chromatic-third has been in use all the way back to the Renaissance.

December 17, 2013 at 10:36 PM · Touché! I guess Beethoven did do it. After all, he does also go from C to E in the Waldstein piano sonata (although not as suddenly...).

However, few composer prior to Beethoven would have modulated so suddenly to a distant key. While you say it was done "back to the Renaissance..." you'd be hard pressed to see Baroque or Classical composers doing it this way.

Paganini's modulations are, as a whole, entirely Romantic.

Besides, since the Renaissance composers didn't compose, strictly speaking, in diatonic keys, the concept of "modulation" doesn't have quite the same meaning to begin with.

December 18, 2013 at 01:26 AM · Rabin's recording is raw...very 'room-like' sound. The sheer exuberance he rolls through them with is exhilarating. He is one of the very, very few violinists whose momentum never concedes to technical challenge.

Kaler has great recordings of them as well.

I love Hilary Hahn's recording of the 24th, she plays it very musically, in a great way. Every recording has something to offer though. Menuhin playing the 6th is soul-moving, he is one of the very few who really bring out feeling in the tortuous trill passages.

December 18, 2013 at 03:52 AM · There are YouTube's of guys playing the 24th on the string bass, that is fun to watch.

December 18, 2013 at 04:44 AM · Greetings,

I agree with Scott that the melody to 24 is really rather trivial.

Personally I think number 20 is vastly superior. One of the best things that Paginini wrote, this caprice is about as near perfection as one can get. I have never understood the tendency of violinists of the past to play it with piano accompaniament. There is so much drama in the second half the piano just gets in the way.



December 18, 2013 at 04:19 PM · Trivial, eh? Then you might find yourself in disagreement with Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Milstein, Ysaye, and a number of others.

Be that as it may, here's the reference for one of Ricci's best recordings of Paganini #24:

It's a 2-CD set containing 2 New York performances:

1 A Town Hall concert (November 21, 1946), which includes unaccompanied pieces (several Paganini Caprices, a bit of Bach, Ysaye, Kreisler, and a few others).

2. A Carnegie Hall concert (with piano accompanist, October 5, 1947), which includes pieces by Stravinsky, Kreisler, Hubeau, Thompson, Paganini, and others).

It's a "URS-50193" set, copyright 1996, made in Japan, by "One-Eleven Ltd.," with a PO box in Hong Kong.

Cheers, and Happy Holidays,


December 18, 2013 at 08:14 PM · I remember Fodor calling me up in the middle of the night playing the 4th caprice and saying... " profound." I agree.

I would also like to give a shout out to Soovin Kim and his recording of the caprices.

December 18, 2013 at 08:25 PM · Greetings,

dont be so grumpy.Your rebuttal completely misses the point. There is no connection between whether or not a theme can, and has generated the masterworks you cited and its level of profundity. Its just rather hard to see how one can claim that theme, which is charming , is profound. In general profoundity goes with conext. Otherwise one could say that the opening of beethovens 5th is the most trivial musicla fragment on record perhaps.



December 18, 2013 at 09:34 PM · I'm sorry, Buri...was your reply intended for me? I wasn't rebutting anything. I was just relaying a story about the 4th caprice. I didn't mean to be grumpy.. Just sharing a story. :)

December 18, 2013 at 09:37 PM · Buri:

Thank you for your thought-provoking response. However, I didn't think I was being grumpy. There is certainly lots of room for lots of varying opinions in the arts.

It just seems to me that the apparent simplicity of the Paganini 24 melody belies something elementally profound, and I'm speculating that perhaps that was the reaction of so exalted a composer as Brahms. I doubt whether he would take something trite so seriously (except when he was using humor, such as the student drinking songs in the Academic Festival Overture). But his variations on the Paganini theme are quite powerful and dramatic.

And speaking of simplistic, how about 5 drum taps? That's the Beethoven Violin Concerto, even more trivial than the opening of the 5th symphony.

Anyway, good discussion, and I always appreciate your comments.

Have a great holiday.



December 18, 2013 at 10:22 PM · Before we put Brahms on a pedestal, just keep in mind that he was obsessed with Viotti's concerto #22, and had Joachim play it over and over for him (Joachim himself liked it better than concerti of Mendlessohn and Brahms).

Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann in 1878:

" The Viotti Concerto [No. 22) is my particular is a glorious piece..."

I'm not sure that history has agreed with him.

(source: Great Masters of the Violin/Schwart, p.146)

December 19, 2013 at 03:23 PM · Eh, I think Brahms still belongs on a pedestal. Maybe he perceived something in these pieces that escapes us ordinary folk. And Brahms, by all accounts, was as critical as one can be. Surely, the rote repetition of a less than exalted work would have made its impact grow thin, especially for Brahms.

Don't forget, the initial reviews of the Beethoven Violin Concerto were that it is boring and repetitive, and it took decades for it to be "discovered."

And, for whatever it's worth, my personal opinion is that the Viotti is really beautiful. It's in a category, I think, like the Goldmark - played on the way to the "major" concertos and not considered in the same category, but still quite genuine and effective pieces of music.

Give a listen to Grumiaux's Viotti and Milstein's Goldmark. I think they found something in these pieces that gives both performances depth.



For no particular reason, this reminds me of the story about Sir Thomas Beecham, who asked the orchestra's librarian, "What do we have on tap?"

The librarian replied, "The 'Pathetique' Symphony, Sir Thomas."

And Beecham replied, "Oh, let's see what we can do to cheer it up."

And another one, this time attributed to the famous golfer, Lee Trevino: "Golf is a game invented by the same people who believe that music comes out of the bagpipes."

(What all this has to do with Paganini Caprices, I'm not sure)

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