People say that Paganini is just showmusic, or that it's impossible to listen to Paganini for pleasure...
I say that there's just been nobody capable of playing Paganini truly to the spirit of the man who wrote the music!
While some of his works are just showpieces, much of it is actually beautiful music. The artist just has to know how to coax it out. For example, the caprices. Almost everyone plays them focused entirely on the technical aspect, and, as a result, you have dry, screechy performances that are both boring and tastelessly gaudy. The only person who I think ever did the caprices their due justice was Markov (and he did it all in one concert, no less). If Paganini played his music as robotically and hamfistedly as most modern-day violinists do, he would have been laughed off the stage. His music deserves the respect of being called music.
Everyone seems to think that Paganini only ever wrote 31 pieces, too: 6 concerti, Moses in Egypt on one string, and 24 caprices he never performed. If that was his entire lineup, he never would have become as famous as he did... There is so much more to Paganini than people think. If you played some of his solo guitar work for the average violinist, they'd never guess who wrote it. It sounds nothing like his "best hits".
funny enough, i have exactly 31 violin pieces by Paganini on my shelf, excluding the 24 caprices and works for violin & guitar.
Paganini is basically Rossini, but writing for violin rather than writing operas. His writing is much more in the Italian operatic tradition.
The most beautiful Paganini caprice performances I have heard have been Augustin Hadelich. I don't think I even remembered to breathe the last time.
What Lydia said!!!
Who says it's just showmusic? Never heard anyone dispute that it has real character, even if it is used as etudes.
Paganini's violin and guitar duets alone run into three figures. A fair number of these are short 2-movement sonatas composed for his high-born lady pupils of the Court of Lucca, and are well within the reach of most amateurs, provided they are prepared to put in the required work. The format of these sonatas is an opening adagio or andante reminiscent of an Italian opera aria (Paganini was an opera buff, as well as being the leading guitarist of the day), the second movement is a lively dance piece, some of which are evidently based on folk dances or songs of the period.
First piece of classical vinyl I ever bought was Maurice Hasson playing Paganini 1 and Prokofiev 2. I always loved both equally. There's plenty of powerful emotion and lyricism in Paganini 1, especially in the slow movement, and I agree with everything Lydia says and those who extolled his lyricism in "the other thread", which I was careful not to contribute to.
Had I the chops to play Paganini Caprices, I wouldn't spend my time squeezing blood from those turnips. A few are interesting enough to listen to more than once. But there are hundreds of compositions that are far more worthy of careful study and lifelong enjoyment. The 24 Caprices are famous simply because they're hard and because they were written by someone whose legacy is the ability to play and write things that are hard. Nobody alive today ever heard Paganini play and accounts of his interpretive powers are fourth-hand at best. I agree that the Paganini Concertos are okay pieces. Certainly better than anything written by Sarasate. They're not Brahms either, but everything doesn't have to be.
I have to pretend I like Paganini because of Violin-Stockholm-Syndrome - I'm just glad I don't play piano so I don't have to pretend I like Liszt.
Hey—Liszt's 12 transcendental etudes are masterpieces. Beautiful works.
Oh, wow, why that back stab to Sarasate for free, Paul?
For me, Paganini, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski represent the "best" the violin can do musically, pushed to the extreme. While many composers took some of the virtuosic elements found in their music and adapted them to their own, "more mature", and much better regarded Concerti, not even later violinist-composers reached such an epitome of violin writing AND playing. These artists were authentic musical geniuses, especially Paganini and Vieuxtemps.
his music is not misunderstood - it is so darn difficult to play that, by the time you master it, you forget was was the point of playing it!
There's got to be some reason why so many composers wrote variations, etc. on Paganini themes!
Liszt's B minor sonata is good. Its not a showpiece. And I'll listen to Hadelich on Mary Ellen's recommendation.
Why would he compose 24 caprics for show and never play them? To frame and hang in his bedroom?
Cotton, you're the one who wrote that nobody's ever been capable of playing his music correctly. It's your second sentence. (Well, actually you wrote that nobody's been able to play it "truly to the spirit of the man who wrote the music," but who knows what that actually means? Maybe you can tell us.) Is Paganini the only composer of whom this is true in your estimation? Or are there still others? Why write something that nobody even in the following 200 years will be able to play properly or in the correct "spirit" or whatever?
I always thought the caprices were composed for just his students but google says he released them for other artists
I want to know who "these people" are who say Paganini is impossible to listen to for pleasure. I've never heard that come out of anyone's mouth.
There's music in his stage work, too. They're not all fun little bits like Moto Perpetuo.
"I want to know who "these people" are who say Paganini is impossible to listen to for pleasure. I've never heard that come out of anyone's mouth."
To be fair to OP, there are Paganini haters out there, and there were many during his time as well. In this very forum sometimes unflattering statements have been said about his musical value, and in real life I have met more than one "hater", especially among those who prefer non-romantic works, or others that always stick to the famous workhorses that, however great, often overshadow the "lesser" works that now few care about.
I'm sure there are Paganini haters, in the same way that I "hate" Liszt, and much of Romantic music. Ironically, I love Liszt's version of La Campanella, although I'm not sure why Busoni felt he had to gild the lily on that one.
I dont hate paganini. The term "hater" is the kind of pejorative that seems better suited to less civilized discussions such as those one might find ... elsewhere. I just feel the musical value of the 24 caprices is generally overstated. They can be played compellingly. Heifetz sometimes chose Kreutzer No. 8 as an encore too.
I love some of Paganini's Caprices. The C minor, for instance, is an achingly beautiful piece. I guess the Caprices have suffered from their status as technical hurdles a young violinist needs to surpass regardless of the inherent musicality.
Beautiful as his melodies can be, I don't think you'll find much musical depth in Paganini. Contrast with Liszt who on the strength of a few great works makes it into the pantheon as "the worst of the great composers".
"the worst of the great composers" I like oxymoronic expressions like that (if that's the right adjective - what adjective derives from paraprosdokian?). In an art history book I once read "Rodin was the greatest sculptor of the 19th century, unfortunately".
Adalberto, don't worry, no offense was taken. Sometimes I just feel I need to speak up if I think a discussion is about to go off the deep end. Hard to gauge when that might happen, of course. The great thing about the violin is that if you're a good enough player, you can play whatever you want. Well, if you're an amateur you can play whatever you want. If you're a pro you have to play what people will pay to hear. But it still beats driving a forklift on the night shift at WalMart. By a lot. I wish I had the goods to play professionally. Fortunately I'm good at other stuff.
Lydia got it right. Paganini's boyhood passion was Italian opera, and aesthetically that is his muse and is how to listen to his music. The drama in it has a theatrical quality.
I'm not familiar with Hadelich's Paganini recordings either. I was fortunate enough to hear it live, from my chair onstage about fifteen feet away.
When Hadelich did, like Pag 17 or something, as an encore, the audience at the Colorado Symphony audibly deflated, since clearly they were hoping for 24. I just laughed to myself about the audience, but he played beautifully.
Christian, I know what you mean. I went to see Yo-Yo Ma and he played "The Swan" as one of his encores. I suspect there were probably some in the audience who would have wanted their tickets refund if he hadn't.
It's gotta take some extra special kind of talent to be able to play a piece, even as beautiful as "The Swan", night after night after night and still get the feeling across.
I mean, by that logic, people would love Sorabji if they just played him more on the radio.
The small cohort of violinist-composers is pretty insignificant alongside the legion of pianist-composers - almost all the truly "great" composers in fact. The violinist-composers were all first and foremost itinerant crowd-pleasers so it isn't entirely surprising that they didn't contribute much to the evolution of 19th or 20th century music.
Maybe the audiences only misunderstand Pag because the performers misunderstand him. I'm listening to Markov's Pag 1 at the moment, and he's too blingy for my liking.
Here's what a man of undeniable erudition has to say about Franz Liszt:
Wasn't Beethoven a violist?
Beethoven was a pianist. His father forced him to practice violin as a child but I don't think he ever publically performed on the violin or viola.
Mr Valle-Rivera - before despairing of convincing me you might try producing some evidence - whether or not we like their music you could hardly claim that any of the violinist-composers named in this thread were composers of the calibre of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Bartok, all of whom made their living partly as performing pianists. That leaves others like Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi who weren't especially renowned for any instrument. And of course there were also itinerant crowd-pleasers (and less good composers) in the piano world.
In the 20th century Sibelius and Hindemith were composers who also made (or aspired to make) a career as solo fiddlers. Any others?
Something I notice is that when you look up "modern composers," even famous ones like Crumb and Ligeti, their biographical sketches often do not mention that they played any instrument whatsoever, almost as if this information was intentionally expunged from their history (perhaps to avoid silly criticisms such as "those who can't play, write" or perhaps to avoid direct comparison to other "pianist-composers" including such immortals as those listed by Steve in the previous post). For example, "[Avro] Pärt's musical education began at the age of seven when he began attending music school in Rakvere. By the time he reached his early teenage years, Pärt was writing his own compositions." No mention of what instrument he studied for the 5-6 years before he started writing. In the case of George Crumb, his bio (wikipedia) eventually comes around to the fact that he studied piano because he was a piano
History is not always fair. That explains why some ended up being "master composers" while others not. It's not just about the piano. There's always less good works by all composers, and were some heralded works be written by historically "lesser" composers, they likely would not be as recognized as they are today.
Even though Chopin was considered one of the greats, I personally do not hold him in nearly the same regard as Brahms or Tchaikovsky because Chopin wrote almost entirely for one instrument, whereas the others wrote all kinds of stuff. Was Chopin entirely incapable of writing a string quartet? Perhaps so!
Adalberto I agree with you very thoroughly. However "studying composition to a high level" is no guarantee of creativity. In this regard the one violin concerto by Mendelssohn is better than the two by Paganini, which in turn are both better than all 29 of Viotti. Mr. Viotti also wrote string quartets but they're violin concertos with string accompaniment. Haydn blew him away.
I've spent a long time investigating dozens, even hundreds of forgotten composers on IMSLP, thinking "surely there's got to be at least one undiscovered genius here?". Unfortunately so far it appears posterity got it pretty well right. There's a huge difference between inspiration and workmanlike competence. Sometimes people that are initially praised to the skies get rea-praised (e.g. Spohr, cue indignant reaction) but seldom does it go the other way.
I don't see Steve as trolling at all.
I don't think Steve is trolling either, and I agree with him.
"De gustibus non est disputandum."
Paganini is well-known for a respectable, if somewhat small, oeuvre of well-written violin compositions. He largely spent his time traveling in search of fame and gold and wrote "visually" striking music with both in mind. I agree with the original poster: observe Markov to "see" what hearing Paganini must have been like, especially Markov's interpretation of the pizz. in Caprice 24. Had Paganini paused in his ceaseless travels and composed for composition's sake, we might have had a good deal more first-rate works to enjoy.
Thanks for the support Christian and Mary Ellen. Please note, Adalberto, that I'm not criticising you or your taste. I spend far more time listening to music that I don't know, don't like or don't get than the great masters, just out of curiosity. Some of my "pet" composers are small fry pretty well unknown to most music-lovers. Amongst the bigger fish I happen to love Berlioz but I certainly wouldn't say I'm right about that and Christian wrong. Although assuming to like is a more pleasureable emotion than to dislike, the "likers" are always the winners and the dislikers losers.
I bought the Markov double CD (concertos 1 & 2 and all 24 caprices live) last week. Hated his version of 1, listened to 2 passively, but was surprised that I liked his caprices. Initially I assumed his playing of 1 was just ostentation, but now I suppose it's just his honest interpretation of it, albeit one that I disagree with. I still prefer Hasson's, but I'm coming to terms with Markov. I'm probably just far too familiar with conc 1. I'll give conc 2 a closer listen, since I'm totally unfamiliar with it.
I worked on Spohr No. 2 for a while. I found the composition too formulaic, but it was a fun technical challenge. Certainly as interesting as Viotti or de Beriot.
Spohr wrote some pieces for violin and harp, which is an interesting combination. I'm curious how Paganini's technique would compare with today's soloists. Is it possible that today's players can play his music better then he could?
Raymond, indeed, I believe is almost generally assumed that Paganini must have played quite sloppily, judged by today's standards which are several orders of magnitude higher than those around the year 1800.
By the way Spohr was probably indeed "just" an excellent "workmanlike" player, and as a composer he indeed got re-appraised, but he truly was an astonishingly solid, clean, perfect violinist, with a renowned tone, one of the absolute best of his time. In his autobiography he reports being appalled by how sloppily Paganini played, he thought of him as a charlatan. And the Spohr concertos are not exactly easy stuff. Hilary Hahn for example is very fond of Spohr concerto no.8. Listen to that and then realize that Spohr played it, most probably, equally perfectly. Another example are his duos concertantes which are full of tenths for the first violinist. Spohr was no weakling.
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