Play­ing with fire

When Pa­ganini was at the peak of his pow­ers, au­di­ences were stunned into dis­be­lief, prompt­ing talk of pacts with the Devil. What, asks Ju­lian Hay­lock, made the vi­o­lin­ist such a phe­nom­e­non?

BBC Music Magazine - - Niccolò Paganini -

Nic­colò Pa­ganini was the right man in the right place at the right time. His trail­blaz­ing vir­tu­os­ity thrilled sen­sa­tion­seek­ing au­di­ences, his ghoul­ish stage per­sona was in­ter­preted by many as ev­i­dence of his hav­ing signed a pact with the Devil, and his mes­meris­ing pres­ence fed into con­tem­po­rary fas­ci­na­tions with the para­nor­mal. Af­ter first see­ing Pa­ganini play, Goethe felt as though he had been ‘hit by a me­teor’, Ber­lioz de­scribed him as a ‘blaz­ing comet’, Men­delssohn was left as­tounded by his ‘fault­less ex­e­cu­tion be­yond imag­i­na­tion’, while poet Hein­rich Heine likened Pa­ganini’s bow to ‘a magic wand’ and the man him­self to ‘a sor­cerer com­mand­ing the el­e­ments.’

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