A brief history of demonic deals Paganini’s seemingly superhuman skill led to rumours of his having made a pact with the Devil – some swore blind that they had seen a ghostly figure appearing at his side while he played. He is, however, by no means the only musician to have been suspected of demonic dealings. A century earlier, the Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) had gladly invited such associations when he told how the
Devil had appeared to him in a dream and performed a beautiful tune.
Tartini’s subsequent Devil’s Trill Sonata was his best attempt to replicate the tune, but the composer admitted he could not come close to matching its beauty. Among Paganini’s nearcontemporaries, Liszt (1811-86, below) similarly aroused suspicion as he hared up and down the piano, rattling off works such as his Mephisto Waltz and Dante Sonata with uncanny dexterity and power. The French composer and conductor Philippe Musard (1792-1859) also caused a stir with his wild gestures and strange facial expressions on the podium – as a poem of the time put it, ‘This infernal Musard, It is Satan who leads the dance!’. While classical music had largely rid itself of Devil talk by the 20th century, it still lingered in the world of the blues – guitarists
Tommy Johnson (1896-1956)
and Robert Johnson
(1911-38) were both said to have suddenly acquired their amazing skills after meeting a strange figure at a crossroads in Mississippi…
Trilling encounter: Giuseppe Tartini meets the Devil