Dev­il­ishly tal­ented

BBC Music Magazine - - Niccolò Paganini -

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

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