21st Century Virtuoso
A virtuoso before the 19th century was simply “a highly accomplished musician.” In a time where the opera gained more and more popularity from the end of the 16th century through its golden age in the mid to late 1800’s, the virtuoso was often viewed as an extremely talented vocalist, with many astounding instrumentalists being overlooked. Niccolò Paganini’s international fame changed this definition of the virtuoso. The 19th century virtuoso became known to be a vocal or instrumental performer, with talents and skills well above average that would dazzle the public. Paganini’s talent as a violinist was recognized when he was just a child, and by the age of 18, Paganini was already playing in concerts. His title as a travelling virtuoso came when he toured to La Scala in Milan in 1813 and astonished the crowd with an outstanding concert.
Although this definition of virtuoso only recognizes performers, Paganini was an exceptional composer who performed solely his own works in his concerts. His most well known compositions are the 24 Caprices for solo violin, which we spoke of in class. They seem to be written for the purpose of wowing the crowd, rather than taking the listener on an emotional journey like many of the other works we have studied in class.
Our in-class discussion of virtuosity got me thinking: Who can be considered a virtuoso of the 21st century? Beyonce has won 17 Grammy awards and has sold over 118 million solo records. So can we consider international performer sensations like Beyonce or Justin Timberlake virtuosos? Would the Beatles, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley all be considered virtuosos? Would the term include big Hollywood producers and Swedish DJs? Or is this term confined to classical music or centuries past?