Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)

by johnbuck8

Last week’s discussion about musical virtuosity in the nineteenth century has made me think about the incredible ability of individuals such as Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840). Although the term “virtuoso” was initially used to describe impressive musicians in general, this term was exclusively used with regard to performers in the nineteenth century, particularly those capable of captivating an audience with their striking abilities. In the Baroque and Enlightenment periods, opera had received a large amount of attention and virtuoso singers received a good portion of the focus. As music really came into the public spectacle in the Romantic age with more public concerts there was a new forum for the presentation of instrumental music.

Niccolò Paganini was the greatest violin virtuoso of the century. He had an unparalleled ability on this instrument and the word of his talent spread through all of Europe. Travel was another reason why these performers were able to gain recognition in many places. It was also why so many great composers heard about and focused on the work of Paganini. In the review we read it is clear that he had the ability to amaze his viewers and that his creations went on to influence many individuals. This is also evident because it discussed the reactions of great composers, including Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt, to his work.

Here is the video of his Caprice for Solo Violin No. 24 in A minor, Op. 1 ( This is the same video we saw in class and, as we discussed, an incredible performance. It shows the characteristics we talked about of the virtuoso and gives an idea of what Paganini was playing. I can only imagine how this piece would have looked to a crowd in the nineteenth century. This shows the intricacies of playing a piece like this and illustrates why he gained such a large amount of recognition.

Niccolò Paganini was an incredible instrumentalist and it is clear that the role of the instrumental virtuoso evolved in the nineteenth century. What do you all think about this video and how did this strike you when you first watched it? Also, how did everyone feel about the review of Paganini’s work that we read? What do people think of the notion of the “virtuoso” musician today? Which musicians today seem to have this type of ability?