Monday, November 7, 2011

Paganini - Violin Concerto No. 1

Nicolo Paganini (1782 - 1840) wrote his first violin concerto in 1817-1818 and the solo part shows that his dazzling technique was already in evidence. The audiences marveled at his technique and the new effects of violin playing he had developed.

Paganini was very secretive about his 'tricks of the trade' and didn't include the part for solo violin with the score. When he would play the concerto, only the orchestral parts would be given to the appropriate players and there was many times no rehearsal of the work. One of the tricks he used in the concerto was that the orchestra parts were written in E-flat major while his solo part was written in D major with his solo violin mistuned a semitone higher so that he was actually playing in E-flat. All of that is pretty confusing for the average listener, but in simple terms this trick allowed Paganini to play effects in E-flat that he couldn't with an ordinary tuning and it also helped the violin to be in a greater tonal contrast with the orchestra.

The concerto shows the influence of Italian Opera of Paganini's time, specifically Rossini's operas and especially the Bel Canto style of singing in them. Paganini was accused of being less than a serious musician by some in his day for some of his tricks and going out of his way to please the crowd, but the seriousness of his intentions with this first concerto shows that he was above everything, a very skilled and feeling musician.  The first movement of the concerto is skilfully done, the second movement shows the depth of feeling and how dramatic Paganini could be in his music. It is like listening to a mini-dramatic opera, with not any flashes and trickery of technique (at least not obvious ones). Paganini makes the violin sing like a fine opera singer.  The fireworks come back in the rondo finale as Paganini's bow ricochets off the violin strings with a daring skill that even after almost 200 years since its conception, still amaze.

Paganini's Violin Concerto #1 :

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