Friday, October 25, 2013

Paganini - Le Streghe

One of the first musical superstars, Niccolò Paganini not only was influential in advancing the art and technique of playing the violin, his compositions inspired other composers as well. While most of Paganini's compositions were written to showcase his enormous technical abilities, they also showed his lyrical and dramatic side.  Composers from the progressive Liszt to the more traditional Brahms (and many others) took inspiration from his music that combined brilliant technique with flashes of expressive musicality.

Although news of his tremendous abilities spread, Paganini didn't begin touring outside of his native Italy until1828. He toured all of Europe and Britain until 1834 when he retired from the concert platform due to poor health. Paganini died in Nice, France in 1840 but his last request to be buried in his birthplace of Genoa, Italy was refused by the Catholic church because he had refused the last rites and was thought to have been in league with the devil because of his musical abilities. His body laid in the hospital at Nice for a time, was sent to Genoa but was not allowed to be buried.  The body was finally laid to rest in Parma in 1876.

The rumors of Paganini being in league with the devil began early on. One of Paganini's early compositions helped create the rumor, Le Streghe or in English, The Witches. The composition is for solo violin and orchestra and is based on a tune that Paganini heard in a performance of a ballet in Milan in 1813. The ballet, Le nozze di Benevento was a revision of an earlier ballet written in 1803 with music by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a composer most well known for having finished Mozart's Requiem. The tune announces the entrance of the witches in the ballet, hence the name given the piece by Paganini.

After an introduction by the orchestra, a tune is played by the soloist with a light accompaniment, a short cadenza for the soloist leads to Süssmayr's theme which is followed by three variations. The first variation has double and triple stops, the second variation pizzacatos, harmonics and wide leaps, a section in a minor key in octaves, and the third variation played on the G-string combined with double stopped harmonics.  The coda of the piece has Paganini round off the piece with yet more fireworks for the violin.


1 comment:

  1. "Le Nozze di Benevento" means 'the nuptials of Benevento'. (Were you thinking of Le Nozze di Figaro?) The actual title of the ballet by Süssmayr is "Il Noce di Benevento"—'the walnut tree of Benevento'. As in the scene depicted on the label of a bottle of Strega.