The famed virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini wrote sets of variations on opera tunes and was most likely the only violinist that could play them at the time. Paganini used many of his own compositions and sets of variations for concerts and recitals that took Europe by storm in the early 19th century. Many of these were never published during his lifetime, as he guarded his music that revealed the means of his astounding technique from any would-be rivals.
The Variations On I Palpiti are based on an aria from the 1813 opera Tancredi by Gioachino Rossini. The opera was Rossini's first large success, and the aria Di tanti palpiti (Heartbeats) was one of his most popular tunes of his career.
Paganini uses the technique of retuning the open strings of the violin (scordatura) in this piece. It was one of his tricks that lead to more brilliance in his instrument as well as making some of the passages more feasible. The regular violin tuning of G-D-A-E was changed to A-flat, E-flat, B-flat and F.
There are 3 sections to the work:
I. Introduzione: Larghetto cantabile - The piano part is written in B-flat major while the violin part is written in A major due to the scordatura tuning. This section has the violin singing in a highly decorated introduction.
II.Recitativo, con grande espressione - The music turns to B-flat minor as Paganini shows his own operatic flair in a short section where the piano plays tremolos as the violin sings a recitative.
III. Andantino - After a short transition, Rossini's theme is played. The repeat of the theme is conservatively decorated as Paganini saves the fireworks for the 3 variations on it that follow.
Variation 1 - All manner of triple and double stops, runs, and articulations rush forth in a variation that also includes some runs in harmonics, stopped notes high in the stratosphere and parts where Paganini directs the soloist to play the same note on two strings at once.
Variation 2 -Un poco piu lento - The harmonics of the preceding variation are expanded as much of this variation is played in single stopped as well as double stopped harmonics, an incredibly difficult thing to do for the soloist.
Variation 3 - Quasi presto - The final variation has an increase in tempo as double stops lead to runs played pizzicato in the left hand that alternate with bowed notes as well. A last statement of the theme brings the work to a brilliant close.
This work has been edited in years gone by when changes in the original composer's music was not only tolerated but expected. The edition by Fritz Kreisler is often played instead of the original and has many changes in both the piano and violin parts. The recording linked below is of Paganini's original score, and save for a few bars of violin chords that begin the work with the piano, the work is complete in its original form.