In April 1830, a young and ambitious Robert Schumann travelled to Frankfurt to hear the famed violinist. “How he cast his magnetic chains into the listeners lightly and invisibly,” Schumann writes, “so that the latter swayed from one side to the other!” Paganini was to become a member of Schumann’s imagined League of David against the Philistines, and makes a famed musical appearance in Carnaval. Initially, however, Schumann composed a set of six piano studies after the set of Paganini Capricci, Op. 1. Primarily intended as a pedagogical tool, Schumann returned to the same Paganini source in 1833 with a set of six Konzert-Etüden, Op. 10.
Niccolò Paganini: 24 Caprices, Op. 1
Robert Schumann: Etudes de concert d’apres des caprices de Paganini, Op. 10
Franz Liszt described Paganini as “a miracle, which the kingdom of art has seen but once.” Yet concordantly he was keenly aware that Paganini’s artistry had been flawed by his egotism, “his god was never any other than his own gloomy, sad I.” Liszt famously articulated his vision by placing artistic genius under special obligations to serve the rest of humanity. “May the artist of the future decline to play the conceited and egotistical role which we hope has had in Paganini its last brilliant representative…May he constantly keep in mind that though the saying is ‘Noblesse oblige,’ in a far higher degree than nobility—‘Génie oblige!’” Liszt reworked his original 1838 set of six pieces based on Paganini’s 24 Caprices in 1851. Designated as Grandes Etudes de Paganini, the set is dedicated to Clara Schumann and includes the famous “La Campanella,” based on the last movement of Paganini’s Op. 7 Violin Concerto.
Niccolò Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 7, “Rondo”
Franz Liszt: Grandes Etudes de Paganini
Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35
Once Paganini had conquered Paris, he set out to subdue London. He arrived in Dover on 13 May 1831, and was instantly surrounded by musicians and composers associated with the Royal Academy of Music. From the moment he played his first notes in London, in June 1831, “Paganini’s impact would be profound, an impact that resonated far beyond the dates of his last performances in Britain, in 1834.” Here as elsewhere, music performances would never be the same again. In London, Paganini met Ignaz Moscheles, a composer/performer greatly admired by Mendelssohn and Schumann. Moscheles was mesmerized and writes, “we had leisure to study those sharply defined features, the glowing eyes, the scanty, but long black hair, and the thin, gaunt figure, upon which the clothes hung loosely, the deep sunken cheeks and those long, bony fingers.” Moscheles was the teacher of the Italian violinist Nicholas Mori, who also dabbled in printing and selling musical scores. Mori asked Moscheles to compose a “Fantasie” on Paganini themes, and Paganini authorized the publication. Since the first booklet was a resounding success, Mori and Moscheles published two others without informing Paganini. Paganini was outraged and threatened legal action, but in the end dropped legal proceedings in exchange for a substantial monetary settlement. The second Moscheles “Gem” is anchored by themes from the first two movements of Paganini’s second violin concerto.
Niccolò Paganini: Violin Concerto No.2, Op. 7 “Allegro, Adagio”
Ignaz Moscheles: Gems á la Paganini, Vol. II