"Sell all you possess, pawn everything, but go to hear him. This is the most astounding, the most surprising, the most wonderful, the most miraculous, the most triumphant, the most bewildering, the most incredible, the most extraordinary and the most unexpected thing that ever happened. In a dream Tartini saw a devil playing a diabolic sonata – that devil was surely Paganini."
(François Castil-Blaze, Paris, 1831)
The story is astonishing, exciting, wildly unusual and, at the end, deeply touching. It is one of the most extraordinary tales in the history of music and it is told with all the Nupen finesse and commitment that have won him DVD of the Year Award four times in the past six years. Paganini made use of his astonishing gifts – and the gullibility of the world, to create the most elaborate and enduring legend of all instrumental soloists in Western classical music but, as so often with legends, the excitement and the chatter obscured the true figure of both the man and the artist.
In the film on this programme, Christopher Nupen looks at the legend and the strange man who created it with his dazzling combination of technical brilliance, supreme showmanship, Italian melody and unbridled manipulative skill – a man whose extraordinary personality unsettled even the most sophisticated and educated minds and provoked wildly contradictory opinions. It presents Paganini's music, shot and edited in the style developed by Christopher Nupen and his colleagues for their prize winning DVDs about Sibelius, Schubert and Tchaikovsky and combines it with extracts from Paganini's letters and quotations from both his admirers and his many detractors.
While being hailed as the greatest performing musician of his time, Paganini was denounced again and again by knowledgeable critics as a charlatan, in league with the devil, and an avaricious man with scant respect for those who responded so enthusiastically to his unforgettable gift – and contributed so readily to his vast personal fortune. Paganini used the legends to make himself not only the most famous performer of his time, but also the wealthiest by a long, long way. In time this provoked envy and resentment and, finally, a pitiable isolation.
And yet, through all of it, he served his daemon with commitment and dedication, and despite enduring ill health, drove himself forward with an energy that astonished all who came into contact with him – as only a man with an unshakeable faith in his destiny could possibly do. Along the way, he wrote a great range of original and memorable music, changed violin playing decisively and created the age of the romantic virtuoso. By the end, however, his unbending quest for gold and for glory had robbed him slowly of almost everything else.
Paganini died in Nice on the 27th May 1840 in the company of his only son Achilles, who had become his constant companion, his aide and translator and his greatest solace in his isolation and illness. He was 57 years old.
A film by Christopher Nupen