Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/642

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
630
PAGANINI.
 

for his Stradivarius viola, which resulted in the Symphony called Harold en Italie. [See vol. i. p. 685a.] For the next two years his favourite residence was the Villa Gaiona near Parma. But his eagerness to amass money did not allow him to rest or attend to his health. In 1836 he received an invitation from Paris to take part in a money speculation on a large scale. It was proposed to establish, under the name Casino Paganini, in a fashionable quarter of Paris, a large and luxurious club—ostensibly with the view of giving concerts, but in reality for gambling purposes. Unfortunately he could not resist the temptation to embark in so doubtful an enterprise. The club-house was opened, but the gambling licence was refused, and the concerts alone did not nearly cover the expenses of the establishment. Paganini hurried to Paris to save the concern, if possible, by appearing in the concerts. But he arrived in so exhausted a state that he could not play. The company became bankrupt, and he himself suffered a personal loss of 50,000 francs. He remained in Paris for the winter of 1838, and it was on December 18 of that year that he bestowed on Berlioz the large sum of 20,000 francs, as a mark of his admiration for the Symphonic Fantastique.[1]

The annoyance arising from the unfortunate affair of the Casino greatly increased his malady, which was phthisis of the larynx. Seeking relief in a warmer climate, he went to Marseilles, and stayed for some time in the house of a friend. Here, although almost a dying man, he would now and then take up his violin or his guitar, and one day even played his favourite Quartet—Beethoven's F major, op. 59, No. I. On the approach of winter he went to Nice. Here his malady progressed rapidly; he lost his voice entirely, and was troubled with an incessant cough. He died May 27, 1840, at the age of 56. A week before his death the Bishop of Nice sent a priest to convey to him the last sacrament. Paganini not believing that his end was so near, would not receive it. The wording of his will, in which he recommends his soul to the mercy of God and fixes a sum for masses to be said for its repose, proves his adherence to the Catholic Church. But as the priest did not return, and as Paganini in consequence died without the rites of the Church, the bishop refused him burial in consecrated ground. The coffin remained for a long time in a hospital at Nice: it was afterwards removed to Villa Franca, and it was not till 1845 that Paganini's son, by a direct appeal to the Pope, obtained leave to inter it in the village church near Villa Gaiona.

He left to his son Achille a large fortune, estimated at £80,000. Although as a rule chary with his money, he was occasionally very generous, as his gift to Berlioz, already mentioned, shows. The mystery which surrounded Paganini the man no doubt helped to increase the interest taken in the artist. The strangest rumours accompanied him wherever he went. It was commonly reported that he owed his wonderful execution on the G string to a long imprisonment, inflicted on him for the murder of a rival in love, during which he had a violin with one string only. Paganini himself writes: 'At Vienna one of the audience affirmed publicly that my performance was not surprising, for he had distinctly seen, while I was playing my variations, the devil at my elbow directing my arm and guiding my bow. My resemblance to the devil was a proof of my origin.' But even sensible and educated people believed that Paganini had a secret which enabled him to execute what appeared impossible to any other player. In fact he has been suspected to have himself originated such rumours. As there was no doubt an admixture of charlatanism in the character of this extraordinary man, he may perhaps at first have done so. But on the other hand, he more than once contradicted them. At Prague he actually published a letter from his mother to disprove the rumour that he was the son of the devil; and at Paris he furnished Fétis with all the necessary material and dates to refute publicly the numberless absurdities circulated about him. This was done by a letter inserted in the 'Revue Musicale,' but it availed little. Fétis, in his monograph on Paganini, by establishing the chronology of his travels and his sojourns at various places, proves clearly that he could not have suffered a lengthened imprisonment. It was not only the perfectly novel and astonishing character of his performances, but to a large extent his extraordinary ghost-like appearance, which caused these absurd rumours. His tall, skeleton-like figure, the pale, narrow, wax-coloured face, the long dark hair, the mysterious expression of the heavy eye, have been described often enough.

But after all, the extraordinary effect of his playing could have had its source only in his extraordinary genius. If genius, as has been justly remarked, is 'the power of taking infinite pains,' he certainly showed it in a wonderful degree in the power of concentration and perseverance which enabled him to acquire such absolute command of his instrument. Mere perfection of technique, however, would never have thrown the whole of musical Europe into such paroxysms. With the first notes his audience was spell-bound; there was in him—though certainly not the evil spirit suspected by the superstitious—a dæmonic element which irresistibly took hold of those that came within his sphere. 'His constant and daring flights,' writes [2]Moscheles, 'his newly discovered flageolet tones, his gift of fusing and beautifying subjects of the most diverse kind—all these phases of genius so completely bewilder my musical perceptions that for days afterwards my head is on fire and my brain reels.' He was no 'mere virtuoso'—there was a something in his playing that defied description or imitation, and he certainly had in a high degree originality and character, the two qualities which distinguish the man of genius from the ordinary talent.

  1. Berlioz, Mémoires, chap. 49. A facsimile of his letter and Berlioz's reply will be found in the Allg. musik. Zeitung for 1339. p. 52.
  2. Life, i. 255.