His tone was not great: it could not be, for the one reason that the constant use of doubleharmonics and other specialities of his style necessitate very thin strings, which again preclude the production of a large and broad tone.
From a sketch by Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A.
But even his severest critics have always granted that his cantilena was extremely expressive. 'I never wearied of the intense expression, soft and melting as that of an Italian singer,' says Moscheles again. Spohr, in his Autobiography (ii. 180), says of him: 'The execution of his left hand and his never-failing intonation appeared to me as much as ever deserving admiration. In his compositions however, and in his style of playing, I find a strange mixture of true genius and want of taste,' etc. A distinguished English amateur, who heard him at York in 1832, writes in a letter, full of enthusiasm: 'In the concerto on the fourth string he contrived to give some passages a tremolous sound, like the voice of a person crying. He makes great use of sliding his fingers along the strings—sometimes producing a most beautiful, at other times laughable effect.' 'Paganini,' says Thos. Moore (Mem. vi. 210), 'abuses his powers; he could play divinely, and does so sometimes for a minute or two; but then come his tricks and surprises, his bow in convulsions, and his enharmonics, like the mewlings of an expiring cat.' Here no doubt is an explanation, and to a certain extent a justification of Spohr's criticism. The frequent use of tremolo and of sliding indicate an impure style, which ought not to serve as a model; it was Paganini's style, founded on the man's inmost nature, which was as peculiar and exceptional as his talent. Spohr's criticisms—sincere enough, but often biassed and narrow—prove nothing more than that Paganini was no scion of the classical school of Viotti and Rode. In fact he belonged to no school. He followed the bent of his individuality, in which the southern element of passion and excitement was very strong, and showed itself in a manner which to a colder northern taste appeared exaggerated and affected.
If the modern French school of violin-playing has lost sight of the traditions of its great founders, Viotti, Rode, and Kreutzer, and has formed a style which with all its undoubted elegance and piquancy does not satisfy a more serious musical taste, this must be largely attributed to Paganini's influence. The effect he produced was so immense, that the younger players could not resist the temptation of imitating him. Unfortunately the shell alone, the advanced technique, could be imitated, while the kernel, the real secret, his peculiar individuality, nobody could imitate. His wonderful execution certainly incited others to attempt difficulties which before him were considered impossible, and so far his example gave an impetus to the development of technique; but some of the peculiarities of his style were fatal to the broad and dignified style of the older school, which alone suits the works of the great classical composers. Even Fétis, with his unbounded admiration for Paganini, admits that his performances of the concertos of Rode and Kreutzer were failures; and similarly, as a quartet-player, he was unable to do justice to the composer. His individuality was too strong to accommodate and subordinate itself to another.
On German violinists his influence was not nearly so great. Here Spohr's powerful example and the earnest musical spirit of the great composers counterbalanced the effect of his performances.
The main technical features of Paganini's playing were an unfailing intonation, a lightning-like rapidity on the fingerboard and with the bow, and a command of double-stops, harmonics and double-harmonics, hardly equalled by any one before or after him. He also produced most peculiar effects, which for a long time puzzled all violinists, by tuning his violin in various ways. He was not the first to adopt this trick [see Biber], but no one before him had made any extensive use of it. As he took good care never to tune his violin within hearing, a passage like the following appeared inexplicable and impossible,