STRING CONCERTOS 6 – Paganini & Berlioz

Paganini & Berlioz? An unlikely partnership?

Paganini’s own compositions are. unsurprisingly for one who – as rumour had it – had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a transcendent technique, full of virtuoso pyrotechnics…

I – Allegro maestoso (cadenza by Augustin Hadelich)
II – Adagio
III – Rondo: allegro spirituoso

… though, chances are that (rather than the result of satanic intersession) the technical fireworks were more a consequence of a mixture of great natural talent, physique and hard work; while the personal mystique with its whiff of sulphur had much more to do with clever showmanship.

His works demonstrate an italianate gift for memorable melody and operatic sense of drama and are – unlike some of the ‘music’ of the virtuosi who were to follow him – certainly not without merit.

But it still comes as something of a surprise that, when he became the proud owner of a Stradivarius viola, it was to Hector Berlioz that Paganini turned for a major work to show off this new acquisition.

I. Harold aux montagnes – (Adagio – Allegro – Tempo I)00:35
II. Marche de pèlerins chantant la prière du soir. (Allegretto)16:00
III. Sérénade d’un montagnard – (Allegro assai – Allegretto)24:12
IV. Orgie des brigands – (Allegro frenetico – Adagio – Allegro. Tempo I)30:53

The autograph of the opening of Harold in Italy.

The resultant piece, Harold en Italie – Berlioz being Berlioz – was rather an odd amalgam of concerto, symphony and tone poem. Predictably, perhaps, the concerto element wasn’t sufficiently flamboyant for Paganini’s tastes and he rejected the score. But, four years later in 1838, the ‘demonic’ virtuoso attended a performance of the work. When the final notes had sounded, the deeply moved Paganini dragged the composer onto the stage, fell on his knees and worshiped him. And, a few days later, Berlioz was no doubt delighted to received a payment of 20,000 francs and a letter of congratulation from one Niccolò Paganini.

 Adolphe Yvon: Berlioz & Paganini after a performance of Harold en Italie

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