Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major – Work No. 90 in our collection

Niccolò Paganini (27.10.1782 – 27.05.1840) was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He was the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time, he inspired the Romantic mystique of the virtuoso and revolutionized violin technique. Paganini indulged excessively romantic love affairs and in gambling – at one point he even had to pawn his violin to clear his debts. At that time a French merchant lent him a Guarneri violin to play a concert and he was so impressed by Paganini’s exceptional playing that he made a gift of the instrument!

Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin Op. 1 are among the best known of his compositions, and these works have subsequently served as an inspiration to many prominent composers. His other works include 6 violin concertos, of which the first, in D major, is especially popular; 12 sonatas for violin and guitar; and 6 quartets for violin, viola, cello, and guitar. Paganini’s violin technique demanded a wide use of harmonics and pizzicato effects, new methods of fingering and even of tuning: Evidence of this can be gleaned from the Capricci, the violin concertos, and his sets of variations.

Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 6 is a virtuosic tour de force that not only reveals Paganini’s technical ability but also his melodic sensitivity and ability to dramatically exploit the structure of the work. This piece, like many of Paganini’s work, shows the influence of Rossini’s operas that were so popular at the time. By contemporary standards the technical demands on the soloist are not too extreme but at the time of writing many soloists regarded it as unplayable. Fortunately nowadays many soloists are able to concentrate on bringing out the melodic beauty within the work rather than treating it as a piece of technical brovada. This is especially so in the case of our preferred version in which the immensely talented, Hilary Hahn is the soloist. Her superior technique enables the concerto to be regarded not merely as a collection of showy tricks and memorable tunes but as a well composed, coherent piece of music.

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