Virtuosity, the violin, the devil…what really made Paganini “demonic”?

Kawabata, M. (2007) Virtuosity, the violin, the devil…what really made Paganini “demonic”? Current Musicology, 83 pp. 85-108. ISSN 0011-3735 (print) 2640-883X (online)


Our inherited image of Nicolo Paganini as a "demonic" violinist - a Gothic figure exemplifying Romanticism and epitomizing instrumental virtuosity - has never been analyzed in depth. What really made him "demonic"? According to the most popular legend, Paganini, like Faust, made a pact with Satan to acquire magical powers - enabling him to create effects on the violin beyond the reach of anyone else. Others thought he was possessed by the devil and coaxed the violin to produce what they took to be the devil's music. Still others, encouraged by the spectacle of him literally "lashing" the violin with his bow, considered him "demonic" in the Gothic sense of being corrupt and perverted, a licentious criminal in the tradition of the Marquis de Sade and Byron's hero-villains. Faust, magician, Satan, sadistic villain: the faces of Paganini were interrelated but not equivalent.

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