The Concerto that wasn't: Paganini, Urhan and Harold in Italy

Kawabata, M. (2004) The Concerto that wasn't: Paganini, Urhan and Harold in Italy. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 1 (1) pp. 67-114. ISSN 1479-4098 (print), 2044-8414 (online)


It was Paganini's request for a concerto that prompted Berlioz to embark on the composition that eventually became Harold in Italy. The legendary virtuoso, then at the height of his fame, had recently acquired a fine Stradivari viola and needed a suitable vehicle for introducing the instrument to the public. He was puzzled and disappointed by Berlioz's score. It certainly was not the anticipated virtuoso vehicle, and within months Paganini had composed a substitute for himself, the Sonata per la grand viola. Berlioz explained that his work was ‘a new kind of symphony and not a composition written to show off a unique talent like [Paganini's]’. Berlioz's programmatic symphony with solo viola – the concerto that wasn't – would appear on the surface to be utterly devoid of the established codes of the virtuoso concerto.

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