Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6

Niccolò Paganini (1819), by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Looking at the history of western classical music, it seems that great composers were often great instrument players, some even virtuosos at their times. Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, just to name a few. On the flip side, however, it is probably less seen as such that a virtuoso player would become a great composer. Paganini can be thought of such an example. He is far more of a great, and undoubtedly a pioneer violinist, than a significant composer in 19th century Romantic era. Compared to his peer of the same time, and even of the same profile of virtuoso-turned composer, Franz Liszt, he produced far less amount of influential works.

W.S.B Mathews made such comment on Paganini as a composer: “while the great violinist’s works are of astonishing value for the violin, they are not particularly significant as tone-poetry. They are pleasing and sensational, and at times passionate, show pieces for the virtuoso.”[1]

This violin concerto is just like what Mathews characterized. In addition to the embodying highly difficult and virtuous playing techniques, it does have a few memorable pleasing tunes (I wouldn’t call them passionate). The almost excessive use of cymbals was added after the original score, which makes the whole piece sound like a military march at times. Maybe that is a fit reflection of Paganini’s true showmanship ingested into his music.

1. Allegro maestoso - Tempo giusto

The extensive tutti is over three minutes long, with the orchestra making grand introduction of all themes in the opening movement. The cymbal and base drum announce the beginning of the show, followed by the introduction lightly on the strings:

0:00 / 0:00

The main theme is an almost glorious march:

0:00 / 0:00

After a short elaboration, the second theme enters, pleasantly at ease on the woodwinds:

0:00 / 0:00

This tutti is basically all that’s played by the orchestra throughout the entire first movement, which is disproportionately lengthy compared to the other two movements. Segments of it are played in between the solo violin during the development and recapitulation, but overall after the rest of movement is devoted to the solo violin.

High-flying fast notes and dazzling techniques such as double-stop thirds are demonstrated throughout the entire work; here are just two examples:

0:00 / 0:00

0:00 / 0:00

2. Adagio

The Adagio employs the same method of attention summoning as previous movement, by cymbal strike in two short phrases, leading to the first theme played by solo violin:

0:00 / 0:00

The 2nd theme does not contrast much with the first in character, partly due to the fact it’s presented by the solo violin again:

0:00 / 0:00

3. Rondo. Allegro spirituoso - Un poco più presto

The finale is a Rondo, with the principal theme first presented by the solo violin, which sounds much like a delightful dance figure:

0:00 / 0:00

Episode B is mostly based on the scale of the principal theme but played on the high strings of the violin on double-stop harmonics:

0:00 / 0:00

Episode C then comes all the way down the lower string and plays out a lovely singing melody:

0:00 / 0:00

[1] W.S.B. Mathews (1891), A Popular History of the Art of Music From the Earliest Times Until the Present.

This entry was posted in Violin Concerto. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Note: Post genuine comments on the topic only, spamming of ads or external links will be tracked and reported.