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Niccolò Paganini

(Genova, 27th October 1782 - Nice, 27th May 1840)

Niccolò Paganini was born on October 27, 1782 in Genoa, in a building that no longer exists at 38 Via Gatta Mora, to Antonio Paganini and Teresa Bocciardo. At the age of seven he was initiated by his father, an amateur musician and packer of goods at the port, into the study of the mandolin, a very popular instrument in Genoa, followed later by that of the violin and guitar: the study regimen imposed by his father, who hoped to make his son a musical phenomenon, was harsh and forced Paganini into hardships and days of intense study. The father's study of the mandolin was not easy.

From 1792 Paganini was tutored by violinist Giovanni Cervetto, composer Francesco Gnecco, and later Giacomo Costa; on May 31, 1794, 11-year-old Niccolò performed for the first time as a soloist at the San Filippo Oratorio. In 1796 he attended Alessandro Rolla's lessons in Parma. After holding two academies in Modena in December 1800, he returned to Genoa in 1801 and deepened his study of the guitar; with this instrument, of which he would acquire absolute mastery, Paganini would not perform in public, however. So he went to Lucca, where his concerts began to arouse wonder and amazement. During this period, due to a profligate and licentious life, Paganini found himself in trouble several times.

From 1805 to 1807 he became first violinist at the court orchestra of the Republic of Lucca, in which his brother Carlo was also employed, and later joined the court of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Napoleon's sister.

In the first decade of the 19th century, the first rumors begin to circulate of his “pact with the devil” and with the “arts” of witchcraft, to which he is blamed for his ’superhuman skill in musical performance. In 1814 Paganini fell in love with 20-year-old Angela Cavanna and, against the wishes of her parents, the two lovers moved to Parma, where they stayed for a few months; the young woman became pregnant (later giving birth to a child who had already died) and the girl’s father denounced the violinist for child circumvention (the age of majority at the time was reached at 21). As a result of the complaint, in May 1815 Paganini was imprisoned in the cells of the Ducal Palace. It was on this occasion that he made the acquaintance of lawyer Luigi Guglielmo Germi, who would become his most sincere and affectionate friend. His stay in prison would last only a few days, but later rumors spread--in Italy and even abroad--that he had learned the secrets of the violin “during the long years of imprisonment”.

Some time later, with various adventures and love affairs behind him, Paganini met the singer Antonia Bianchi, by whom in 1825 he would have a son, Achille, about whom he wrote in a famous letter to Donizetti, "Achille, my dear Achille is all my joy. He grows up good and handsome; he speaks German very well and serves as my interpreter; he loves me tenderly and I adore him."

In 1828 Paganini succeeded in realizing a project that, following an invitation to Vienna from Austrian Chancellor Clemens von Metternich, he had been cherishing for a decade: to make a grand tour abroad. The tour lasted six years, until 1834, during which time his fame grew until he became a living legend. It can be said without exaggeration that it was with Paganini that the cult of the artist's personality was born; at the same time he personally took care, with great managerial skills, of every organizational and promotional aspect of his activity, coming to earn incredible sums of money.

During the tour (at the beginning of which Paganini separated from Bianchi, keeping his son Achille with him) and in the following years, his health deteriorated until, by 1837, he was infirm and completely apathetic. The events that occurred in Nice shortly before his death turn out to be rather peculiar. The priest, Father Caffarelli, believed that Paganini had intended to refuse the last sacraments, whereas probably, being completely aphic, he was simply unable to communicate with the priest; the religious reported the situation to the bishop, who denied Paganini burial in consecrated ground.

Paganini died in Nice on May 27, 1840, at the age of 57. Since 1876 the body has rested in Parma's "Villetta" cemetery.