Paganini & Rossini: Italian Romantic Composers

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  • 0:01 Romantic Era Music in Italy
  • 0:34 Niccolo Paganini: The…
  • 3:33 Gioachino Rossini
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alisha Nypaver

Alisha is a college music educator specializing in historic and world music studies.

Study of the Romantic era wouldn't be complete without taking a detour to the land of love and romance, Italy. This lesson looks at two famous Romantic era composers who were born and raised in Italy: violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini and opera composer Gioachino Rossini.

Romantic Era Music in Italy

From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, Italy was an important hub for musical innovation. During the Romantic era, Italy remained a vibrant part of the music scene and was especially known for producing musical virtuosos and opera composers. This lesson looks at two early Romantic era musicians who represent each of these areas: Niccolo Paganini, the legendary violin virtuoso and his friend Gioachino Rossini, opera composer extraordinaire.

Niccolo Paganini: The Devil's Violinist

Drugs, alcohol, women, deals with the devil, and legendary star status. I could be describing any number of great rock stars from the 20th century. But, did you know that musicians were rocking just as hard in the early 1800s? Meet Niccolo Paganini, the incredible violin virtuoso. A virtuoso is a person with extraordinary technical and musical ability.

Born in 1782, little Paganini first picked up the mandolin, a guitar-like instrument, then moved on to the violin at age seven. The violin is a difficult instrument for most people to master, but Paganini had the rare combination of unusually long fingers, natural talent, and a passion for music that all combined to make him an extraordinary musician. Before long, he was playing better and faster than his teachers and winning violin contests and scholarships left and right. As an adult, he went on a series of concert tours to show off his flashy technique.

Paganini's lightning-fast fingers, technical accuracy, and musicality astonished and dazzled audiences. People started wondering how his seemingly super-human skills were possible, which led to widespread speculation that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his virtuosic violin abilities.

Paganini was also a composer, and most of the music he wrote consisted of technically challenging works that he created for himself to perform and were designed to wow his audiences. His best-known composition is the 'Caprice No. 24 in A minor,' a piece that is still a popular challenge for violinists today.

As a musical superstar with sold-out concert tours and plenty of money, Paganini got caught up in a celebrity lifestyle full of parties, alcohol, and women. Before long, his partying and demanding concert schedule took a severe toll on his health. He contracted syphilis, a disease that, at the time, was treated with mercury, a poisonous substance that caused mental illness, and opium, a highly addictive drug. From common colds to bouts of tuberculosis to severe depression, Paganini's health rapidly deteriorated. He began to cancel more and more concert tours and eventually passed away in 1840, due to internal bleeding, a complication from his ongoing health issues. The belief that Paganini was associated with the devil was so widespread that the Catholic Church refused to let him have a Christian burial service. After a long series of appeals, the pope finally gave permission for Paganini to be buried in 1876.

The master violinist was an inspiration to many subsequent composers and students, and his legacy continues to this day.

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