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ClassicsOnline Home » PAGANINI, N.: La Campanella / Le streghe / Variations (arr. F. Kreisler) (Quint, Cogan)
Although temperamentally quite different and born a century apart, both Nicolò Paganini and Fritz Kreisler enjoyed stellar careers as violin virtuosos, touring widely and thrilling audiences with their astonishing virtuosity and innate showmanship. Kreisler’s arrangements of Paganini’s music, including two large-scale sets of variations based on themes from Rossini operas, the famous La campanella and several Caprices, brought these charming and demanding pieces to an enthusiastic public. Acclaimed Russian-born, American-based violinist Philippe Quint follows the path of his illustrious forebears with equal measures of stunning technique and immense sensitivity.
Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840) arr. Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)
Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna in 1875, the son of a doctor. It was the latter, a keen amateur violinist, who first taught his son the instrument from the age of four. Lessons followed with Jacques Auber and at the age of seven he was able to enter the Vienna Conservatory. There he studied the violin with the younger Joseph Hellmesberger and was instructed in musical theory by Anton Bruckner. At the age of ten he won the Conservatory Gold Medal. Thereafter he entered the Paris Conservatoire as a pupil of Massart, taking theory lessons from Delibes. Two years later he won the Premier Grand Prix, an honour he shared with four other players, all of them a good ten years older. This success marked the end of his professional training as a violinist.
By the age of fourteen Kreisler had embarked on an international career as a virtuoso, travelling in 1888 to the United States with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal in a concert tour. The following year he returned to Vienna for further schooling and for initial medical training, before his military service. By 1896, however, he had resolved to return to a musical career and although he failed to pass the audition to join the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra, in 1898 he was able to appear with the same players as a soloist and to resume with greater success his international career, with concerts in Berlin, in the United States, in London and elsewhere. In 1910 in London, indeed, he gave the first performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, which was dedicated to him.
Wounded during war service in the Austrian army during the early months of the Great War, Kreisler was able to devote time to composition, particularly of the short violin pieces for which he is well known. His return to the United States was not at first well received by the public, and in 1924 he settled in Berlin, where he remained based until the annexation of Austria in 1938. In spite of the offer of French citizenship, he returned to the United States, where he continued his career, until an accident forced him to reduce his schedule. He gave his final public concert in 1950, and died in New York in 1962.
Kreisler’s style of playing included an extended use of vibrato, applied to shorter as well as longer notes. His very personal methods of fingering are preserved in the many editions he made of major works in the violin repertoire, while his use of the bow ensured a sweetness of tone that avoided excessive pressure or forced volume. As a composer he provided a number of transcriptions, as well as a series of short compositions attributed by him to lesser known composers of the past. His eventual revelation of the true authorship of these pieces provoked some hostility from critics, who, incredibly, had accepted the original attributions. These popular compositions have all continued in standard repertoire, although the validity of the attributions would hardly convince a modern audience.
Paganini’s popular reputation rested always on his phenomenal technique as a violinist, coupled with a showman’s ability to dominate an audience and to
stupefy those who heard him by astonishing virtuosity. His playing served as an inspiration to other performers in the nineteenth century, suggesting to Chopin, in Warsaw, the piano Etudes, and to Liszt the material of the Paganini studies that he wrote in 1838. The very appearance of Paganini impressed people. His gaunt, aquiline features, his suggestion of hunched shoulders and his sombre clothing gave rise to legends of association with the Devil, the alleged source of his power. These stories were denied by Paganini himself, who, with characteristic understanding of the value of public relations in a more credulous age, told of an angelic visitation to his mother, in a dream, foretelling his birth and genius.
Paganini was born in Genoa in 1782 and was taught the violin first by his father, an amateur, and then by a violinist in the theatre orchestra and by the better known player Giacomo Costa, under whose tuition he gave a public performance in 1794. The following year he played to the violinist and teacher Alessandro Rollo in Parma, and on the latter’s suggestion studied composition there under Paer. After a return to Genoa and removal during the Napoleonic invasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he became violinist to the new ruler, Princess Elsa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon. At the end of 1809 he left to travel, during the next eighteen years, throughout Italy, winning a very considerable popular reputation. It was not until 1828 that he made his first concert tour abroad, visiting Vienna, Prague and then the major cities of Germany, followed by Paris and London in 1831. His international career as a virtuoso ended in 1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, he returned again to Italy, to Parma. A return to the concert-hall in Nice and then, to considerable acclaim, in Marseilles, was followed by an unsuccessful business venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which was intended to provide facilities equally for gambling and for music. With increasing ill health, he retired to Nice, where he died in 1840.
Many of Paganini’s compositions for the violin remained unpublished in his lifetime, part of his stock-in-trade, to which he had exclusive access. He wrote a quantity of music for violin and orchestra, including six concertos. In 1826 indisposition forced him to rest in Naples, where he wrote two concertos, the Violin Concerto No. 3 and the Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor. The third movement of the latter work, a rondo, known as La campanella, has proved very popular, leading to a Grande Fantaisie de bravoure by Liszt and other transcriptions. Kreisler’s version of the movement omits the second episode of the original rondo and includes a stretto for the piano, accompanied by a high violin trill, before the coda.
The Introduction and Variations on ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Op. 12, offers a set of four variations, with an Introduction and Finale, on Cinderella’s final aria, her troubles now at an end. Paganini’s original version used scordatura, with the violin tuned up a semitone, allowing it the resonance of D major. Kreisler presents the work in D major without scordatura, the orchestral accompaniment transposed from E flat to D major. He omits the third variation, in octaves, adds a cadenza to the fourth, in harmonics, and makes elaborate changes to the final Allegro, with a dazzling display of technical virtuosity.
Paganini’s demanding Moto perpetuo, Op. 11, dated after 1830, has the simplest of piano accompaniments. The original version, for violin and orchestra, was among those pieces published posthumously. Paganini’s influential Capricci, Op. 1, for solo violin, were written between 1801 and 1807 and were published in 1820, providing a remarkable compendium of Paganini’s technical achievement as a violinist. Schumann, towards the end of his life, provided piano accompaniments to all 24 Caprices, as he had to the unaccompanied Bach sonatas. Kreisler arranged three of them. The Caprice No. 13 is a study in double-stopped thirds, with a contrasting central section, and Caprice No. 20, in which Kreisler omits the da capo repetition of the first section, is changed from an Allegretto to an Andante con moto, its first section, a melody over a sustained open-string drone, serving as an introduction to a rapider second section. Caprice No. 24, its theme the source of works by Brahms, Rachmaninov and others, takes eight of Paganini’s original eleven variations, omitting the third, in octaves, and adding a fourth, in triple-stopping. Paganini’s fifth variation is omitted, and Kreisler’s fifth, Paganini’s sixth, with its double-stopped thirds and tenths, marked Andante con moto, leads to Kreisler’s sixth version of the material, in semiquaver triplet figuration. There follows Paganini’s study in left-hand pizzicato and a final version by Kreisler in artificial harmonics.
Le streghe, Op. 8 (The Witches), is an introduction and variations on a theme from the ballet Il noce di Benevento (The Nut-Tree of Benevento) by Mozart’s pupil and assistant Süssmayr. Paganini’s scordatura is replaced by a transposition of the work into D major, the written key of the original violin part. The Introduction leads to the theme. The first variation includes a rapid bowed staccato ascending scale and trills, leading to the return of the doublestopping of the opening section. The second variation finds a place for left hand pizzicato, with Paganini’s final passage in the minor and in violin octaves omitted, and the third follows a passage on the G string with artificial harmonics. A passage marked recitative leads to a cadenza and a final triumphant ending in quadruple-stopping.
In Rossini’s opera Tancredi the exiled knight of the title returns to his native Syracuse, resolved to meet again his beloved. The familiar pattern of an Introduction and Theme leads to variations, the second of them in artificial harmonics. The original work, using scordatura, is in B flat, transposed by Kreisler to A major, and the whole work ends in virtuoso display.
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PAGANINI, N.: La Campanella / Le streghe / Variati...